It was date fight fans had waited a long time to circle on their calendars. It had been over four years since Mike Tyson had stepped through the ropes and into a boxing ring. His last action was in June of 1991, defeating Donovan “Razor” Ruddock in a 12-round unanimous decision.
Tyson (41-1, 36 KOs) had spent the last three years of his life in Plainfield, Indiana. Speculation about a return to the ring to revive a horrid class of Heavyweight’s began from the moment he left the sport.
In March, the conversation leaped from the sports page to the front page when Tyson left Plainfield. Just weeks later, the former champion read a brief statement announcing that he would indeed return to the ring.
The year was 1995.
The next question on the minds of boxing fans revolved around who Tyson would face in his comeback bout. That question was soon answered when an unknown named Perter McNeeley (36-1, 30 KOs) took the stage and agreed to meet Tyson on August 19.
McNeeley, 26, was ranked seventh by the WBA. He employed a straight ahead, charge right at you style that he timed along with the sound of the opening bell.
Although his record was impressive, the list of opponents he’d fought read like a missing persons ad among even the most educated boxing fans. He did, however, possess the gift of gab and was entertaining nonetheless.
McNeeley proved likable, vociferous, and promised a “cocoon of horror” for the former champion.
Tyson seemed mildly amused by McNeeley’s antics. He tended to more serious business, training, and appeared to be in fantastic condition. His body was chiseled, physically looking like he could go through a wall.
Whether or not he had ring rust remained to be seen. The concrete that once produced a whale of a chin was but another question many wondered, often out loud, whether McNeeley could answer.
Despite “The Hurricanes” bluster, the promotion revolved around Tyson. The fight was billed as “He’s Back” and the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas quickly sold out. Over 16,000 fans would pack the Grand Garden to witness the return.
The bout would air live on SET Pay-Per-View as Showtime Championship Boxing, and the MGM, had inked Tyson to a lucrative deal. Despite the mismatch many predicted, the bout produced staggering numbers, setting new pay-per-view records in a contest that would be broadcast around the globe.
As fight night approached, Tyson, 29, was listed as a 20-1 favorite with odds at 4-5 that McNeeley wouldn’t make it out of the first round and 8-5 that it wouldn’t go beyond two. Still, Tyson was back and the groundswell of opinion was finally, the former champion would clean out the division and reclaim what was rightfully his.
McNeeley entered the arena first. Wearing green and white, McNeeley bounced up and down while heading towards the ring. His confidence still appeared unshaken as he climbed into the ring with purpose.
The level of anticipation and excitement was overwhelming as Tyson exited his dressing room. Wearing his now iconic black trunks, black shoes, no socks, and no robe, Tyson worse only a towel with a hole in the middle of it around his neck.
After Jimmy Lennon Jr. introduced the fighters, referee Mills Lane provided final instructions. As McNeeley smiled and rocked from side to side, Tyson’s face was steeled over, fixed in place, as his eyes followed McNeeley from right to left. The crowd witnessed the non-verbal exchange on the big screen inside the arena and erupted as the two touched gloves.
The bout was scheduled for 10 rounds with Steve Albert, Ferdie Pacheco, and Bobby Czyz seated ringside to call the action.
The bell sounded for Round 1 and, on cue, McNeeley raced across the ring as if he were shot out of a cannon. Tyson has barely stepped forward and was immediately pushed backward towards the ropes. As McNeeley unloaded rights and lefts, Tyson calmly bent at the knees and sprung upward with an overhand right that landed flush on McNeeley’s chin.
The blow sent McNeeley reeling backward and onto the seat of his pants. The crowd roared as Albert wailed, “Down goes McNeeley! Seconds into the first round! Seconds into the fight McNeeley on the canvas!”
McNeeley leaped to his feet as quickly as he had raced across the ring just seconds ago. Lane calmly administered the standing eight count, tugged at McNeeley’s gloves, and the action continued.
Now it was Tyson who was advancing forward. McNeeley had no desire to move in reverse and stood toe to toe with the former champion. The next 30 seconds were in close as both men slugged it out at close range.
With only one minute gone by, Lane move in to break the fighters from their first clinch. The crowd let out a resounding roar in appreciation of the early fireworks.
As the two moved back toward each other after the break, Czyz quickly summarized the first 60 seconds. “I’ll tell you what Steve, nothing but brawling. McNeeley’s giving a good account of himself already.”
Tyson had made an adjustment and began launching vicious uppercuts. Again while in close quarters, Tyson ripped home a right uppercut that sent McNeeley crashing to the canvas at the 1:41 mark.
While Tyson unloaded, the crowd again roared as Albert kept pace with the exchanges, “Tyson with a left hook, a right uppercut and down goes McNeeley again!”
McNeeley again rose to his feet, this time with the help of the ropes as he was now clearly hurt and in real trouble. Czyz saw the look in McNeeley’s eyes as he rose, “McNeeley’s hurt this time Steve! He’s very hurt! He can barely stand up!”
Then, chaos erupted.
Lane had sent Tyson to a neutral corner and began the count of McNeeley who had risen at the count of four. While Tyson waited in a neutral corner, McNeeley’s handler had rushed into the ring.
Albert was as confused as everyone inside the MGM and watching at home, “What’s going on? The rounds still going on!”
The McNeeley corner had entered the ring and stopped the bout in its tracks. Pacheco was furious, “That’s a crime for McNeeley. This kid was fighting his heart out. That is wrong.”
The bout officially ended at 1:21 of the first round. The decision was ruled a disqualification as McNeeley’s corner had entered the ring while the round was still in progress. In any event, it’s highly unlikely McNeeley would have made it out of the round. He did, however, deserve the chance.
Tyson was back in what turned out to be an event instead of a fight. He would return to the ring in December to knock out Buster Mathis Jr. and then meet Frank Bruno for the title in March of 1996.
As for McNeeley, his name became associated with a trivia question. Who fought Tyson in his first fight back in 1995? He would fight another six years in an up and down career.
Only in boxing.