An oral history of the infamous 1997 Holyfield-Tyson 'bite fight'
On June 28, 1997, Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield's ear and was disqualified
A reflection of surreal event 15 years later from those who were part of history
Now Tyson says: 'I was desperate. I was blacking out. I didn't know what to do'
On June 28, 1997, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield fought in Las Vegas in one of the most anticipated rematches in heavyweight boxing history. Holyfield was the defending world champion after he had shocked Tyson seven months earlier in an 11th-round knockout. The two had wildly divergent personalities and were categorically different fighters. Holyfield was a warrior and a strategist; Tyson was a fearsome brawler. The events that followed remain some of the most inexplicable, bizarre and disturbing moments in a sport well-accustomed to pandemonium. For several weeks after Tyson bit off a piece of Holyfield's ear and was disqualified (Tyson actually bit Holyfield twice; he was only penalized after the first bite), the world focused on the controversy. Now 15 years later, questions still remain. What drove Mike Tyson to bite Evander Holyfield? And, perhaps more importantly: How did "The Bite Fight" affect boxing?
(Note: Holyfield declined numerous requests to be interviewed for this story.)
First, it's important to start with the first Tyson-Holyfield fight.
In the four bouts since his release from prison in March 1995, Tyson knocked out all four opponents he faced in a combined time of 18:40. In the two years before he fought Tyson, Holyfield lost to Michael Moorer in his last title fight, was knocked out by Riddick Bowe, and had most recently struggled in his fifth-round knockout of the aging Bobby Czyz. Tyson had a career record of 45-1; Holyfield had lost two of his last four fights. Holyfield opened as a 25-1 underdog and closed at 15-2. Tyson and Holyfield met for the WBA title in Las Vegas.
Mike Tyson: Before I fought Evander, I had just knocked out Bruce Seldon for the WBC/WBA title after I had just gotten out of jail. I hadn't been out of jail for more than a year. But I was fortunate enough to win a couple of fights and a couple of belts when I came back.
Jimmy Lennon, ring announcer for both fights: The first fight was called "Finally" because this was a fight that was in the making for so many years. This was finally going to happen, but there were a lot of people that were concerned about Holyfield getting hurt. I remember sitting ringside right before the fight and there were some Showtime executives nearby. I overheard them talking not just about the quality of the fight, but they were really seriously concerned about Holyfield's health.
Dino Duva, Holyfield's former promoter: The general public and most of the boxing industry and media thought it would be a massacre for Tyson. There was a feeling that Evander had gotten worse. There were some questions of whether he should even be fighting because there was the incident a couple years ago when he fought Michael Moorer and there were some supposed medical issues after the fight. Evander was rushed to the hospital after that fight and apparently doctors found some issues with his heart.
Don King, promoter for both fights: It was a tough fight to make because of the idiosyncrasies between the two guys. Each had a different perspective on why the fight should or should not be made. The other was saying that they wouldn't fight. There were a lot of ghosts and apparitions that would cause for more negotiations.
Tyson: I knew I wasn't in any kind of condition because I didn't have enough time to get prepared. I really hadn't been active for four years. I was greedy and I wanted the money so I took the fight.
Kevin Iole, former boxing writer at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, now with Yahoo!: It struck me how confident Holyfield was. He was a massive underdog, but he didn't believe anything anybody said. You look back and it's not surprising because that is how Holyfield has always been, but back then at the times it was shocking. Tyson was at his heyday at that point. There were people that feared for Evander's safety, but Evander had placidity and confidence that was amazing. I was tempted to pick him, but I didn't have the courage to.
Marc Ratner, former executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission: We took a chance by putting in a referee that the public had not seen. It was not Mills Lane or Richard Steele. It was [the late] Mitch Halpern. Mitch had done about 35 title fights, but the public didn't really know him. This is one of the biggest fights in boxing history and we put a relative unknown in. He did a magnificent job.
Tommy Brooks, Holyfield's former trainer: We had a guy named Gary Bell who was so much like Mike Tyson it was unreal. We kept sending Gary at Evander because when the bell rings [Tyson is] right on top of you. So we had Gary going right at Evander. It the first couple of weeks [of training] it wasn't looking pretty. Holyfield couldn't get in the swing of things. Eventually, he got it.
Teddy Atlas, trainer/ ESPN Friday Night Fights: I think that fight started and ended in the first round. Tyson did what he had done to fighters in the past and hit [Holyfield] late. He did it to make things easier. People that are weak want to make things as easy as possible. [Tyson] doesn't have the capacity to deal with things when they aren't as easy as possible. He pushed the borders by hitting him after the bell. Holyfield took the shot and hit him right back. He didn't have to use words, he told [Tyson] in his behavior and in his posture, that ain't workin' tonight, you're in there with a real man tonight. You're not going to get a free pass tonight. Cheap shots aren't enough; you better be enough, and if you don't have that, you won't be enough.