Mike Tyson’s iconic stare-down to Peter McNeeley 26 years ago in a fight that made $96m but holds a dark legacy

The fear and menace Mike Tyson carried about him in his prime has never been better exemplified than in the ten seconds before his comeback against Peter McNeeley on August 19, 1995.

With referee Mills Lane reading out the instructions to both fighters amid the dim of a deafening MGM Arena in Las Vegas, the pictures of Tyson – in his first fight since being released from prison – locking eyes with his prey are the stuff of legend.

Tyson locked eyes with McNeeley and considered just how best to exorcise three years worth of pain and suffering on his opponent

Now nearly 26 years ago, McNeeley bounced around on the canvas with which he was to become extremely familiar with as ‘Iron Mike’ kept his steely gaze firmly locked on his opponent as he ominously chewed his mouthguard.

After three years behind bars (including only one fight and a visit from Tupac Shakur) the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world had the chance to exorcise his demons legally and get paid handsomely to do it.

Despite talks with Evander Holyfield before his 1992 conviction falling through and a super-fight against George Foreman failing to materialise, it was McNeeley who had been brought into Tyson’s den as the sacrificial lamb.

And despite their fight setting various pay-per-view records and earning the respect of millions, the tale of McNeeley is a stark reminder that fame and fortune can be fleeting in this cruel game.

Born in Medfield, Massachusetts, boxing was in McNeeley’s blood. His heritage is steeped in boxing history and every fibre of his being was meant to be in the squared circle.

His grandfather, Tom McNeeley Sr, was meant to fight on the 1928 USA Olympic Team, only for injury to rule him.

Meanwhile, Tom Junior won 23 consecutive professional bouts to earn himself a shot at heavyweight kingpin Floyd Patterson. The fight lasted just four rounds, with the challenger hitting the deck a dozen times.

Initially, Tom Junior’s son did not fight like his forefathers and instead played high school football. But after falling into the lures of drink and drugs, he dropped out and decided to give boxing a chance so as to get the alcohol and cocaine out of his system.

Ring Magazine featured ‘Hurricane’ on their front cover
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In the summer of 1991 he turned professional under the guidance of manager Vinnie Vecchione and subsequently racked up 26 victories in a row.

His first defeat saw him take 42 stitches in one eye, but McNeeley refused to stop hustling and signed with promoter Don King. When Oliver McCall went to London and knocked out Lennox Lewis, an opportunity arose.

The fight was scheduled for the Boston Garden, a venue frequently fought at by his grandfather, but the WBC stepped in and ordered McCall and King to find a new challenger because he was not ranked in the top 10 (#12).

But his management team told him to hang tight as it was rumoured Tyson was on his way out of jail and looking for a fight.

McNeeley went from virtual obscurity to prime time news, even appearing on Jay Leno
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The fight itself was a brutal mismatch, over inside 89 seconds after McNeeley had already sampled the canvas floor and manager Vecchione brazenly stepped into the ring to stop the mauling.

On paper, it was a huge success for everyone involved; McNeeley and his manager earned themselves commercials with America Online and Pizza Hut and the pay-per-view grossed $96million worldwide.

But, as McNeeley told Sports Illustrated on the 15th anniversary of his clash with Tyson, it was all about to go downhill.

“I hit a real bad spot in my life in ’96,” he said. “I’d had 44 pro fights in 60 months. I was burned out mentally, physically and spiritually. I had to drop out of sight.

McNeeley was on the deck twice in the fight against Tyson
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“I tucked into a crack house in Brockton [Mass.]. I lived there, walking distance from the Petronelli gym. I blew like 40 grand in six weeks.

“No sleeping, no eating, it was crazy. I walked into that house at 220 pounds, weeks after I’d had a fight. And I walked out six weeks later at a buck-ninety-five. The Jenny Crack diet!”

His mother took care of his finances while he was away, with a first-round knockout in 1999 to Eric ‘Butterbean’ Esch perhaps the only real highlight of his later career.

As for him and Tyson? Well the pair actually shared dinner after their encounter and the respect shared between the two men is mutual.

A first round knockout to Eric ‘Butterbean’ Esch was a particular lowpoint
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He continued: “Mike has contacted me a couple times after the fight. He contacted me in 1998. If you remember, he bit [Evander] Holyfield in ’97, which we all called Pay-Per-Chew – a little bad boxing humour.

“Mike served a year suspension and went back in front of the board to get his license back. They said he had to pass an intensive psychiatric evaluation.

“Boston has a huge medical community, so he came to Boston and he – by complete coincidence – ended up with my old limousine driver. I was friendly with [the driver], so it wasn’t unusual that he’d call me. He calls and says he’s driving Tyson and says, ‘Can I mention your name to him?’

“I come home from the gym and Tyson’s on my voice mail asking if I wanted to hook up. Next thing I know, the limo driver was banging on my door saying Tyson wanted to see me right now. Apparently, he wanted to take me out to dinner.

But Tyson always respected McNeeley for coming to fight, even if his manager did not want him to
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“Then he wanted me to go with him to this famous club in Boston and check out the local talent. So I went to his hotel room. He sat me down and we talked for a half-hour.

“It wasn’t a press conference, it wasn’t a weigh-in, it wasn’t a fight – it was just me and him alone in a room.

“He paid me respect,” McNeeley added. “He didn’t have to call me. He didn’t have to leave a message or let me in his room.”