Posted: Friday June 29, 2012 7:03AM ; Updated: Friday June 29, 2012 12:19PM
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An oral history Tyson-Holyfield 'bite fight' (cont.)

By Gabriel Baumgaertner, SI.com

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Event personnel found the bit off piece of Holyfield's ear in the ring and put it on ice. It was later sewn back on.
Event personnel found the bit off piece of Holyfield's ear in the ring and put it on ice. It was later sewn back on.
AP

Lennon: Bedlam broke out. There is mayhem in the ring. It was dodgy. My next memory of that was how long it was before I was given the OK to announce the decision. It was 10-12 minutes later before I was given the signal. I remember a lot of the writers, commentators and so forth still asking what's happening. We don't know and it's been 10 minutes!

Giachetti: It was tragic. I went and spoke to him afterward to try and ask him what happened. He told me it was like fighting in a street fight. He didn't plan it. It was just a rage thing that happened. I told him he was in shape and that he could have finished the guy off. He was afraid with his eye bleeding that they'd stop the fight.

Mitch Libonati, MGM Event Management: Eventually both fighters headed to their dressing rooms and that's when we were getting up into the ring. I remember the guys saying that it might be there. It was center-ring off to the left, and there was a piece on the ground. I said I'm going to grab this thing. I have my latex gloves on and I picked it up, put it in another latex glove and I took it to the locker room.

Brooks: I went back out and somebody had found a piece of his ear and gave it to me. I brought it to the locker room. We put it on ice and eventually tried to put it back on. I have no idea what happened to it afterward.

Libonati: I knocked on the door, I was a young kid and I was a huge fight fan. I came to the door and I said I think I have something of Evander's. He kind of just looked at me like "are you kidding me?", and I told him I've got the ear inside this latex glove. They looked at me like "holy crap!" They took it out of my hands and I was told it was put on ice.

Turner: Tyson bit the ear because he was looking for a way out. Plain and simple. He didn't think he could beat Evander Holyfield. So if he could get disqualified it wouldn't be a loss on his record.

The Aftermath

The fight sent shock waves through the boxing world. Shots were reported at the MGM Grand after the fight (it is now believed to have been a champagne cork), and the fight became instant front page news. The state of Nevada would end up fining Tyson $3 million and suspending his license. Though Tyson suffered one of the harshest financial penalties in sports history, there were cries to ban Tyson for life. The headline of Sports Illustrated read "Madman!"; The Hollywood Wax Museum moved its statue of Tyson from its Sports Hall of Fame to its "Chamber of Horrors" and next to Hannibal Lecter. In her article, "Defending Tyson," author Katherine Dunn said "the press could scarcely be more inflamed if the guy had reached up Holyfield's rectum and ripped out his heart in front of the TV." Tyson never won another major fight in his career, while Holyfield would compete in high profile title bouts against Lennox Lewis and John Ruiz. The fight still resonates within the boxing community 15 years later.

Ratner: In the days following, it was absolute bedlam. This was not a sports page story; it was a front-page story. When that happens, it isn't just press. You have TV, morning shows, late night shows. Everything gets exacerbated even more. I remember when we had the hearing. It was at the City Hall downtown. It looked like one an antenna farm, all the trucks with all the antennas. They had to close streets down around the city. We ended up fining him $3 million and took a year out of his life.

Stradley: At the time [Tyson] was talking about the butts, but nobody wanted to hear it. As some years went by, and everybody started noticing that Holyfield does use his head, they started looking back at that fight and realizing that maybe there was some butting going on. The media jumped all over Tyson, the media wanted a bad guy and they got a bad guy. The media just went way overboard. They made it like the darkest day in American history.

Czyz: Look, Mike Tyson lost his mind. People say he's an animal. A piece of him is, but a piece of us all are in the fight game. I've said many times that you can't understand the pressure of a world championship fight. In fractions of a second, punches are whizzing past your head at 80-90 miles per hour. Some of them can take your head off. If I knew the very next punch I threw would kill the guy or I lost, that guy is going to die. It's an enormous amount of pressure especially in a title fight when it's all or nothing. You can make some mistakes earlier in your career on the way up to the title fight, but when you're in the title fight, that's it.

King: It was such an awesome event and so high profile. Naturally it had an impact on boxing because from one perspective, it made boxing more interesting because it got much more play in the news than it would have had it been a knockout. That would have been tremendous in itself, but this kind of action in an ear-biting, it got tremendous exposure and media concern. ... You had a boxing turmoil, but it always kept boxing in the limelight. It was the act that took place, not the sport that caused that to take place.

Stradley: The funny thing is that boxers have been biting each other for a long time. Holyfield admitted that he bit somebody when he was starting out boxing. I remember that Andrew Golota bit somebody. Renaldo Snipes bit Trevor Berbick in a fight. Just on ESPN a couple of years ago a guy was bitten. Biting goes on in boxing, but if you told somebody that in 1997 they didn't want to hear it and their eyes would glaze over. They would say that Tyson invented this.

Collins: I worked for Ring/KO for 15 years, maybe longer. The only time during that span of time that the owner of the company had any editorial interest was after that fight. Apparently he had a lot of people come over and watch the pay-per-view broadcast with him. They knew that he owned Boxing magazine. He was very, very upset. It was the only time he showed the slightest interest in boxing. Even people that didn't follow boxing seemed to be outraged at what happened

Lennon: I felt pretty down after the fight. So down that so many causal and non-boxing fans saw something so strange and so absurd and disgraceful for the sport of boxing because that's not what boxing is about. It's about two boxers doing their best and then hugging and congratulating each other at the end no matter what. It was just the opposite of that. It was a caricature about what people don't like about boxing. It was such a horrible and violent, incorrect reflection on the sport. I really think we lost fans that night. I think it was not good for boxing.

Stradley: Everybody remembers Tyson and nobody remembers Holyfield. About two or three years after the fight, people forgot Holyfield won the first one. All they remember was the bite. You would talk to people and they forgot that Holyfield knocked Tyson out. But they remember that bite. It was crazy. In a way, it's like Tyson took back the spotlight.

Albert: When I finally got back to my room, I remember putting my briefcase down and plopping down on the bed in total darkness, staring at the ceiling and wondering after what I had just seen if I wanted to continue calling fights. I was quite disgusted about the way things unfolded and I seriously questioned if I wanted to continue. As it wound up, I continued working 14 more years after the incident so I guess I had a change of heart.

Stradley: If anything it marked the end of boxing in America in a way. Boxing still gets big audiences in Vegas, but there is a great disparity to what goes on in Vegas as opposed to the rest of the country. There are not many big shows anymore. Boxing tries to support itself on a couple big fights per year. That bite fight marked the end of an era. Some might say it happened sooner. That was the nail in the coffin, I guess.

Ratner: [Boxing] is still one of the cherished sports. I mean it's the heavyweight championship of the world. It certainly hurt the sport. In a lot of ways it brought unwanted attention, but it became an iconic night. And now we're talking about 15 years later and it is still talked about. Mike talks about it a lot in his one man show. Boxing is the most resilient sport of them all. This Pacquaio-Bradley controversy is simmering down now. It will be raised again if they every fight again. But that's boxing.

Gray: It will always be remembered. It will always go down as is bite night at the fights. Mike Tyson, who at the time was regarded as one of the greatest heavyweights in the game, will always go down as the youngest heavyweight champion until somebody else does it. That he would have this happen, even for his improbable and impossible of a life he had, it just didn't seem like this would be in the realm. And it happened. Hard to believe it was 15 years ago.

Tyson: At that particular moment I realized I was an undisciplined soldier, and that's what really bit me in the butt. It's never supposed to be personal and I took it personal. And that's when my career fell. I never took boxing personally before. I took it as a business and I was very successful. Then, I took it personally and I wanted to be grand in what I was and I didn't respect the sport. I was all about me.

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