LAS VEGAS -- Vintage Mike Tyson or classic mismatch?
That is what a sellout crowd of 16,736 at the MGM Grand Garden and more than a million fight fans around the world were left to ponder after Tyson needed only 89 seconds to stop Peter McNeeley, of Medfield, Mass., in their scheduled 10-round, non-title bout.
After spending the past three years in an Indiana prison for raping a teen-aged beauty pageant contestant, the former heavyweight champion showed no signs of ring rust. He overpowered McNeeley, a slow-footed slugger who proved a perfect foil in launching Tyson's comeback.
Tyson was almost nonchalant about the victory.
"I did OK, thank you," he said. "I'm happy I was lucky enough to win tonight. As things continue to go on, I'll continue to try and be the best I can be."
A perfectly trim 220 pounds, Tyson (42-1, 37 KOs) dropped McNeeley twice before McNeeley's manager, Vinny Vecchione, jumped into the ring to save his fighter from further harm. The sudden ending was greeted with cheers of derision from the spectators who paid as much as $1,500 to witness the brief, but brutally one-sided brawl.
"No one can say McNeeley didn't come to fight," promoter Don King said. "He did what everyone said he wouldn't do. The fans can't be outraged. They saw a warrior ready to perform. Their only disappointment can be with his manager jumping in to stop it."
Referee Mills Lane had no choice but to end the fight once one of McNeeley's cornermen entered the ring. But McNeeley was visibly upset by Vecchione's action.
Said Tyson, "I didn't think I hit him hard, but he fell down. I was surprised his cornermen stopped it when they did."
Said McNeeley: "I slipped off the rope and twisted my knee. Look at the film. I thought it was a three-knockdown rule. That's how puzzled I was. But the men in my corner could see what happened better than I could. They love me, and I love them. I have to stick with their decision."
Vecchione supported his unpopular decision.
"Peter is only 26 years old. He has a long way to go," he said.
The same could be said in assessing how much McNeeley must improve to equal someone of Tyson's prowess.
Quite simply, McNeeley fought the only way he knew how -- "I'm satisfied with my performance. I kept coming back and coming back," he said -- and played right into Tyson's hands.
He charged out of his corner at the opening bell and hardly gave Tyson a chance to get off his stool.
But Tyson was prepared. After absorbing several body shots, he caught the Irishman with a right cross flush on the chin.
McNeeley dropped like a stone, but bounced up quickly, and danced wildy around the ring to indicate he was not seriously hurt.
He again aggressively pursued Tyson, only to run into two thumping lefts and a jolting right uppercut. This time, McNeeley rose on rubbery legs, prompting Vecchione to jump into the ring and throw a protective arm around the 20-1 underdog appearing in his first major fight.
This was anything but an ordinary heavyweight non-title bout. Tyson's four-year absence from the ring had not only heightened anticipation among hard-core boxing fans, but also whetted the curiosity of casual sports followers.
"It may not be the fight of the century, but it is certainly the event of the year," said Jay Larkin, Showtime's boxing producer who was predicting a $42 million gross from pay-per-view outlets.
"You have a heavyweight fight, and then you have a Tyson fight," said King, who has had to work overtime in hyping the event since Tyson snubbed all but a handful of reporters among the 900 media types in attendance. "This is more than fight. It's an historic event, a happening."
Although there has been a widely held belief that King is still in full control of the former champion, several instances this past week dispelled that notion.
At the final mass news conference on Wednesday, Tyson chastised King for publicly revealing his guaranteed purse of $25 million. He also shouted him down for interrupting a train of thought.
"Mike's the boss," said King, bowing like a supplicant.
King controls two-thirds of the fragmented heavyweight crown, with Bruce Seldon hold in the World Boxing Association title and Oliver McCall ruling the World Boxing Council.
But neither Seldon nor McCall has the charisma or explosiveness of Tyson, whose next opponent has not been named. The most mentioned are Buster Mathis Jr. and Michael Dokes. Still, last night's performance commanded a ringside ticket that brought the highest price ever for a boxing match.
The jet set turned out in force. Among ringside celebrities were Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Jackson, Shaquille O'Neal, Eddie Murphy, Magic Johnson, Denzel Washington, Patrick Ewing, Gregory Hines, Lou Gossett Jr., and John Thompson.
Tyson was four pounds less than the he weighed in his last fight against Razor Ruddock on June 28, 1991. "The weight is fine," said Jay Bright, working for the first time as head trainer. "Mike's not a kid anymore. He's a muscular athlete. He's a solid 220.
McNeeley, with the bulky build of a weightlifter, weighed 224. This was his first major fight after compiling a 36-1 record against a collection of nondescript opponents. After never earning more than $10,000, the Medfield, Mass., native received $540,000 for serving as the principal guest at Tyson's "coming-out" party.