The week before the fight, Mike Tyson was trying on yet another role model for size. He had already gone through Arthur Ashe, Chairman Mao, Wayne Newton and Leo Tolstoy. Now he was intrigued by Sonny Liston. Tyson, throughout his 31 years, had been nothing if not impressionable. But Liston? Here was a heavyweight who had been unloved in victory, had become a joke in defeat and had come to a tragic end. His menacing presence had been a pitiful defense the very first time anybody—a young Cassius Clay—stood up to him, and his decline had been steady from there.
"It may sound morbid and grim," Tyson announced, just days before his June rematch with Evander Holyfield, "but I pretty much identify with that life." Tyson was so taken by Liston's legacy that he visited Liston's Las Vegas grave to deliver a bouquet.
Then he entered the ring to meet Holyfield. Tyson's menacing presence, which had earned him $135 million during a tomato-can-laden comeback following his release from prison in 1995, had been a pitiful defense in their first fight, when Holyfield stood up to Tyson and knocked him out. Perhaps only Tyson understood that his own decline had been set into motion. The fight crowd had actually installed him as the favorite for the rematch, ignoring his tragic gloom.
Sure enough the bout began pretty much as the last one had, with Holyfield bulling Tyson around. Tyson hadn't produced a genuinely memorable or athletic moment since before his conviction for rape in '92. Nor, from the looks of things, would he ever.
So he bit Holyfield's ears. Once each. A vicious chomp. Pause to spit the cartilage onto the canvas. Bite again. It was over before the disqualification, long before Tyson's one-year suspension would be announced, longer still before Tyson and promoter Don King would be able to try another comeback.
Indeed, his career had been over for a while, and the suspicion is that Tyson had been the first to know, to guess the morbid and grim life that lay before him. Perhaps he imagined, in his perversity, the day when people would visit his own grave, for whatever dark pleasure they could get, consorting with the ghost of the defeated. Maybe they'd even deliver a bouquet.