Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson II
|Date||June 28, 1997|
|Title(s) on the line||WBA Heavyweight Championship|
|Tale of the tape|
|Holyfield defeats Tyson via DQ|
Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson II, billed as "The Sound and the Fury" and afterwards infamously referred to as "The Bite Fight", was a professional boxing match contested on June 28, 1997, for the WBA Heavyweight Championship. It achieved notoriety as one of the most bizarre fights in boxing history, after Tyson bit off part of Holyfield's ear. Tyson was disqualified from the match and lost his boxing license, though it was later reinstated.
The fight took place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The referee officiating the fight was Mills Lane, who was brought in as a late replacement when Tyson's camp protested the original selection of Mitch Halpern (who officiated the first fight) as the referee.
Tyson and Holyfield fought seven months earlier in Las Vegas. Tyson was making his first defense of the WBA championship he had won from Bruce Seldon in a first-round knockout. Holyfield, despite being a former champion, was a significant underdog entering the match as he had been rather lackluster in several fights since he returned to fighting in 1995 after a brief retirement. However, Holyfield surprised Tyson by controlling the contest and knocked him down in the sixth round. Halpern stopped the fight in the eleventh round, giving Holyfield an upset victory.
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The fight began with Holyfield dominating Tyson. Holyfield won the first three rounds. At 2:19 of the first round, an overhand right from Holyfield stunned Tyson, but Tyson fought back immediately pushing Holyfield backwards. At 32 seconds into the second round, Holyfield ducked under a right from Tyson. In doing so, he head-butted Tyson, opening a large cut over the latter's right eye (although trainer Ritchie Giachetti believed the cut happened in the first round). Tyson had repeatedly complained about head-butting in the first bout between the two fighters. Upon reviewing replays, referee Mills Lane stated the headbutts were unintentional and nonpunishable.
As the third round was about to begin, Tyson came out of his corner without his mouthpiece. Lane ordered Tyson back to his corner to insert it. Tyson inserted his mouthpiece, got back into position and the match resumed. Tyson began the third round with a furious attack. With forty seconds remaining in the round, Holyfield got Tyson in a clinch, and Tyson rolled his head above Holyfield's shoulder and bit Holyfield on his right ear. The bite avulsed a one-inch piece of cartilage from the top of the ear, and Tyson spat out the piece of ear onto the ring floor. As Holyfield shrieked in pain and jumped in circles, he managed to push Tyson away, at which point Lane called for a time-out. As Holyfield turned to walk to his corner, Tyson shoved him from behind. Lane sent Tyson to a neutral corner as an enraged Holyfield gestured for Mills Lane to look at his bitten ear, which was rapidly bleeding.
The fight was delayed for several minutes as Lane debated what to do. Lane's original decision was to immediately disqualify Tyson, but after the ringside doctor determined that Holyfield was able to continue despite the massive bite, Lane announced he would be deducting two points from Tyson and the fight would continue. Bobby Czyz, who was calling the fight with Steve Albert for Showtime, said, "I wonder how this would have played in Mitch Halpern's eyes," and Albert told Czyz, "That's a thought, Bobby." As Lane explained the decision to Tyson and his cornermen, Tyson asserted that the injury to Holyfield's ear was the result of a punch. "Bullshit," Lane retorted. The fight was resumed.
During another clinch, Tyson bit Holyfield's left ear. Holyfield threw his hands around to get out of the clinch and jumped back. Tyson's second bite just scarred Holyfield's ear. Lane did not stop the fight this time, so the two men continued fighting until time expired. The men walked back to their respective corners, and when the second bite was discovered, the fight was stopped.
After the fight was stopped, Tyson went on a rampage at Holyfield and his trainer Brooks while they were still in their corner. Mills Lane told Tyson's corner that he was disqualifying Tyson for biting Holyfield. To protect Holyfield, security surrounded him in his corner and Tyson was taken back to his corner by security. Mills Lane was interviewed, and said he knew from experience that the bites were intentional. He had told Tyson not to bite anymore, and said Tyson asked to be disqualified by disobeying that order. Holyfield left the ring seconds after the interview, which gave the fans and audience the hint that the fight was over. Holyfield told the press afterward that Tyson bit him because he knew he was going to get knocked out and he chose to lose in a disqualification instead.
Reporters then interviewed Mike Tyson's instructor, who was upset about Lane's decision. The instructor said, "They will have to explain that. I do not agree with it but it is what it is...all I know is Mike Tyson has a cut in his eye."
Twenty-five minutes after the brawl ended, announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. read the decision: "Ladies and gentlemen, this bout has been stopped at the end of round number three. The referee in charge, Mills Lane, disqualifies Mike Tyson for biting Evander Holyfield in both ears, the winner by way of disqualification and still the WBA Champion of the world, Evander 'The Real Deal' Holyfield!" As a result, Holyfield remained the WBA Heavyweight champion.
Tyson said it was retaliation for the headbutts.
Later, during post-match interviews, Tyson was walking back to his locker room when a fan from the stadium tossed a bottle of water in his direction. Tyson, his instructor and a pain manager climbed over a temporary railing and up into the stands, made obscene gestures to the crowd, and made their way up the side of a stairway. Tyson had to be restrained as he was led off. When interviewed about his championship and the incident with Tyson, Holyfield said he already forgave Tyson for biting him since he has 100% faith in God and Jesus.
The commentators for the Sky Sports broadcast of the bout theorized that no one had been disqualified in a title bout for more than 50 years, estimating that the last disqualification was during a bout between Joe Louis and Buddy Baer, where Baer was disqualified for refusing to continue to fight. They also compared the fight to The Long Count Fight and the Phantom Punch incident.
Nonetheless, Tyson was sentenced with a permanent suspension from boxing and his license cancelled indefinitely. Tyson was also fined $3,000,000 and had to serve a period of community service. After a year and an appeal in court, Tyson's license was reinstated. When Tyson and Holyfield retired from boxing they befriended each other and are now close friends today.
As a result of biting Holyfield on both ears and other behavior, Tyson's boxing license was revoked by the Nevada State Athletic Commission and he was fined $3 million plus legal costs. The revocation was not permanent; a little more than a year later on October 18, 1998, the commission voted 4–1 to restore Tyson's boxing license.
In the 2008 documentary Tyson, the boxer claimed he did it as retaliation for the headbutting.
A book entitled The Bite Fight was made in 2013 by journalist George Willis, illustrating the lives of Tyson and Holyfield before, during, and after the fight.
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