***23 Years Iron Mike’s Disqualification After biting The Real Deal’s Ear
*The 23rd Anniversary of Mike Tyson’s fight against Evander Holyfield is nearing
*Their second bout, in all its barbarism, is branded most vividly on the memory
*No one could believe their eyes as Tyson bit off the top of Holyfield’s right ear
*Tyson, 53, and Holyfield, 57, have announced their boxing comebacks
As we approach the 23rd anniversary of the infamous Las Vegas night when Mike Tyson chewed off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear, these 50-something retirees are manoeuvring towards the long-belated completion of their heavyweight trilogy.
The best medical advice insists they should live on as treasured souvenirs of a game so visceral that on one steamy desert evening it lurched towards cannibalism.
Just as the lump of auricle flesh in question, which disappeared mysteriously from an ice bucket before it could be reattached, is still harboured somewhere as a ghoulish memento.
￼￼The 23rd anniversary of Mike Tyson’s infamous bout against Evander Holyfield is approaching￼￼The two retirees are edging towards the long-belated completion of their heavyweight trilogy
Yet Iron Mike, 53, and The Real Deal, 57, have announced comebacks. Initially by way of exhibition bouts for charity, which will surely best bring them back together, headlong, in the ring.
Be it three rounds for good causes or another full-bloodied fight for themselves, there is a fortune to be made and in boxing money talks ever louder than concerns for well-being. In this particular case, pardon the pun, deafeningly so.
*Now nearly 23 years on, Iron Mike and The Real Deal have announced their comebacks
The uncomfortable truth is that none of us who witnessed or have even been told of their first two dramas will be able to resist tuning in.
It is the second encounter, in all its barbarism, which is branded most vividly on the memory. Not even those of us close up at ringside could believe our eyes as Tyson bit off the top of Holyfield’s right ear, spat it out, was allowed to box on, then clamped his teeth on the left one.
The second offence left only scars, not an exposed cartilage, but that was more than enough for disqualification of he who had just reconfirmed himself as The Baddest Man On The Planet.
The bad seeds for this outrage had been sown seven months earlier in the same MGM Grand Garden Arena.
￼￼Tyson was stunned by Holyfield in their first bout at MGM Grand Arena back in November 1996
Boxing had been kept waiting for so many years – not least by Tyson’s upset-of-all-time by James Buster Douglas and his imprisonment for rape – that the night of November 9, 1996 was entitled: Finally.
Day by day the former light-heavyweight and undisputed cruiserweight world champion looked more and more ready to get his fists on the restored holder of the WBA heavyweight title. More tellingly he would also thrust his head into Tyson’s face.
Iron Mike stormed into the bedlam from the first bell and landed a thunderous right hook which sent Holyfield reeling back against the ropes. The Real Deal clung onto him for respite but then assumed punishing dominance barely interrupted until the fifth round, when Tyson mounted a desperate onslaught.
Retribution, in the sixth, came by way of a clash of heads which left blood flowing from a gash above Tyson’s right eye. He was knocked down into the crimson bargain. Come the seventh, more head-banging and another cut. This time above Tyson’s left eye. Referee Mitch Halpern ruled the cranial collisons: ‘Accidental.’
Iron Mike disagreed. Vehemently.
Shocked by Holyfield’s strength but also disturbed and distracted by his wounds Tyson fought on until he was pounded in the tenth and then stopped semi-conscious on his feet by a fusillade of punches in the 11th. He went to his dressing room crying foul: ‘Head butts. It’s his reputation. Head butts.’
He recovered enough of his composure to offer Holyfield this somewhat bizarre compliment: ‘Thank you very much. I have the greatest respect for you. I just want to touch your hand.’
Still, the sense of injustice festered. All the way to June 28, 1997.
Holyfield was warned to expect the worst. The pastor at a church where Holyfield prayed when training in Vegas prophesied: ‘That dude will attempt something extreme in the ring by way of revenge.’ Holyfield said: ‘I suspected Mike would do something different because he knew he was going to lose but I never thought he would try to eat me.’
Tyson’s handlers protested angrily when Halpern was again appointed as referee, warning the Nevada State Athletic Commission that their man might not turn up on the night unless that decision was changed. Halpern, feeling the pressure, got everyone off the hook by withdrawing on the night before the fight.
He was replaced by Mills Lane – then considered the world’s best referee with his catch-phrase ‘let’s get it on’ – who was Halpern’s mentor. Lane reviewed tapes of the first fight and to Team Tyson’s annoyance supported his protege: ‘Those butts look accidental to me.’
It would not be long before that judgement was tested again.
Holyfield – a dark, muscled nemesis now super-charged by confidence – controlled the first two rounds. The brooding Tyson roused himself in the third for a Light Brigade charge which ended in another heads-shuddering clinch. Snarling, he bared his teeth. Holyfield staggered back clutching a right ear ripped bare to the white of the cartilage. Blood flowed down his shoulder.
Lane, who had been unsighted, paused the action and glanced up at TV replays on the giant screen above the ring. Seeing the bite, he called ring doctor Flip Homansky who did his job by declaring Holyfield still fit to fight on… if the officials wanted.
The referee conferred with Nevada boxing Commissioner Marc Ratner, saying: ‘I think I’m stopping the fight.’ Ratner replied: ‘Do you really want to do that?’
Mills hesitated then declared a two-points deduction from Tyson and told them: ‘Let’s get it back on.’ No sooner did the hostilities resume than Tyson went for the left ear. Holyfield jumped away screaming in more pain and as the bell sounded many in the roaring arena believed he had quit.
So did Tyson’s seconds as Lane walked towards them, thinking he said: ‘You won.’ In fact he said: ‘You’re done.’
As the disqualified Tyson left the ring in disgrace he was hit by a water bottle and jumped into the crowd, making obscene gestures at his assailant.
With this man in his Raging Bull prime the mood swings were often violent. As he reached his dressing room, he wept. Head in hands he wailed: ‘No. What have I done? It’s over. My career’s over.’
Back in the Grand Garden, as Holyfield celebrated becoming the first three-time world heavyweight champion since Muhammad Ali, an MGM employee rose from his seat. Mitch Libonati’s job was to keep the ring in condition between fights. To wipe away the blood, sweat and – on this wild night – ears.
He recalls: ‘I’d seen Mike spit out his mouth-piece. But something else as well. I knew it must be there. Holy crap, it was right under my feet. I picked it up. Wrapped it in a latex glove. Put it in an ice bucket and took it to Evander’s dressing room. An act of kindness.’
It went with Holyfield in the hospital ambulance. The surgeon who was first to respond to his emergency beeper, Dr Julio Garcia, said: ‘I saw the piece of ear in the bucket as I went to scrub up. By the time I came back it was gone. Maybe it would have been too late to reattach but all that was left to me was to take a flap from the back of his ear and fold it over the cartilage.’
When Tyson surfaced for interview he said: ‘He kept on butting me. He was taking us back to the streets. I retaliated.’
Holyfield, dignified throughout, excused him immediately: ‘We came from the ghetto. When I was growing up and I was fighting my older brothers who were bigger than me they would put me in a headlock and I always bit them to get out. In my faith in the good Lord and Jesus, I forgive him.’
Tyson was suspended for life, fined three million dollars and ordered to perform community service. The ban was lifted a year later.
Holyfield reflected that his conciliatory reaction might have rescued boxing, which was under fire from the powerful abolitionists among the US senators on Capitol Hill. He said: ‘If they had seen both the two best fighters at the time lose control it would have been bad. Maybe I saved the future of our sport.’
He never forgot that responsibility, befriending Tyson through the years. They took part in a TV advertisement in which Iron Mike turned up on Evander’s doorstep on his birthday bearing the gift of an ornamental box which they pretended contained that long lost ear. In 2015 Tyson inducted Holyfield into the Hall of Fame.
Tyson came back from his suspension but failed to win any of the major events in 10 more fights, retiring on his knee in defeat against the modest Kevin McBride in June 2005. For good, so we thought.
Holyfield, four years older but forever a fanatical trainer, lasted longer. In 1999 he lost his unified world titles to Lennox Lewis in the rematch of a controversial draw. A year later he recaptured the WBA version with a win over John Ruiz but lost it to Puerto Ricco’s first Hispanic world heavyweight champion the year after that in another rematch.
￼Now nearly 23 years on, Iron Mike and The Real Deal have announced their comebacks
In the summer of 2011 Holyfield scored a knock-out win over Denmark’s Brian Nielsen in Denmark and called it a day. For good, so we thought.
Sadly permanent was the demise of Mitch Halpern. Barely three years after he was engulfed by the storm of controversy which swept along the Strip, the 33-year-old heir who had been regarded as the heir apparent to Lane as the world’s best referee put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
Halpern had been through a difficult divorce and was living with his four-year-old daughter Maris in a small house in a seedy, run-down suburb of Vegas. But he left no suicide note and neither his family, friends nor a shocked boxing community could conceive of a reason why he should have taken his own life.
Suddenly, two decades after that tragedy, a different destiny beckons Tyson and Holyfield. On this weekend of VE Day remembrance, there seems to be one new certainty for these two ring warriors.
They’ll meet again
-Daily Mail Online, UK