“I was losing consciousness, but the adrenaline pushed me back and I wanted to kill him”


Boxing’s most infamous finish happened 25 years ago – but what was really going through Mike Tyson’s mind when he bit off rival Evander Holyfield’s ears outside an MGM Grand incredulous?

The heavyweight rematch, which broke pay-per-view records on June 28, 1997, was billed as “The Sound and the Fury” but is now better known as “The Bite Fight”.

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Tyson was disqualified for biting Holyfield

Round three saw Tyson sink his teeth into Holyfield’s right ear, rip out a piece of cartilage and spit it into the ring. An enraged ‘Iron Mike’ then shoved Holyfield as he danced around the ring in agony.

Remarkably, with the Las Vegas commissioners not wanting such a huge fight to end in a DQ, Tyson was allowed to continue with a two point deduction.

That is until he turns his attention to Evander’s left ear and gets disqualified, resulting in a mass fight in the ring as Tyson tries to fight his way back to Holyfield again.

Tyson explained his actions as retaliation for Holyfield’s continued headbutting (a clash to the head had caused a cut over Tyson’s eye in the second round), which referee Mills Lane ignored.

Critics suggested that Tyson simply knew he was about to be arrested again by Holyfield and was looking for a way out.

The truth is more complex and goes back beyond the first fight, to Tyson’s incarceration in 1992.

Referee Mills Lane intervened in the third round but the fight continued

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Referee Mills Lane intervened in the third round but the fight continued

Tyson seriously lost his temper when he was sadly disqualified

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Tyson seriously lost his temper when he was sadly disqualified


In his autobiography, Undisputed Truth, Tyson says, “If I fought him [Holyfield] back in 1991, when I was originally supposed to fight him, I would have knocked him out. He knows it, everyone in his camp knows it. The best thing that ever happened to him was that I went to jail. This is where I lost all my timing.

Tyson had four fights in 13 months after his release from prison, winning two versions of the world title, with none of the fights making it past the third round.

Great on paper, but the opposition was no test: two hopeless followed by Frank Bruno, the daring Brit who looked frozen as he stepped into the ring, and Bruce Seldon, who seemed happy to stand throw on the canvas in two minutes.

“Iron Mike” knew he was still rusty and not ready for a tough old warrior like Holyfield. But Don King was eager to fight, Tyson needed payday and, after Holyfield struggled with former middleweight Bobby Czyz, opinion was that Evander had been shot.

So much so that Tyson opened as a 25-1 favorite and barely practiced for his first contest, assuming Holyfield would crumble after the first bomb landed. Instead, Holyfield bullied the bully, scoring a memorable 11th-round knockout.

Bruno and Tyson met for the second time in 1996

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Bruno and Tyson met for the second time in 1996

Holyfield stopped Tyson in their first fight

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Holyfield stopped Tyson in their first fight

Still, Tyson had no excuses with the rematch, saying he trained twice as hard as he did for the first fight. Moreover, despite the result of the first contest – and the outrageous result of the second – there was no bad blood between the two. Tyson had known Holyfield from their junior amateur days and the pair were always on good terms.

That wouldn’t stop Holyfield from reaping the full benefits, though. The former Bible-pounding heavyweight king wasn’t averse to the hard stuff: low kicks, inside wrestling and, yes, charging with his big bald dome down.

Tyson’s stated plan for the rematch was to be even more aggressive the second time around. However, it was Holyfield who edged out the first two rounds, before Tyson emerged for the third round without his gumshield.

Many observers took this as a sign that Tyson’s actions were premeditated – that he planned the bite on the spot.

Tyson struggled in his rematch with Holyfield before biting in round 3

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Tyson struggled in his rematch with Holyfield before biting in round 3

In his prime, Tyson was so intimidating that he had fighters beat up before they even set foot in the ring.

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In his prime, Tyson was so intimidating that he had fighters beat up before they even set foot in the ring.

Tyson later called this theory “bulls***”, explaining that throughout his career he never looked for a way out.

“In any fight anyone ever saw me lose, I took my punches like a man, I never sat down,” Tyson said, adding that the reason for the sudden desire to chew the Holyfield’s ears was: “I was angry, I was mad, I lost my temper.”

Without a doubt, Tyson saw the world against him in the third round. He was cut, felt like he was “insane” and would get no help from referee Lane.

Tyson, “the baddest man on the planet”, was also tired of playing the pantomime villain, saying it was unfair that everyone saw Holyfield as the good guy no matter what. “It didn’t make headlines when he later got involved in a steroid ring,” Tyson noted.

Holyfield was accused of using a pseudonym to buy steroids

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Holyfield was accused of using a pseudonym to buy steroids

Tyson has served nearly 3 years in prison and didn't look the same fighter when he walked out

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Tyson has served nearly 3 years in prison and didn’t look the same fighter when he walked out

Oddly enough, Tyson actually had his best trick on the third pre-bite, responding to Holyfield’s hooks with some of his own power shots.

“I was losing consciousness a bit,” Tyson said of the impact of the headbutts, “but my anger and adrenaline sent me back. I just wanted to kill him. Anyone watching could see that the headbutts were so obvious. I was furious, an unruly soldier and lost my temper. So I bit him on the ear.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, Tyson was certainly looking for a way out of the contest. Beating Holyfield wasn’t impossible, but he was such a tough, granite-chinned gladiator that it almost always took a long war of attrition to defeat him. A post-jail Tyson just didn’t have that in him.

The truth about the Tyson-Holyfield rivalry is that only one man wanted to be in it. Holyfield was a boxing addict; he couldn’t get enough of training and fighting, ultimately to his detriment as his career lasted far too long. But any addictions Tyson had at this point in his life had nothing to do with boxing – he only got in the ring for one reason.

“My heart wasn’t in boxing but I needed the money,” he said. “Once I left prison, the fun really died.”

This was said in Tyson’s preparation for the rematch. He got into better physical condition, but where was the plan to deal with what the “Real Deal” would bring?

Tyson admits he wasn't in boxing for the right reasons when he fought Holyfield

Tyson admits he wasn’t in boxing for the right reasons when he fought Holyfield

The heavyweight duo are on good terms despite everything

Mikey Williams / Front Row

The heavyweight duo are on good terms despite everything

If Tyson was seriously motivated by revenge, he would have surrounded himself with a practice squad that would come up with a set of tactics to deal with Holyfield in the lead.

Tyson had known it was coming – and was the shorter man, so could, in theory, stoop under an incoming Evander. Why was there no strategy to handle the tough stuff that bothered Tyson in the first fight?

Mainly because Tyson’s desire to fight had waned by this point. Tyson said he bit Holyfield because: “I no longer cared about fighting by the Marquess of Queensbury’s rules.”

True for now, but also true for his view of the sport as a whole. Tyson, who had been boxing since he was 13 and had been exploited by managers and promoters in the decades since, had long since lost his love for the fighting game.

When Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear, he wasn’t just trying to get kicked out of a fight, he was expressing how he felt about boxing – a sport that had him chewing up and spitting out like so many bloody cartilage.



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