Listening with closed eyes to Tom McNeeley Jr., the heavyweight boxer from Boston who will fight Floyd Patterson for the world championship in Toronto on December 4, one might easily surrender to the illusion that Rocky Marciano is talking. It is "Pahk Street" that one hears, not "Park." It is "hahd punch" and "fihst round" and " Boston Gahden," with that flattening of the broad a and that aspiration of the all-but-vanished r that is so special to the eastern Massachusetts accent and so impossible to reproduce by any system of orthography.
There are those who would say that the resemblance between McNeeley and Marciano ends with the way they talk. It is a harsh judgment but not entirely unfair, even though McNeeley, after 24 professional fights, is as undefeated as Marciano ever was. Indeed, McNeeley has beaten almost as many stiffs as Rocky took on during Al Weill's studiously cautious direction of his approach to the heavyweight championship of the world. Like Rocky, McNeeley depends on attrition rather than a single punch to stop his opponents, and you will get no impression from him of style and grace. He is a rough customer, too. Like Rocky, he doesn't care much how he hits or where or when. And he trains almost as relentlessly as Marciano did. He is never out of condition. Furthermore, Charley Goldman, who trained Marciano, has been hired to serve as training advisor to the McNeeley camp. Charley will discover, no doubt, that McNeeley, for all that he is an intelligent 24-year-old who was able to get through two years at Michigan State, is the very devil to teach new ways. And that was a Marciano trait, too.
These comparisons end the list of similarities. None of them is meant to suggest that McNeeley is in the class of the conqueror of Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore. He has not fought anyone remotely as good as these. His best opponents have been George Logan and Willi Besmanoff. Where Marciano is short and squat, McNeeley is tall (6 feet 2 inches) and long-limbed, with a reach that gives nice effect to the jab. McNeeley's manager, the millionaire Harvardman Peter Fuller, himself an old college boxer and sometime sparring partner to McNeeley, recently described his fighter as "a straight stand-up guy with a good jab, a good left hook and a fair right.
"We've had trouble getting him to place his feet properly for the right," Fuller said. "He takes too wide a stance. He's an orthodox fighter."
Orthodox or not, the best minds of the Boston fancy insist that McNeeley is essentially a "mauler" and embarrassingly inept.
"He doesn't have a punch in either hand," said one of these. Even in Boston and even among the chauvinistic Boston Irish, there is little real hope that McNeeley can beat Patterson.
"Ah," said a red-haired bartender in a Boylston Street pub, "but wouldn't it be grand if he did it. We have a President in the White House now, and I would die happy, God forbid, if we had a heavyweight champion of the world."
To the detriment of ballyhoo, perhaps, but with a very decent reticence, Fuller and McNeeley so far have refrained from issuing the customary "We'll moider the bum" sort of statement. McNeeley, a handsome brush-cut with a most engaging boyish manner, proud wearer of a golden shamrock on his bright green trunks, is far from boastful about his abilities. Neither he nor Fuller has gone much further than to say that he has a "good chance," a couple of words that combine optimism ("good") with realism ("chance").
One of the fight's promotional problems will come when McNeeley goes on public exhibition in training. Boxing in the gym, he looks rather like an awkward but angry child. Speaking with a certain depressed passion, Fuller said:
"Tom is a miserable gym fighter. Absolutely horrendous. There are days when he puts on the most horrendous workouts. There's gray in my hair and that's what it's from, just from watching him box in the gym. If you saw McNeeley against guys he's fought in the gym you'd pay 10 times more for one of his opponents than you would for him."