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Richard Hoffer
July 07, 1997
A raging Mike Tyson dragged his sport to new depths When he sank his teeth into Evander Holyfield
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July 07, 1997

Feeding Frenzy

A raging Mike Tyson dragged his sport to new depths When he sank his teeth into Evander Holyfield

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The money counted and the tents folded, the circus finally left town. There's a lot of cleanup left and the ringmaster has a few things to answer for, but the fun is over. As it happened, the chief attraction pretty much exploded in front of everybody last Saturday night and is not likely to be of much further interest to these yokels. You can see the train pulling away, gaining necessary speed, it seems to us, chugging away into history, or maybe just into another town.

It was quite a stand, though. A convicted rapist of undeniable ferocity but unknown resolve, Mike Tyson was prodded through a sordid little act for two years, providing some thrills for the customers. You could watch him pound Peter McNeeley and Bruce Seldon senseless and imagine yourself in a whole other epoch. What else could the point have been? The townsfolk gladly paid him and his promoters more than $135 million just to watch a cleverly staged diorama of prehistoric time.

But after this sixth bout following his release from prison, after he spun out of his handlers' control and became more menace than is good for family entertainment, it was time to move on. Watching him bite Evander Holyfield's ears, actually chewing off and spitting out a piece, as he did in their rematch, was to be plunged farther back in our evolution than is comfortable for anybody.

It will be a long time before boxing recovers from this horror. Tyson, who had been knocked out by Holyfield last November, was desperate to restore his mystique. The circus wasn't much good without his threat of brutality. Still it became clear early in this event that his World Boxing Association heavyweight title would not be easily recaptured. Holyfield, who had been a surprise story in the original upset, was still the stronger man and the better boxer, at least through two rounds. The action was distinguished by a lot of wrestling to that point, with Holyfield smartly nullifying Tyson's power. Tyson didn't unload many of the big overhand rights that he had featured in all his previous fights, and except for one crashing blow to Holyfield's ribs, he mustered little attack.

Tyson's frustration grew, as he uncharacteristically complained to the ref about a head butt in the second round that opened a nasty gash above his right eye. Then in the third round, with competing chants of "Holyfield" and "Tyson" rolling over the sold-out crowd of 16,331 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, he either suffered some kind of breakdown or orchestrated his own strange defeat.

Nobody knew for sure what he had on his mind when he came out for the round, but it is interesting to note that he tried to begin it without his mouthpiece. Holyfield pointed it out, and Tyson was forced to return to his corner and retrieve it.

With less than a minute left in the round, and with no apparent provocation, Tyson got Holyfield in a clinch, rolled his head up and above Holyfield's shoulder and spit out his mouthpiece. What happened next was amazing, assuming you could believe your eyes. Tyson's mouth reached Holyfield's right ear and with a savagery that went well beyond what even his promoter could market, Tyson crunched down hard with his teeth and took a chunk right off. It was no saving grace that Tyson spit it out.

It was impossible to understand what had just occurred. Holyfield hopped up and down and spun 360 degrees in pain, action that was mighty strange if you hadn't seen Tyson just get a mouthful. While referee Mills Lane tried to sort this out, Tyson compounded the insanity by rushing Holyfield from behind and shoving him. Holyfield, shoved and bleeding from an ear, was well past mystified. Everybody was.

Lane deducted two points from Tyson and let the bout proceed, which it did with exactly the wild fury you would expect. Maybe this could be sorted out later. As the action resumed, the two settled down and fought into another clinch. Seconds later Tyson found Holyfield's left ear, biting again with clear intention. He had sampled the whole set! There was no way to reconcile what was happening with human behavior, or even boxing. Tyson had somehow, in his frustration, in a defeat that may have been ordained in his own mind, run amok on the world's greatest stage.

"I was ready to tackle him, throw him down, do something that would get me disqualified," Holyfield said later. (Interestingly, in Holyfield's 1996 autobiography, he recalls spitting out his mouthpiece and biting an opponent on the shoulder during a Golden Gloves bout when he was 17. No points were deducted, and Holyfield lost the match.)

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