Mike Tyson didn't need Peter McNeeley to sell tickets for his first fight in more than four years. Just the curiosity generated by Tyson's return to the ring was enough give him a $25 million payday.
While McNeeley, unlike Tyson, has done his best to promote Saturday night's scheduled 10-round fight, it's Tyson's mystique that will make the event one of the richest in boxing history."He's Back," the posters and merchandise at the MGM Grand Hotel scream out.
Indeed he is, and even the most casual boxing fan is curious to find whether the most fearsome fighter of his time still has his stuff after spending more than three years in prison.
"When this man walks down the aisle, it will be mind-tingling," promoter Don King said.
Tyson's appeal was demonstrated at Thursday's weigh-in, where some 3,000 fans came to watch Tyson take off his shirt and shorts and stand on a scale clad only in his underwear.
He appeared muscular and sleek while weighing in at 220 pounds, four more than he weighed in his last fight on June 28, 1991, against Donovan "Razor" Ruddock. It was the most Tyson has weighed for a fight since he was 2201/2 for James "Buster" Douglas, his only loss.
The crowd that gathered for the weigh-in paid little attention to McNeeley, who barely got a response when he took off his shirt, raised his arms and let out a roar. McNeeley weighed 224 pounds.
"I'm coming at you," McNeeley yelled, apparently to no one because Tyson had already left the arena.
Fans may not get much chance to judge how the 29-year-old Tyson has handled the layoff of more than four years.
Oddsmakers not only made Tyson a 17-1 favorite, they are taking bets on whether the fight will last two full rounds.
"I will knock Peter McNeeley out," Tyson said.
Tyson's handlers wanted a fighter that would stand in front of the former champion and not make him look awkward.
They found him in McNeeley, whose 36-1 record is littered with no names who collectively have a 205-441-21 record. One of McNeeley's opponents hadn't fought in 15 years, while 10 others had never won a fight. In his last bout, he earned $500 for a first-round knockout of a fighter who had 67 losses in 83 fights.
"He has a pair of gloves and he has determination," Jose Sulaiman, president of the WBC, said when looking for McNeeley's attributes.
McNeeley's father, Tom, who was knocked down eight times while being stopped by Floyd Patterson in his Dec. 5, 1961, bid for the heavyweight title, might be the only one singing his son's praises.
"I know this comes from a father's heart, but he isn't the least bit intimidated," Tom McNeeley said.
Tyson's first comeback fight prompted the MGM Grand to add some 1,200 extra seats to bring the indoor arena's capacity to more than 16,000 seats. But it remains to be seen whether the arena will be sold out at prices ranging from $200 to $1,500.
If it is a sellout, the live gate would be a record $15 million, while revenues from the pay-per-view broadcast are also expected to approach the record gross of $48.9 million for the George Foreman-Evander Holyfield fight.
The selling of the fight has been accomplished without much help from Tyson, who worked out behind closed doors and only grudgingly appeared at press conferences to promote the bout.
"I'm just interested in doing my thing," Tyson said. "You know what I do."
What he used to do was knock out other fighters with a ferociousness unmatched in the game. Clad in black trunks and black shoes without socks, Tyson intimidated many of his 41 victims before they even left their corners.
"This is the only thing I'm interested in doing," Tyson said. "This is what I love."
Asked what fans could expect in the bout, Tyson said, "You come out and watch. I'm sure you'll find it very stimulating."
McNeeley, who graduates from college in December, has been a virtual one-man shill for the fight and seems to enjoy the persona he has created for the media.
He'll earn $540,000 for the fight, barely what Tyson is getting in training expenses, but far more than the $500 he received for his last bout, a first-round knockout of Frankie Hines in Hot Springs, Ark., on April 22.
"They know who I am now, and if they don't, they will when it's over," McNeeley said. "It will be two guys crashing into each other. Somebody's gonna get knocked out."
The fight, scheduled to start no later than 9:15 p.m. MDT, will follow a WBA heavyweight title fight between champion Bruce Seldon and Joe Hipp, the winner of which may get a Tyson fight next year.
Also on the card is a defense by Miquel Angel Gonzalez of his WBC lightweight title and Julian Jackson's WBC middleweight title defense against Quincy Taylor. Earlier in the day, Luis Santana will defend his WBC super welterweight title against Terry Norris in a fight that will be televised by ABC. Fans will be let in for free.