Tyson-Holyfield II was “Bite Nite” 22 years ago Friday
Over two decades later it still remains the most bizarre finish to a Heavyweight Championship boxing match ever. Mike Tyson was at one time was the most feared man in the world for his awesome punching power, but what he did in Las Vegas in his rematch against Evander Holyfield was not only scary, but just outright surreal.
The night was June 28th, 1997, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. That was the same location where Holyfield had regained the heavyweight championship seven months earlier by stunning Tyson with an 11th round TKO. It was just a second loss of Tyson’s career, the other having come when James “Buster” Douglas upset the unbeaten undisputed champ in Tokyo, Japan in February of 1990 by knockout.
Now, Tyson was looking to regain the heavyweight title for a third time, which was something that only Muhammad Ali had done before in Heavyweight lore.
However, just like their first meeting at the end of 1996, Holyfield, the former Olympic, and light heavyweight himself, showed his toughness and technical skill that made him a great champion. He kept in coming at Tyson showing his punching power and keeping Tyson off balance.
Holyfield began round one by rocking Tyson with an overhand right. Tyson responded and landed a couple of big blows of his own, but, much to Tyson’s dismay, again, Holyfield could not be moved.
Early on in round two, Holyfield scored again with a left hook and then, eventually clashed heads with Tyson as he ducked under Tyson leaping in with a right hand. Tyson suffered a cut over his right eye that was significant and began to bleed and affect him, almost immediately.
The fighters exchanged occasional big punches and again the bell sounded for the end of round two with Tyson’s corner complaining about head butts. That would be a big factor in what was about to happen in the third.
Tyson came strong at Holyfield with lead rights and left hooks. Once again, he missed one of the punches and the heads clashed, quickly. Tyson in a clinch with Holyfield continued to look at referee Mills Lane about whether he was going to do something about what he felt were head-butts. Then, seconds later, after a missed punch, another clinch happened. And, Tyson with his head resting in the clinch on Holyfield’s shoulder, suddenly reached it up and bit Holyfield’s right ear tearing away over one inch of flesh and cartilage.
Holyfield jumped back shrieking in pain and all at ringside could see something was significantly wrong with his ear streaming blood. Lane looked on the ground and almost picked the piece of his ear up, but did not. The fight was stopped while the veteran referee debated what to do.
He sent Holyfield to his corner to be checked by the doctor and after over a minute-and-a-half eventually penalized Tyson two points on the scoring system for the intentional foul of biting Holyfield.
A hilarious exchange came from Tyson’s chief cornerman Richie Giachetti and Tyson himself, when they were trying to act like the wound to the ear had come from a punch. Lane was picked up on his wireless microphone responding to them, “b*******! You bit him.”
Once the fight resumed with under 40 seconds remaining in the third, Tyson again tried to land a big punch. However, the same pattern continued, as Tyson would miss the wild right hand and Holyfield would be leaning in for a counter, when their heads would clash. It happened twice more, during quick exchanges.
Then, in most bizarre fashion, Tyson with his right arm clinched, did it, again, He bit Holyfield’s left ear this time.
Holyfield again jumped back, grabbing his ear in pain and then, jumped up and down twice. Lane did nothing to stop the fight at that moment or warn Tyson. The fighters threw punches for the final seconds of round three until the bell.
At that point, mayhem took over.
Lane came over and checked Holyfield’s left ear and realized the Tyson had bitten him, again. At the same time Mark Ratner, the head of the Nevada State athletic commission, was in the ring, leaning over the ropes trying to tell the broadcasters on video row about the point deductions against Tyson for round three.
That’s when, Lane decided he would disqualify Tyson for having bit Holyfield a second time. He went over to Tyson’s corner and informed them that the fight was over.
Again, comically, Giachetti, Tyson and the corner believed that Tyson was being declared the winner, because Holyfield couldn’t continue.
Instead, Lane said to Tyson three times waving his arm at him, “you’re done. You’re done. You’re done. He’s disqualified.”
The chaos ramped up as an enraged Tyson and several of his cornerman and including his entourage entered the ring and were attempting to now fight anyone they could get their hands on. That included Holyfield’s corner, Holyfield himself or Lane. Security and law enforcement stepped in between them to keep Tyson and his handlers in their corner of the ring.
Holyfield eventually left the ring to diffuse the situation further having retained Heavyweight Championship. Tyson, after more than 10 minutes left the ring, with boos raining down and eventually someone throwing a cup of water at him. Tyson had to be restrained from going up into the stands after that person on his way to his dressing room.
In the end Holyfield remained the champion by disqualification. It was noted by the media at ringside that it was the first time that a Heayvweight World Title fight had ended with a DQ since the 1950s.
Holyfield improved to 33-3 that night and successfully defended the title twice more before a draw with Lennox Lewis in March of 1999. And then, eventually he lost a decision loss to Lewis in November of that same year. Holyfield would fight on in to 2000s (all the way up to 2011) before finishing with a 44-10 record with two draws and 29 KOs.
As for Tyson, he was suspended for a year for his actions that June night in 1997 in Las Vegas and fined $3,000,000. And, the embarrassing bizarre behavior of biting of Holyfield’s ears now became arguably the most noted thing that Tyson had ever done in a ring.
After the suspension was lifted, Tyson fought for the heavyweight title once more, when also he lost to Lewis by knockout in June of 2002 in Memphis, Tennessee.
Tyson finished with a career record of 50 – 6 retiring in the summer of 2005.
But it still remains, that in all of the great battles that Tyson and Holyfield had in their careers throughout the 80s and 90s in fights for the heavyweight championship, none was crazier than that June night in Las Vegas.