Holyfield vs. Tyson II—Bite Night Revisited

By Marc Livitz on June 30, 2017
Holyfield vs. Tyson II—Bite Night Revisited
Ticket buyers in Las Vegas were mortified twenty years ago when Tyson became unglued.

What happened in the first bout wasn’t supposed to happen and certainly wouldn’t happen again, or so the thinking went at the time…

Wednesday, June 28, 2017, marked the 20th anniversary of one of the most infamous boxing matches in recent memory. Without drawing much comparison to the second meeting between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev, which took place almost two weeks ago, the events of Saturday, June 28, 1997, left many, many fans with an awful feeling of a sport run afoul. Ward was granted a TKO win with tactics many felt were illegal punches and we may never soon hear the end of that argument. However, the main bout in question from 1997 was a bit different. Mike Tyson didn’t hit Evander Holyfield low. Instead, he bit him high. If fans were disappointed with the stoppage win for Ward earlier this month, then imagine if you will just how mortified ticket buyers in Las Vegas must have been twenty years ago when Tyson became unglued in a rematch which should have delivered so much more.

A few months ago, many boxing fans and writers alike saluted the 30th anniversary of Sugar Ray Leonard’s improbable win over Marvelous Marvin Hagler in April of 1987. Many of us were kids at that time, which made us adults ten years later. The 1990’s was a great time for American heavyweight boxing. Tyson, Holyfield, Foreman and Bowe are a few of the names which may come to mind. For the purposes of this narrative, we’ll focus on how Tyson and Holyfield appeared to be on a collision course as early as 1990, yet a man known as “Buster” changed all of that one night in Tokyo.

We were made to wait for a showdown between “Iron” Mike and “Real Deal” Evander for nearly two years but of course, Tyson was injured in training and then he went to prison for a while. When their initial meeting “finally” (as the promotion was named) took place on November 9, 1996, a few jaws dropped in sheer disbelief at the stone-faced approach shown by Holyfield. He didn’t back down and knocked out a man who was seen by many as one of the biggest bullies of the 20th century. The eleventh round stoppage was a shot heard in more places than just Sin City, to be sure.

The first bout generated over $14 million at the gate and sold just under 1.6 million pay-per-view buys in the United States. Without a doubt, a rematch would bring in even more money because what happened in the first bout wasn’t supposed to happen and certainly wouldn’t happen again, or so the thinking went at the time. Even more fight fans descended upon Las Vegas for the June 28, 1997 rematch. It would end up breaking records and monetarily surpassing its November predecessor by a long shot. Pay-per-view buys almost hit 2 million and the live gate this time was in excess of $17 million. However, not many remember “The Sound and the Fury,” as this bout was known, for breaking anything other than hearts and sentiments in the boxing world. We hate seeing fights end this way, especially ones we’ve paid to watch.

As the match commenced and was the case seven months earlier, Mike Tyson was outclassed by Holyfield. Original referee Mitch Halpern had been replaced by Mills Lane. That previous November, Evander was ahead on all three of the judges’ scorecards when the late stoppage occurred and their second bout was rolling on in the same fashion. The man known as the “baddest on the planet” couldn’t get to his opponent from Georgia, so he decided to take matters into his own hands, or teeth. As was the case for the first contest, Tyson was complaining of head butts from Holyfield, however he felt Lane was consistently giving him the brush off, so off he went. Literally. A clash of heads opened a cut over his right eye just moments into the second round. Grappling and shoving would follow. The dying moments of round three made us think a good fight could indeed be on its way.

With just 40 seconds remaining in the third, the unthinkable happened. Tyson may have been receiving punishment from Holyfield’s hands and head but appeared to be visibly frustrated with Evander’s superior efforts. So, he bit him, first on the right ear. A stunned and shocked “Real Deal” put his right glove over the area as he jumped around in pain. Mills Lane called for time as Holyfield began to walk back to his corner until Tyson shoved him in the back. The disqualification should have occurred at that time, according to many at ringside. Instead, a break of about two minutes ensued and Tyson was penalized two points. Barely ten seconds elapsed before Mike bit him again, yet he showed equal recognition of the target as this time, he bit the left ear of Evander. The round ended and the two combatants walked back to their respective corners.

Thirty seconds later, the night was over. The MGM Grand Garden Arena was full to its capacity as fans shouted, “bullsh*t.” Soon, the ring reached capacity as well. Unhappy with the stoppage, Tyson went berserk. He took more than one swing at anyone who got in his way, including Las Vegas Metro Police. According to many within boxing circles, Tyson’s world began to break long before that Summer night twenty years ago. Some agree that when Mike essentially cleaned house in 1989 and brought in a new training staff, it was only a matter of time until he fell flat. And fall he did, as we all know. What do you, the fans remember best or for that matter, worst about that night in 1997?

On a side note, this writer was spending his last night of a backpacking trip in Europe and headed to a London bar at around five in the morning. The melee in the ring was unexpected, yet what still sticks in vivid memory are the words of a disgruntled fan in the pub. “Only in America does this type of madness take place,” he said. He was then asked if he’d ever heard of a soccer riot.

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Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield II 28. 06. 1997

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  1. Anonymous 08:15am, 07/01/2017

    Wrong. IMO, Holy had butted and cut Tyson and Mike was returning the favor squared

    Mike was also coming on strong and would have beaten Evans Fields.

  2. Jan Swart 08:35pm, 06/30/2017

    Spot on, Steve Johnson. BTW, there’s an amazing interview by Paul Holdengraber of Tyson on Youtube. Great insight into the mind of MT, and it made me realize that most of us had underestimated him (as a person) all along.

  3. Steve Johnston 05:48pm, 06/30/2017

    Tyson could see how the fight was going, Holyfield too strong, too resilient, Tyson took the short cut to a defeat rather than getting stopped in later rounds

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