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Mcneeley Survives The Weigh-In But Most Think Tyson’s Comeback Foe Won’t Last Long After Opening Bell

Tim Kawakami Los Angeles Times

Meaty, moody, big and bouncy, Peter McNeeley brings a strutting, head-butting roller-derby sensibility to this otherwise matter-of-fact heavyweight fight.

Although even Vinnie Vecchione, his cagey manager, shrugs and grins when asked if McNeeley will defeat Mike Tyson on Saturday at the MGM Grand, and although McNeeley was hand-picked to give Tyson a ridiculously easy target in Tyson’s first fight in four years, the 26-year-old native of Medfield, Mass., has embraced his situation - and six-figure payday - with fervor.

Blithely ignoring that almost nobody cares what he says or does until he is propelled violently toward the canvas, McNeeley has taken on a mascot role, complete with goofy smiles, talk-show appearances, and snarling flex-for-the-camera poses.

“I’m carrying this fight,” McNeeley said this week. “I’m not sequestered somewhere. I’m not hiding. I’m the people’s champion. As you’ve seen on Leno and Letterman, this is my shot to show the world what Peter McNeeley is all about.

“I’m not a ‘Rocky’ story. I earned my shot here. I wasn’t just picked out of a book. I’m everything ‘Rocky’ was not. I’m college-educated, I can put two syllables together, and I’m well-managed.”

Listen to Pete belt out a station promo for a New England sportscaster during a satellite TV tour. Watch Pete don sunglasses and stroll through the media room without his shirt.

Thursday, sounding as if he wanted to inject a little life into a typically drawn-out Don King news conference, McNeeley ripped into anybody who criticized his blatantly puffed-up record.

All in all, McNeeley is doing everything King and the Tyson camp hoped he would: Be personable, promotable and, once the opening bell sounds Saturday, imminently beatable, even for a formerly great heavyweight with four years of ring rust to shake.

McNeeley’s standard style, if you can call it that, is to use his thick, 222-pound, 6-foot-2 body to charge into the middle of the ring at the opening bell, catch his foe off guard, and swing until the guy falls down.

That is not likely to overwhelm Tyson or anybody with a modicum of experience in the heavyweight division, but McNeeley’s camp agrees it is the only chance he has.

“I think he’s going to catch Mike Tyson in a situation where Mike isn’t really ready for the aggressiveness of this type of fighter,” Vecchione said. “This is not the fight the Tyson camp should’ve taken. I’m sure they took him because he’s aggressive and he’s going to be right in front of Mike. But let me tell you something: As a trainer and a manager, I would’ve taken somebody that can box and not hit as hard as this kid.”

McNeeley is 36-1 with 30 knockouts, but only five of his opponents have won more fights than they’ve lost, and his opponents’ combined record when he fought them was 205-441-21.

McNeeley has beaten a guy who hadn’t fought in 15 years, beaten 10 other guys who hadn’t won a fight, and, in his last bout April 22, beat a guy who had lost 67 times in 83 professional bouts.

His one loss was at the hands of Stanley Wright on Feb. 18, 1994, when McNeeley suffered a cut and the fight was stopped in the eighth round.

“Every fighter has fought opponents of lesser skills,” King said. “But few have fought opponents of lesser skills with greater skill than Peter McNeeley.”

Said McNeeley: “Vinnie Vecchione and myself have done a masterful job, a textbook job of picking my opponents. All the guys throughout history have done the same thing. Muhammad Ali did it. George Foreman did it. Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes. … And even Mike Tyson did it.”

Vecchione, a friend of King’s close associate, Al Braverman, had been positioning McNeeley for years, sensing that his personality and ring ferocity were worth the investment as McNeeley, who didn’t start boxing until he was 18, developed.

Before this bout, McNeeley’s biggest purse was $10,000. According to Nevada Athletic Commission records, his purse is $540,000 - compared to the filed numbers of $25 million for Tyson - for this bout.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TALE OF THE TAPE The tale of the tape for the heavyweight fight between Mike Tyson and Peter McNeeley to be held August 19 in Las Vegas: Tyson McNeeley Record 41-1 36-1 Knockouts 36 30 Age 29 26 Weight 220 224 Height 5-11-1/2 6-2 Reach 71 77 Chest (normal) 43 46 Chest (expanded) 45 48 Biceps 16 16 Forearm 14 14 Waist 34 34 Thigh 27 27 Calf 18 21 Neck 19-3/4 19-1/2 Wrist 8 10 Fist 13 14 Ankle 11 12

This sidebar appeared with the story: TALE OF THE TAPE The tale of the tape for the heavyweight fight between Mike Tyson and Peter McNeeley to be held August 19 in Las Vegas: Tyson McNeeley Record 41-1 36-1 Knockouts 36 30 Age 29 26 Weight 220 224 Height 5-11-1/2 6-2 Reach 71 77 Chest (normal) 43 46 Chest (expanded) 45 48 Biceps 16 16 Forearm 14 14 Waist 34 34 Thigh 27 27 Calf 18 21 Neck 19-3/4 19-1/2 Wrist 8 10 Fist 13 14 Ankle 11 12

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