Victim claims slice of action

George Kimball watches the comical return to the Boston ring of Peter McNeeley
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The Independent Online
WHEN the manager Vinnie Vecchione jumped into the ring to spare Peter McNeeley further punishment from Mike Tyson just 89 seconds into their Las Vegas fight on 19 August, he unwittingly elevated both himself and his heavyweight to folk hero status among the American public. The boxing crowd is going to take a bit more convincing.

There were more jeers than cheers when McNeeley entered the ring in Boston on Friday night, and a few minutes later the building once again erupted in a chorus of boos as the referee Paul Casuey counted out McNeeley's hapless victim Michael Sam in 1min 43sec of the second round. Even as McNeeley raised his arms in triumph, he had to dodge a barrage of crumpled paper cups and pizza crusts hurled into the ring.

"It doesn't bother me," an unruffled McNeeley claimed later. "It's when they stop booing that I'll be worried."

Madison Avenue was quick to embrace Vecchione after the Tyson fight. Within weeks, Vecchione and McNeeley were engaged to tape a pair of television commercials which have aired with alarming regularity on American television ever since.

In one, for a computer on-line service, McNeeley is delivering a straightforward pitch for the product when Vecchione abruptly barges into the scene, shouting "This commercial is over!" In the other, for a national fast- food chain, McNeeley is knocked out by a pizza. When he revives, through blurry eyes, Vecchione is standing above him, dangling a slice of pizza, asking "How many slices am I holding up?" In retrospect, had the promoters of Friday's fight in Boston been thinking ahead, they might have banned pizza sales.

In fairness, the displeasure of the audience was less a reaction to McNeeley's showing against Tyson than to his choice of opponents. While McNeeley took a 36-1 record into the Tyson fight, most of his victories had come against undistinguished opponents and washed-up has-beens.

While the 34-year-old Sam boasted a professional record of nine wins and two losses, it came to light that he had not actually won a fight in nearly 10 years, having spent most of that time serving seven years for robbery in Louisiana.

The Massachusetts Boxing Commission stewed and fretted over the propriety of approving the bout, but relented after Sam explained that he had boxed regularly behind bars, having had nearly 200 fights against amateurs and professionals.

While McNeeley started patiently enough, by the midpoint of the first round he was unable to restrain himself. He briefly stalked the wounded opponent in the second before unloading a chopping right to the jaw that dropped Sam, ending the brief encounter. Though conscious, Sam rolled over on his back and watched through glazed eyes.

After polling the ringside officials, the Massachusetts Commission subsequently announced that it was withholding all but $1,000 of Sam's scheduled $5,000 purse for "failing to give his best effort".

"We wanted to leave him enough to get home on," explained Dr Wilbert McClure, its chairman.

McNeeley was paid $10,000 for his night's work, $690,000 less than he got for losing to Tyson and a fraction of what he received for the pizza commercial.