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Memories: 1995

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In a Quick Return, Tyson
Cashes In, McNeeley Out

By William Gildea
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 21, 1995

LAS VEGAS, AUG. 20 -- When Peter McNeeley went down a second time, more than half the first round remained. If ever there was a sure bet in this city, here was one. There was no way this mismatched pug was going to survive the rest of the round with Mike Tyson. So Vinny Vecchione, McNeeley's manager, jumped into the ring and saved him. McNeeley was stumbling and looked dazed. Referee Mills Lane and Tyson looked surprised. Lane had no choice but to call a halt and award the victory to Tyson on a disqualification.

So Tyson is back after serving three years in prison on a rape conviction. His return to the ring Saturday night looked like 89 seconds of a bar fight in which a big bully charges like an elephant, gets dropped by a couple of punches and is saved by a third party. The public had fair warning: This was boxing, Las Vegas and Don King promoting.

But people bought it nonetheless, proving Tyson's drawing power even against a nonentity. The 16,736 who jammed the MGM Grand Garden paid almost $15 million, the highest gate in the history of boxing. A million customers were expected to buy the pay-per-view coverage at an average of almost $50.

The man who was released from the Indiana Youth Center in March got to experience the trappings of a big fight -- if not an actual fight -- and picked up an easy $25 million. A mild-mannered Tyson said as he left the arena: "You forget how much you miss it. I just wish my mother and Cus {his late trainer and mentor, Cus D'Amato} were here to see these festivities."

What next? The name mentioned most often as Tyson's next opponent is Buster Mathis Jr., a limited talent (although not as bad as McNeeley) who was involved last year in a no-contest with Riddick Bowe, who knocked out Mathis when Mathis was down on one knee. Tyson-Mathis would be a slight improvement over Tyson-McNeeley.

Tyson is scheduled to fight next on Nov. 4 at the MGM, but Bowe-Evander Holyfield III is scheduled the same date at Caesars Palace. Most observers don't believe the two events can go head-to-head because they would divide the pay-per-view market. Tyson probably would have to take on a more legitimate foe than Mathis to compete on pay-per-view with Bowe-Holyfield. So far, both fight groups say they will not back off the date.

Tyson-McNeeley, as expected, didn't last long enough to tell much about Tyson's boxing skills. He missed wildly a few times, suggesting that he is not yet ready to fight someone of Bowe's caliber. "I have a lot to learn," Tyson acknowledged. "I have to cultivate my skills to be the best I can be."

McNeeley proved totally unorthodox, an armory fighter who had padded his record against the most woeful competition imaginable. He wanted to wade in against Tyson and hope for the best, and that's what he did.

As he said he would, McNeeley ran right at Tyson after the opening bell. Tyson welcomed him to the big leagues by promptly dropping him with a short right hand to the chin. That took about seven seconds. McNeeley bounced up and, after Lane finished his mandatory eight count, charged back into Tyson.

The extent of McNeeley's attack was this: He landed one good left hand and he succeeded in shoving Tyson into the ropes.

For this, a ringside seat cost $1,500.

For his part, Tyson maintained composure. He measured McNeeley between knockdowns, dipped momentarily into a southpaw stance, then discarded it as he came up swinging. Near the center of the ring, he caught McNeeley with a hook to the chin, a hook high on the head and a right uppercut. McNeeley went down on one knee, got up quickly again, but this time unsteadily.

Lane was about to give him another mandatory eight count when Vecchione bolted from the wings. "My job is the safety of the fighter and it's a decision I have to live with," Vecchione said. "Tyson's speed was the main factor."

"I didn't hit him hard," Tyson said. "I was surprised he fell after the second knockdown. I was surprised his corner came in to stop the fight.

"He was very awkward. He kept his head down. He was very difficult to hit. Eventually, he would have gotten hurt. You know me. I'm a blood man. I'm glad they stopped it.

"I never want to underestimate anyone," Tyson added. "The last time I did that I came up titleless" -- a reference to his 10th-round knockout by Buster Douglas in 1990.

Tyson-McNeeley was a matchup that King got away with brazenly and not an event the Nevada State Boxing Commission could be proud of. But no one was making any apologies. The only development of note was that Vecchione's purse ($179,820) was being held up.

"We are going to keep the manager's share of the purse," said Marc Ratner, executive director of the boxing commission. "The fighter will get his full share. He was here to fight. We will have a complete hearing within 30 days. We want to see why he stopped it. It is very important to protect the public and the live gate."

It was one of Tyson's easiest and quickest fights. It took him longer to get from his dressing room to the ring. It took longer for the introductions. The rendition of the national anthem took a lot longer -- 2 minutes 28 seconds.

© 1995 The Washington Post Company

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