SI Vault
Richard Hoffer
November 18, 1996
In a momentous upset, Evander Holyfield gave Mike Tyson a true whopping
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 18, 1996

Real Deal

In a momentous upset, Evander Holyfield gave Mike Tyson a true whopping

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

If this faith is irksome to some—Tyson, for example, wondered why God would shine on one side of the street and not the other—it can be comical to others. During the Philadelphia revival meeting at which he allegedly healed Holyfield's heart, Hinn also told the divorced Holyfield that his future wife was at the same meeting. Sure enough, Janice Itson, who was there, became Holyfield's wife last month. They share his 54,000-square-foot house in suburban Atlanta, the care of his six children and, apparently, simple tastes. After they were married in a small private ceremony, they celebrated with dinner at Shoney's.

In the end it seemed things other than Holyfield's religious faith were at the core of his success in this fight. Principally, there was Holyfield's huge-hearted determination. He prays a lot, but he doesn't leave it at that. His work ethic is renowned, his capacity for concentration phenomenal. And he has focused on Tyson almost his whole boxing life.

Holyfield says he knew in 1984, when he and Tyson were trying to make the U.S. Olympic team, that they were destined to meet in the ring. Back then Tyson was the heavyweight sensation and Holyfield the light heavyweight. As they stormed through the ranks, it was natural to wonder if they'd ever fight each other.

Holyfield's respect and affection for Tyson date back to that time. He recognized the lisping 17-year-old as an outcast, a little like himself, the Georgian everybody called Country. Both fighters were ridiculed by the other Olympic hopefuls. Holyfield, however, saw how hard Tyson worked—"Nobody worked harder," he says. He befriended Tyson and, on one memorable day, sparred with him. That session was cut short when the coach saw how hard they were going at each other.

Tyson became the more famous fighter, and although Holyfield became wealthy from bouts against George Foreman and Bowe, among others—earning more than $100 million—he always yearned to prove himself against the man he considered the best. "When Mike went away, I lost my desire," he said after the bout, referring to Tyson's three years in jail. "After that, nobody really got me up to fight." With Tyson back, the desire was rekindled.

But what of Tyson? He is proving to be increasingly mysterious. There's still the fierce persona that he trots out from time to time. He'll show selected interviewers—Roseanne, for instance—his Nevada house, with its statues of Genghis Khan and Hannibal, and for the sake of news footage he'll roughhouse with his pet white tiger, Kenya, who weighs more than 200 pounds. But another side to him is growing dominant. In a wide-ranging discussion with boxing writers in Las Vegas four days before the fight against Holyfield, Tyson was relaxed, more pragmatic than pathological, almost suburban.

He can change diapers in a pinch, he said, but otherwise he isn't sure what kind of father he can be to three daughters, including one with his girlfriend, Monica Turner, a graduate of Georgetown University's medical school. "I know I've got to tell them what I did was bad," he said, "but I'm not looking forward to looking like an ass in front of my kids." He is becoming the kind of citizen who boasts that he is the first generation of his family not on welfare. Yet as a paroled felon, he can't vote or escape his past. He can't make sense of that past, either. "I'd like to think I was the way I was because of financial reasons," said Tyson, "and I'd like to think it was because of environmental reasons, but I don't really believe that."

He is clearly at odds with himself. Sitting in promoter Don King's house in Vegas, with Mozart piano music playing in the background, he didn't seem like much of a monster. He was just a guy who was stretched a little thin. His pride in his achievements couldn't quite crowd out the disappointments of his past. He said his life is over; from now on it's just a matter of providing for his children. He seemed tired. "All I know is that Saturday I'll pick up $30 million," he said, "then Monday I'll sign up for another $30 million."

It was a joyless approach. "I'm just here to render my services," he said. That was before Saturday, when his life got a little less joyful.

Well, someday he will surely sign up for another $30 million, perhaps in a rematch with Holyfield, who earned $11 million on Saturday and stands to make more by fighting Tyson again than by taking on any other opponent. But after losing the fight, Tyson, his forehead bruised purple, suddenly seemed a pitiful sight, almost as frightening in his new mortality as he had been in his invincibility. Turned out he wasn't monstrous at all—just another working stiff, just a guy who might not like his job so much anymore. Asked if he would come back from this defeat, he spread his hands and said he had to. "I make so much money to fight," he said, "how can I not come back?"

Continue Story
1 2 3 4