SI Vault
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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Could that have been what Tyson had in mind? Was this simply some poorly thought-out instigation, some kind of plan? If so, he neglected to consider that, win or lose, he would be branded an animal, with people recoiling from him in horror. With those two chomps, intentional or inspirational, he had become exactly the monster everybody suspected he was. Too much monster for even boxing's good.

Too much monster for this fight. Lane, for one, had seen enough. "One bite, maybe, is bad enough," he said in his Western twang, "but two bites is the end of the search."

The chaos was immediate, with Tyson twice rushing toward Holyfield's corner, and swinging at the police, who had quickly stormed the ring. The champion's handlers were smug over Tyson's raging frustration. "A typical bully move," said Tommy Brooks, who assisted Holyfield's training. "He'd had him all to himself in the ring, but now with 15 people behind him, he suddenly wants to fight. A coward."

The ugliness was infectious, spreading through the stands and into the night. After Jimmy Lennon Jr. read the once-in-a-lifetime decision ("Referee Mills Lane has disqualified Mike Tyson for biting Evander Holyfield on both his ears"), Tyson was showered with empty and half-empty cups. Police were busy dragging people out of the stands. Hours later the MGM hotel lobby, around the corner from the arena, was still a kind of war zone, with fights, fainting women, unconfirmed reports of gunfire and panicky stampedes.

Holyfield, laughing and joking later at the Valley Hospital Medical Center in Vegas, seemed the least affected by what had transpired in the ring. Luckily, a ring attendant had shown up at his dressing room with almost an inch of his right ear wrapped in a latex glove. So instead of attending the post-fight press conference, Holyfield went to the hospital, where he endured a 20-minute procedure to repair the ear. "It was told to me by the prophets," he said after the surgery, "that the fight was going to be short, but that there'd be some distractions." Then he called his kids at home in Atlanta and inquired how three of his children did at their track meet. As a parting shot at Tyson, all he could muster was this: "I still love Mike; it's just those demons that possess him and make him do things. He needs to find a new savior."

Holyfield's equanimity will become storied, as will his comeback. At age 34, after a retirement and a comeback that was so unimpressive that promoter Don King chose him as cannon fodder for Tyson, Holyfield is in a position to unify the championship. Besides more paydays like the $35 million he earned on Saturday, he has more opportunities to spread his gospel and do some marketing, each with the same zeal. It is hard to imagine how much more gusto he'll put into the selling of his new line of Warrior sportswear now that he has time on his hands; even last week, he was flitting all about Las Vegas, signing shirts and hawking merchandise.

The real story, however, will belong to Tyson, who is perhaps more interesting in defeat than he ever was in victory. It is clear now, after two failed attempts against Holyfield, that he will never be the fighter he was before he went to prison in 1992. The knockout loss to Holyfield in November could be chalked up to overconfidence, but Tyson's ineffectual attempt to outbox him this time around can only spell his doom. At just 31, he is used up. Without his intimidation, which had no impact on the first durable opponent in his comeback, he is lost.

Surprisingly, for all that went on Saturday night, he invites more pity than scorn. The lights hadn't gone out on the canvas before the easy jokes began to resound. He had been selected Sportsman of the Ear. He was going to be matched with Hannibal Lecter. And so on. He will become the stuff of monologues. But watching him leave the evening, unsure if he would be fined and suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, be sued by Holyfield or have his probation revoked because he threw punches at police inside the ring, was to feel sorry for him. It was easy to lament his miserable exploitation, the winking hints of his rehabilitation, the trotting out of one very unhappy person to satisfy the yokels' curiosity.

Exposed beyond argument, his rage was magnificent and horrible at once. This was the proudest warrior of his time, reduced to biting ears and pushing from behind. His struggle to make sense of it was just as pitiful. Complaining about a head butt, which Lane had declared unintentional, Tyson said outside his dressing room, "What am I to do? This is my career. I have children to raise. I have to retaliate." Pointing to a gash above his right eye, he said a very unwarriorlike thing. "Look at me. My kids will be scared of me."

He did not stick around to answer the obvious questions (what will Holyfield's kids think of their dad's scarred ears?) but rushed away in a cobalt Range Rover, his putative co-manager, John Home, at the wheel. The last we see of Mike Tyson on Saturday night, the car is blocked by a limo in a driveway outside the MGM, a fight fan calls him a chump and Tyson curses, struggling with the door handle, telling him, "You m—————-, I'll kill you!" A policeman pushes the door shut, and the car speeds onto the strip, south into the night.

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