"I'm not your typical boxer, and people appreciate that," says McNeeley. "That's part of the game, part of selling the fight. I know that's the role they put me in, but in my mind, that's not why I'm here."
Despite having had 37 pro fights in 44 months, McNeeley is no brain-dead club fighter. He says he is nine credits shy of a bachelor's degree in political science from Bridgewater (Mass.) State College, and as Vecchione says, "he uses words I never heard." Peter's mother, Nancy, is an associate professor in the fashion school at Mount Ida College in Newton Centre, Mass. His father, Tom, is a Massachusetts state prison counselor who once fought Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight title. Peter proudly points out that his dad staggered Patterson once. Of course, Patterson knocked Tom McNeeley down eight times in four rounds. "I was a 10-1 underdog," says Tom, now 57. "But he knew he was in a fight."
Peter McNeeley still lives with his mother and shares a room with his brother Snubby in Medfield, Mass., 34 miles from the gym in Whitman. The fighter says he has made the trip "six or seven times a week" for nearly five years now. He drove an '82 Buick Regal until four months ago, when he bought an '86 Nissan 280Z for $2,900. He says he has not spent one nickel of his share of the purse, because King has not yet given him a nickel. He hasn't even been given tickets yet; if his family and friends want to see the fight, they will be gouged just like everyone else.
McNeeley and Vecchione have been begging and borrowing to cover their training expenses, squeezing into their busy schedule every possible paying gig. Interview requests stand a much better chance when lunch is included. Vecchione even met with New England Patriot owner Bob Kraft and offered to dress his fighter in the team's colors in exchange for some financial support.
McNeeley isn't sure how much money he'll end up with after the fight, but he knows some of it is already spent. "I owe the college some money, and I've got to send the phone company some money," he says. "Plus, there's a bill from my mom for room and board that I've got to take care of, and a couple of other things." Vecchione will get half. No one has accused him of overcharging his fighter, however. Curly has earned his cut.
When he first met McNeeley in 1990, Vecchione was handling the comeback of Paul Poirier, a once-promising middleweight who had quit boxing 10 years earlier and became a Jehovah's Witness. Poirier was a heavyweight when he returned to the ring, and McNeeley agreed to be one of his sparring partners. Vecchione says he was immediately impressed with the kid and began plotting his ascension through the heavyweight ranks.
First stop: the morgue. Vecchione went in search of opponents for his marketable heavyweight, and he was not about to take chances. In the early days Vecchione took the pulse of the area heavyweights, and anyone who had a pulse was ruled out. McNeeley was 13-0 before he squared off with an opponent who had a winning record. "Fighters building their records up against inferior opponents is standard practice, but in McNeeley's case it's ridiculous," boxing historian Bert Sugar said. "I've never seen such a bunch of tomato cans."
McNeeley fought for little or no money. He fought twice in the same week. He beat six guys twice and had three inspiring wins over the immortal Jim Harrison, who is still fighting at age 37. Harrison's career record: 6-35-5. At last count, McNeeley had fought only four guys with winning records. Tyson will be number 5.