Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield
|Date||November 9, 1996|
|Venue||MGM Grand Garden Arena in Paradise, Nevada|
|Title(s) on the line||WBA Heavyweight Championship|
|Tale of the tape|
|Holyfield winner by TKO|
Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield, billed as "Finally", was a professional boxing match fought between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson for the World Boxing Association heavyweight championship on November 9, 1996 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Paradise, Nevada. The bout was Tyson's first defense of the WBA title that he had won from Bruce Seldon on September 7 of that year.
The bout was the first fight pitting the two boxers against each other and it would be followed up with a controversial rematch.
This was Tyson's first defense of the WBA championship. Holyfield was fighting for the fourth time since he elected to return to boxing in 1995; Holyfield had suffered a defeat at the hands of Michael Moorer in 1994 and lost the WBA and International Boxing Federation championships, then retired after the fight due to a heart condition. Since his return, however, Holyfield had not performed well. After outpointing former contender Ray Mercer in his first fight back, Holyfield was knocked out by Riddick Bowe in the eighth round of their third match. Then, in his most recent fight, Holyfield knocked out an out-of-shape former cruiserweight champion Bobby Czyz in five rounds. Don King, Tyson's promoter, saw Holyfield as a washed up fighter and Holyfield was installed as a major underdog.
A fight between Tyson and Holyfield was first arranged in 1990, when Tyson was the undisputed champion, predicated on Tyson's defeating James "Buster" Douglas. Instead, Douglas handed Tyson the first defeat of his career, stopping him in the 10th round. A grossly out-of-shape Douglas then lost the title to Holyfield in his first defense, on a third-round knockout. A Tyson-Holyfield fight for Holyfield's title was scheduled in 1991, but Tyson pulled out of the fight due to a thumb injury. In February 1992, before the fight could take place, Tyson was convicted of one count of rape and two counts of criminal deviate conduct against an 18-year-old woman in Indiana, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison on each charge. The judge suspended the last four years of each sentence and ordered the sentences to run concurrently; Tyson ultimately served three years and six weeks in prison. Following his release from prison, Tyson's fights were protested by the National Organization for Women.
Tyson, in the meantime, had been somewhat active since his release from prison. After defeating journeyman Peter McNeeley in his first fight and fringe contender Buster Mathis, Jr. in his follow-up, Tyson regained the World Boxing Council heavyweight championship in Las Vegas on March 16, 1996 by knocking out champion Frank Bruno. Tyson, however, was stripped of the WBC title after winning Bruce Seldon's WBA title for electing to fight Holyfield instead of WBC number one contender Lennox Lewis.
Showtime promoted the event as a heavyweight title tripleheader, as two other champions were defending their titles that night as well. World Boxing Organization champion Henry Akinwande made his first successful defense of his title by knocking out Alexander Zolkin in ten rounds. Michael Moorer, once again IBF heavyweight champion, was also making his first defense of his newly won title and knocked out Francois Botha in the twelfth and final round of their bout, handing Botha his first career defeat.
Tyson came out fast and sent Holyfield reeling with his first solid punch. Holyfield, who had studied Tyson's style intensively, later explained that Tyson dipped to his left, from which position he usually loaded up a left hook, but on this occasion surprised Holyfield by firing a right cross. Holyfield tied Tyson up and revealed the first surprise of the fight, his superior strength, as he pushed Tyson backwards. Tyson would never seriously hurt Holyfield for the remainder of the fight. Holyfield defended effectively for the rest of round one and hammered Tyson with several counterpunches. At the end of the round Tyson threw a punch after the bell; an unintimidated Holyfield retaliated. In the second, Holyfield drove Tyson into the ropes and stung him with a hard combination, and his strategy for the match became clear. As Tyson mainly threw one punch at a time, Holyfield blocked the first attack, then used his strength to clinch, and shove Tyson backwards. Keeping Tyson on the back foot minimized his power and affected his balance, and gave Holyfield the opportunity to come forward and score with combinations to the head.
As the rounds passed, Tyson was unable to adjust, and found himself being thoroughly outboxed. In the fifth round, Tyson landed a fierce combination, his best of the match, and Holyfield did not stagger. In the sixth, a headbutt from Holyfield (judged accidental by Halpern) opened a cut over Tyson's left eye, and Tyson also suffered a knockdown, as Holyfield caught him with a left hook to the chest as Tyson rushed in. Holyfield continued parrying Tyson's charges and catching him with punches to the head. With 15 seconds left in the seventh round, Tyson lunged at Holyfield as Holyfield came forward, resulting in a hard clash of heads. Tyson cried out in pain and his knees buckled, but again the referee judged the headbutt to be unintentional. Tyson was examined by the ring doctor, and tied Holyfield up for the rest of the round. During the next two rounds, Tyson continued missing wild punches and absorbing counterpunches from Holyfield. At the end of the tenth round, a punch from Holyfield sent Tyson staggering across the ring. Holyfield chased him into the ropes and landed a series of devastating blows. By the sound of the bell, Tyson was out on his feet and defenseless, but his corner allowed him out for the eleventh. Holyfield quickly landed another brutal extended combination, sending Tyson back into the ropes.
Halpern had seen enough, and he stopped the fight, giving Holyfield one of the most famous upset victories in the history of boxing. Holyfield also became the first person since Muhammad Ali to win a heavyweight championship belt three times, although, unlike Ali, Holyfield's third championship win had not been for the lineal heavyweight title, which was at that time held by George Foreman. At the post-fight press conference, Tyson addressed Holyfield: "Thank you very much. I have the greatest respect for you."
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