Twenty years on, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield have made peace over the Bite Fight that saw the Baddest Man on the Planet turn The Real Deal into The Real Meal.It was on June 28, 1997, when Mike Tyson met Evander Holyfield in a Las Vegas boxing ring. The fight eventually went down as one of the most infamous in boxing history, as ‘Iron Mike’ was disqualified for biting a chunk off Holyfield’s ear during the bout. But the two have made peace and will forever share one of sport’s iconic moments.
Time heals, just as they say it always does. Evander Holyfield’s ear still bears the scar of Mike Tyson’s teeth but the biter has made his peace with the bitten and, exactly 20 years on, these two all-time great heavyweights are best buddies.
The desert melting pot, which was brewing on June 28, 1997 on the Las Vegas Strip, had been advertised as The Sound And The Fury. It was to go down in history as the Bite Fight.This was the evening of ultimate infamy for he who we already called The Baddest Man On The Planet.
Tyson, also known as Iron Mike, surpassed all his other obscenities by turning his illustrious rival, who was nicknamed The Real Deal, into The Real Meal.We were into the third round of their second world title fight when Tyson reverted to the mean New York streets from whence he came. He dragged the noble art back with him into the ghetto.
We had grown accustomed to Tyson’s capacity for shocking us. But now those of us at ringside in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, as well as the audiences who broke box-office records around the world, were about to be filled with revulsion.
Tyson had advertised his gruesome intention by trying to come out from his corner for the third without his gum shield. Referee Mills Lane ordered him to replace that protector. To no avail.
As they came together in a clinch, Tyson sank his teeth into Holyfield’s right ear, gnawed off several inches of cartilage and spat that grisly mouthful onto the canvas.
While Holyfield leapt into the air like a wounded lion in pain, referee Lane veered from immediately throwing out Tyson to deducting two points.
Undeterred, as they resumed what should have been boxing, Tyson turned the attentions of his molars to Holyfield’s left ear. As the round ended and a doctor confirmed the extent of the bites, Lane disqualified the man who still holds to this day the distinction of being the youngest ever world heavyweight champion.
Unabashed, Tyson tried to assault Holyfield in his corner, heaving punches at the stewards blocking his path.
By way of explanation, Tyson said the primitive instincts instilled during his brutal upbringing had been re-aroused by the headbutts with which Holyfield had opened a gash above his right eye.
‘If he wants to make it a street fight, so can I.’Teddy Atlas, the former trainer of Tyson who had pointed a gun at him during their angry fallout, led a body of opinion that Iron Mike had been deliberately seeking an early ending to avoid a repeat of the beating he had taken from Holyfield en route to an 11th-round stoppage in their first fight.
That theory did not survive scrutiny of a subsequent fight in which Tyson refused to quit against the much larger and younger Lennox Lewis. On that night in Memphis the referee had to rescue him when eight rounds of terrible punishment turned his face into a gargoyle. But there was no acceptable excuse for the ear-biting and repercussions were inevitable.
Tyson was fined $3million of his $13m purse and ordered to perform community service. His boxing licence was suspended, at first indefinitely but restored to him on appeal to the Nevada State Athletic Commission just over a year later.
That did not satisfy the clamour for a lifetime ban. That was generated mostly by hardcore white America, which had felt justified in its fear of Tyson and his magnetic, galvanising impact on the African-American community by his earlier rape conviction and imprisonment.
Tyson was sentenced to six years in March 1992 for the rape of Desiree Washington, an 18-year-old Miss Black America contestant. The trial became a media circus and provided a backdrop for debate on a host of social issues, especially the US justice system when young black males were on trial.
But the wider fascination with Tyson the monster created such box-office attraction that he was always certain to return to the ring. By the time it happened Holyfield, not only the Real Deal but a true gentleman, had expressed understanding and forgiveness.
Tyson responded with a fulsome apology to him on a live television chat show. When Holyfield was elected to the boxing Hall of Fame, it was Tyson who did the honours by introducing him as ‘my friend, one of the greatest world champions.’
They meet up ‘from time to time,’ as Tyson puts it.Recently, Mike dropped by Evander’s home to present him with a glass jar containing what he claimed to be that right ear preserved in aspic. That was light-hearted amusement for them both.
The spat out lobe was actually picked up by Mills Lane from the floor of the ring. He handed it to one of Holyfield’s seconds, who put it in ice and passed it on to the doctor who would sew it back into place that night.It took a little longer for them to patch up their relationship. But that friendship endures now as a testament to the healing power of sport in this troubled world.