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Thursday, June 9, 2005
The Comeback: An event, not a contest

By Dan Rafael
ESPN.com

Mike Tyson returns to the ring Saturday (9 p.m. ET, Showtime PPV) when he meets Kevin McBride at the MCI Center in Washington. It's hard to believe it's been 20 years since Tyson made his pro debut. He turned pro on March 6, 1985, knocking out Hector Mercedes in the first round in Albany, N.Y., and it's been quite a ride since – inside and outside of the ring – as he became one of the most famous athletes on Earth. ESPN.com takes a look back at some of his most significant fights in this five-part retrospective.

Part IV: The Comeback

For more than four years between 1991 and 1995, there was a void in the heavyweight division. Although Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis, Michael Moorer and George Foreman were active and making attractive fights, there was still something missing.

There was no Mike Tyson.

Tyson At 20
• Rafael: Meltdown | Return | Upset |Apex | Crown
• Rafael: 20 topics | McBride | Fenech | Camp
• Graham: Nelson | Hosea/Scaff | Long | Jaco | Green
• Gallery | Vote | Torres: Respect | Bayless: Marketer
• Tyson KOs: ESPN360 | Oddcast: Rafael preview

The former undisputed champion was out of commission, sitting in an Indiana prison cell, serving a sentence for raping a beauty pageant contestant in the summer of 1991.

Upon being released on March 25, 1995, after serving 3½ years of a 10-year sentence, Tyson re-signed with promoter Don King and began plotting his return to the ring. King nabbed Tyson a three-year deal with Showtime and a six-fight deal with the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and set up the comeback fight.

It would come on Aug. 19, 1995, at the MGM Grand against club fighter Peter McNeeley, Tyson's first bout since winning a 12-round decision against Donovan "Razor" Ruddock in their 1991 rematch.

The fight with McNeeley was not a fix, but it was close, as the 17-1 underdog had no prayer of winning. The odds might as well have been a million to one.

Mills Lane/Peter McNeeley/Mike Tyson
McNeeley (green trunks) advised onlookers not to blink. He was right.

It didn't matter. This was not about a fight. This was an event, one that eventually sold 1.55 million pay-per-view subscriptions, which still ranks fourth on the all-time pay-per-view list.

Iron Mike was 29 and nine years removed from becoming the youngest heavyweight champion in history, but he was back and earning $25 million for his trouble because people were anxious to see what he had left after such a long time away from the ring.

McNeeley was a safe, hand-picked opponent, a 26-year-old college student from Medfield, Mass., with a good record – 36-1 with 30 KOs – against a collection of stiffs. Think calling them stiffs is too harsh? Well, the numbers don't lie. The combined record of McNeeley's opponents at the time they met him was 205-436-21.

He also had a good story. His father, Tom McNeeley, fought Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight title in 1961. He knocked Patterson down in the fourth round, but suffered eight knockdowns himself before being knocked out in the fourth round.

Even King knew McNeeley was in over his head, responding to reporters who questioned his fitness as an opponent with a quote that probably didn't come out quite right.

"Every fighter in history has fought lesser opponents. Few have fought lesser opponents with the great skill Peter McNeeley has," King told reporters. "Don't discriminate against the white guy. Give him a chance."

McNeeley, whose $540,000 purse was a fraction of Tyson's millions, played his role to the hilt, entertaining the media to no end before the fight with his witty quotes and his threat that he would wrap Tyson in a "cocoon of horror."

McNeeley also said before the fight that it would end in a knockout.

"It's going to be two guys crashing in the ring," he told reporters. "Somebody is going to be knocked out. Find a good seat and don't blink, baby."

Don't blink indeed.

Tyson needed only 89 seconds to dust McNeeley. He knocked him down twice – the first one coming just seven seconds into the bout – prompting McNeeley's manager/trainer Vinny Vecchione to climb into the ring, which led to his fighter's disqualification.

It wasn't pretty, but Tyson was back.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.