In November, 1996, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield stepped in the ring against one another for the first time to fight for the WBA Heavyweight Championship title. It was one of the most anticipated boxing bouts of the decade as the two had established themselves as huge draws at the time.
A big reason for that bout being hyped was the fact that Tyson and Holyfield were supposed to face each other much earlier. They were all set to clash in 1991 but a rib injury to Tyson meant the fight had to be postponed. Tyson then went to prison for three years after being convicted for rape. He then came out swinging hard and within a year and a half, he had won the WBA and WBC titles.
Holyfield, on the other hand, had started out in the lightweight division before stepping up to cruiserweight. He then added even more weight and went on to become the Undisputed Heavyweight champion. But by the time his first fight against Tyson came around, he was considered by many to be past his best and even had to get a medical clearance to step in the ring.
Tyson was expected to beat Holyfield convincingly in their first bout. His career was the on the rise while Holyfield was 33 at the time and not at his peak. But what transpired in the ring turned out to be a major shock and gave birth to one of the most memorable rivalries in boxing history.
In Tyson vs Holyfield Part 1, the duo fought for 11 rounds. They were evenly matched but Holyfield had the upper hand for most of it. And to the utter shock of everyone watching in the Las Vegas arena and across the world, Holyfield managed to knock Tyson down in the sixth round before being declared the winner in the eleventh.
Tyson and his camp asked for a rematch immediately and the bout was scheduled for June 28, 1997. Tyson admitted that he had not taken Holyfield seriously enough and would put up a much better fight in their second clash.
While everyone did expect Tyson vs Holyfield Part 2 to be a much tighter contest, no one in their wildest dreams could have expected what was to follow.
Tyson was leaner and more determined and swung hard in the first two rounds of the rematch. But Holyfield knew what was coming and figured out a way to land punches without getting hit too heavily. The first two rounds went to Holyfield and after that, the world got to see one of the most bizarre incidents in a sporting arena.
As the two boxers got in a clinch during the third round with 40 seconds remaining, Tyson leaned over and bit Holyfield’s right ear. Such was the severity of the bite that it tore off a one-inch piece of cartilage from the top of the ear. Tyson then spat out the piece of the ear onto the floor of the ring as Holyfield jumped in pain with blood flowing out of his injured ear.
Referee Mills Lane then called for a timeout and was about to immediately disqualify Tyson, but he let the bout resume after being assured by the ringside doctor that Holyfield could continue to fight.
But the two fighters got into another clinch soon after and again, Tyson did the same thing and this time bit Holyfield’s left ear. The referee had had enough by then and he disqualified Tyson, with Holyfield retaining his title.
In an interview just minutes after the fight, Tyson said that he did what he did because he felt Holyfield was headbutting him repeatedly.
“Listen. Holyfield is not the tough warrior everyone says he is. He got a nick on his ear and he quit,” Tyson told Sky Sports Box Office.
“This is my career. I’ve got children to raise and this guy keeps butting me, trying to cut me and get me stopped on cuts. I’ve got to retaliate. What else could I do? He didn’t want to fight. I’m ready to fight right now. Regardless of what I did, he’s been butting me for two fights. I got one eye. He’s not impaired. He’s got ears. I’ve got to go home and my kids will be scared of me. Look at me, look at me, look at me!”
As a result of his actions, Tyson’s boxing license was revoked by the Nevada State Athletic Commission and he was also fined $3 million. But just over a year later, his license was restored and he went on to fight professionally for another seven years.
Despite the bad blood between them at the time, Tyson and Holyfield went on to befriend each other year’s later. They even appeared together on The Oprah Winfrey Show and reflected on that infamous bout.
Watch the infamous fight between Tyson and Holyfield here: