Vinnie Vecchione, a bald, dumpy ex-mobster who happens to be
a genius, has his feet up on the desk and a soggy, unlit cigar
in his hand. He is smiling like a man who just talked a cop out
of a speeding ticket, and he is telling the story of the
.22-caliber slug that is lodged in his right shoulder, a memento
of what he calls a case of mistaken identity in his former
profession. The walls of Vecchione's office are covered with
colorful fight posters and framed photographs, but the scene is
strictly black and white.
On this July night, the air inside the South Shore Boxing Club
in Whitman, Mass., is stagnant and sweltering--perfect for
raising iguanas or preparing a lightly regarded New England
fighter for his first trip to Las Vegas. Someone recently
brought in an electric fan, but before he could plug it in,
Vecchione told him to "get it the hell out of my gym." Fans are
for fancy weightlifting clubs, Vecchione says. The South Shore
club is a fight gym, and Vecchione, in case you haven't noticed,
is a fight guy. De Niro never played a role with such conviction.
Vecchione, 50, is the trainer and manager of 26-year-old
heavyweight Peter McNeeley, whose boxing rap sheet shows a 36-1
record with 30 knockouts against an assortment of stiffs who
had a combined record of 164-364-14. McNeeley affectionately
refers to his mentor as Curly, and for five years Curly has
handled McNeeley with remarkable skill and savvy. Now the two
are preparing to take on Mike Tyson Saturday in Vegas in what
some say will be McNeeley's first real fight.
"I had a plan, and I stuck to the plan," says Vecchione, who
seems to have displayed remarkable willpower and restraint,
gambling on a big payday down the road. Vecchione says promoter
Bob Arum offered $100,000 for McNeeley to fight Tommy Morrison,
and they turned it down. He says he and McNeeley also declined
$50,000 to fight Joe Hipp and $75,000 to take on Jose Luis
Gonzalez. "People came to us with fight offers when I didn't
have $60 in my pocket," Vecchione says. "I turned them down.
Peter wasn't ready. We didn't have the edge."
August 20, 1995
They don't have the edge now, but at least they'll have the
money. McNeeley has never made more than $10,000 for a fight,
but he'll earn $700,000 for taking the risk that Tyson will
rearrange his face.
Vecchione removes his cabdriver cap and runs a hand over his
scalp, shaking his head in disgust at the latest insults from
the New York tabloids. A few days earlier a headline in the Post
called his fighter A LAMB BEFORE SLAUGHTER. Now the Daily News
has labeled McNeeley TYSON'S PIGEON, not to mention a "duck" and
a "stooge." And those were the kind previews of the bout.
Boxing Illustrated has said that Tyson-McNeeley may be the
"ripoff of the century." Boston Magazine has labeled McNeeley,
the ostensible hometown hero, "the Great White Hopeless." Even
within the twisted business of professional boxing, this fight
is considered to be as close to a fix as Don King could get
without prompting a congressional hearing. King could not have
arranged a better opponent for Tyson if he had built one
himself. McNeeley has the pedigree, the personality and the
pigmentation. He has everything but a chance.
"What do people want me to do--apologize?" says Vecchione. "I
don't have to apologize to nobody. I brought this kid along
because I seen something in him. He's got a fire in his belly
and a chip on his shoulder. He's earned a shot at Tyson as much
as any other heavyweight out there."
Most of McNeeley's opponents were as tough as Cheez Whiz, but
when he laid them end to end, they led the way smoothly to
Tyson. It doesn't matter what happens Saturday night. McNeeley
and Vecchione have already won.
While Tyson has spent most of his time in hiding since he began
preparing for the fight, McNeeley has kept the promotion alive
with his indefatigable gab. In the ring McNeeley has never gone
more than eight rounds in his pro career, but outside the ring
he can go all day and into the night. He talks, he laughs, he
shouts, he tells stories, bouncing from one subject to the next
as if it were part of his endurance training. This is surely his
15 minutes of fame, and he plans to wring every second out of
it. He gave himself the nickname Hurricane and claims it
describes his fighting style. To meet him is to root for a
"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
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
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