Published November 20, 2014
Thomas McNeeley Jr., a boxer who battled heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson and raised a son who took on Mike Tyson, has died of complications from a seizure. He was 74.
McNeely of Hanover died Oct. 25 at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth with his family by his bedside, according to his son, Thomas McNeeley III.
McNeeley was 23-0 when he took on Patterson, who stopped him in the fourth round of their December 1961 bout in Toronto after knocking him to the canvas repeatedly.
"The stories about the fight said I went down nine or 10 times," McNeeley told The Boston Globe in a 1994 interview. "The writers were being nice to me. I have the film. It was more like 12 or 13."
A decided underdog, McNeeley said he had no doubt he'd win before the fight. He recalled that before introductions, he was daydreaming about who'd sing the national anthem before his first title defense. But McNeeley hit the floor twice in the first round, then several more times after. He later joked Patterson was so fast he thought the referee was sneaking in some punches.
"Patterson would hit you, put you down, but when you were down, you asked yourself how you got there," he said.
McNeeley had his moment, though, catching Patterson on the temple and causing the champ to briefly drop to a knee.
"I have a picture in my house of him on the canvas," McNeeley told the Globe.
After his retirement, McNeeley served as commissioner of the Massachusetts Boxing Commission and as a U.S. Marshal. He later worked in state House of Corrections Athletic Department and finished his career as a counselor for state employees, some in high stress jobs such as prison guard and police officers.
His son, Tom III, said his father had a "relentless ability to encourage," which even extended to Patterson after their fight. His recalled that while Patterson was facing tough questions during a post-fight interview, McNeeley spoke out and said: "If anyone here ever calls him anything but a real champion — then they have to answer to me!"
McNeeley struggled with sobriety during his life, but would have been 25 years sober this Christmas, his son said.
"My Dad had his demons, my Dad fought his battles, inside and outside the ring, but he always looked for the positive," Tom III said.
"Without any fanfare, he took pride in helping others," he said. "He wasn't a guy who kept trophies, he was a guy who wanted to be there for friends, family and even strangers in a time of need."
McNeeley is survived by his wife of 28 years, Gloria, and four sons, Tom, Shawn, Peter and Bryan. Peter followed his father into boxing and was Mike Tyson's first fight after he served three years in prison for rape. Tyson stopped McNeeley a minute and a half into their August 1995 bout, when he knocked McNeeley down for a second time and McNeeley's manager stepped in and ended the fight.