Evander Holyfield is best remembered as one of the best boxers in the decades of the 80s, 90s and the 21st century but his bout with Mike Tyson is best remembered for his ear being ripped off.
June 28, 1997. It was a day that saw some cannibalism in the world of boxing. The two players involved in the bout had contrasting fortunes in the sport. Mike Tyson was aggressive, brash. But, Evander Holyfield was one of the best boxers in that era. Holyfield, coming from the crime-ridden area of Bowen Homes Housing Projects in Atlanta, had honed his boxing skills by sheer hard work. The journey of both Holyfield and Tyson would intertwine on a regular basis.
In the 1984 Summer Olympics, both were the second-ranked substitutes for their No. 1 teammates. However, Holyfield managed to beat Ricky Womack twice and qualify into the Olympic team, while Tyson did not make it, losing on points to Henry Tillman. Holyfield came up through the ranks of the light heavyweight division before making his name as a cruiserweight. This was still a relatively young division. Holyfield quickly became its first undisputed champion when he won all three major sanctioning bodies’ titles. He moved up to heavyweight in 1988 and continued to work his way up the rankings. By 1990, he was looking to challenge Tyson and after some hard negotiating the two fighters would agree to a fight later that year.
Tyson, on the other hand, was in serious trouble off the ring. He was convicted of rape in 1992 and was sentenced to six years in prison. In addition, injuries and loss of form in the middle had derailed his career while Holyfield was making big strides.
Holyfield’s bronze medal in 1984 had given him the right platform for greater things in boxing. In that same year, he became a professional in the sport. However, it was in 1986 that Holyfield enjoyed his best year and first real success on the boxing ring. The match against Dwight Muhammad Qawi was described as the best cruiserweight bout of the 1980s. Holyfield became world champion by defeating Qawi by a narrow 15 round split decision.
After acquiring success in the cruiserweight division, Holyfield moved to the heavyweight section of boxing. In that era, Buster Douglas was the champion after he defeated Tyson in 10 rounds in Tokyo. Despite being on the wrong side of the weight comparison against Douglas, Holyfield was in fine form. In the third round, Douglas tried to start a combination with a big right uppercut. Holyfield countered with a straight right hand and Douglas went down for the count. Holyfield was the new undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champion of the World. At the time of the knockout, Holyfield was ahead on all three judges’ scorecards, winning 20-18
After beating Douglas, Holyfield fought against George Forman, who was considered one of the best boxers in the decade prior to Holyfield. Foreman was 42 and Holyfield was 28. On the surface, it was supposed to be a no-contest. Plus, it was a battle of generations, with Foreman belonging to a different generation of boxing.
Foreman lost the fight by a unanimous decision. But, the veteran surprised many by lasting the whole 12 rounds against a much younger opponent. Foreman even staggered Holyfield a few times by knocking him off balance in the seventh round. After the fight against Foreman, Holyfield was expected to fight Tyson. But, the injury to Tyson and his rape conviction saw the bout delayed.
Prior to the match against Tyson, Holyfield suffered his first loss when he lost to Riddick Bowe. But, in the rematch, he regained the title back.
The match against Tyson in 1997 had a bit of background. In their first meeting in 1996, Holyfield achieved a victory over Tyson in 11 rounds via TKO. Tyson had recovered the WBC and WBA Heavyweight Championship but was stripped of the WBC title for not facing Lennox Lewis. That loss was a precursor to the most bizarre fight that boxing had ever seen.
In the third round of the bout in 1997, Tyson bit Holyfield on one of his ears and had two points deducted. Referee Mills Lane decided to disqualify Tyson initially. However, Holyfield and the ringside doctor intervened and said he could continue. However, Tyson bit Holyfield again, this time on the other ear. Tyson’s teeth tore off a small section of the top of his opponent’s ear and spat that bit of flesh out onto the canvas.
Tyson was disqualified and a melee ensued. Tyson claimed his bites were a retaliation to Holyfield’s unchecked headbutts. Whatever was the argument, Tyson did not come out in good stead after that fight. After that fight, Holyfield continued to fight and had success. As the years wore on, his shoulder injury and subsequent comebacks dimmed his prowess.
Holyfield retired in 2014 but he will always be remembered for being the first boxer to hold world titles in three different decades, in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.