Tyson vs. Holyfield: 25 years of the most remembered bite in boxing history

The day Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear (Infobae)

This Tuesday, June 28, marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most unusual and iconic moments in the history of boxing and sports in general: Mike Tyson’s bite on Evander Holyfield’s ear in their rematch fight.

With this action, Tyson may not have established himself as the best boxer of all time, but unquestionably he did as the most fearsome. And even though he officially lost that fight, his name was engraved in the memory of all sports fans and even became a reference in popular culture.

But how and why did that infamous bite happen? To understand the surreal moment a little, we have to go back a quarter of a century, to June 28, but in 1997. The scene of the meeting was Las Vegas and faced Tyson and Holyfield, who had already met the previous year giving as winner for knocking out Evander.

Needless to say, good Mike was thirsty for revenge, that of 1996 against Holyfield had been the second defeat in his entire career, which at that time, at the age of 30, wanted him to return to the top of the boxing world.

Mike “Iron” Tyson, he was nicknamed at the time, and he was coming off a streak of KO wins, some of the fastest on record in the boxing world. He was fresh out of prison, where he ended up in 1992 and since he got out he had had four fights in 13 months, obtaining two versions of the world title. Neither fight made it past the third round.

Mikey Tyson’s bite of Evander Holyfield in the third round of their 1997 rematch went down in history as one of the most iconic moments in boxing history.

Mike’s iron fist felt heavy and launched with surprising quickness, speed and power, his two main weapons, which were the formula to make him one of the most powerful boxers who have donned the gloves.

They were also the virtues that made his apparent disadvantage obvious, because at 1.78 meters tall, he was shorter than the boxers who had dominated and were then dominating the sport.

The result of a fractured family, an absent father and a childhood marked by difficulty and poverty, Mike learned as a child to take the blows of life, and after suffering bullying at school, he found in his fists the way to return a few hits.

Since his debut in 1985 Tyson took over the world of boxing at the point of punches, and when he most believed he was invincible, Holyfield arrived and brought him back to the ground, or worse, to the canvas.

That KO of Tyson in the tenth round was one of the hardest defeats for the boxer, especially since, as he states in his autobiography Undisputed Truth, Holyfield’s was a battle he should have fought long before.

“If I had fought him (Holyfield) 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 happened to him was that I went to jail. That’s when I wasted all my time.”Tyson writes.

The Bite Fight

With all that climax in the background, the day of the great rematch arrived, which was announced as “The Sound and the Fury” (“The Sound and the Fury”) but It went down in history as “The Bite Fight” (The Bite Fight).

Despite having trained twice as hard for this fight and having the desire for revenge on the surface, the truth is that the first two rounds of the fight went to Holyfield and Tyson was in trouble.

Maybe that’s why, in the middle of the third round, Mike decided to launch himself at his opponent’s right ear, ripping out a bit of cartilage and spitting on the ground.

FILE IMAGE.  WBA heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield (R) snaps challenger Mike Tyson in the jaw in the first round of their fight on June 28, 1997
FILE IMAGE. WBA heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield (R) snaps challenger Mike Tyson in the jaw in the first round of their fight on June 28, 1997. (Gary Hershorn/)

The outrage took over the arena, but nobody wanted to stop the fight, especially due to the great expectation generated by the bettors of Las Vegas. So, incredibly, Tyson was allowed to go on with a two-point penalty, but once the fight restarted, Mike went back on the attack, this time biting off a piece of Holyfield’s left ear.

It was an absolute scandal. Tyson was disqualified from the contest and a massive fight ensued in the ring as “Iron Mike” tried to fight his way to Evander again.

According to Mike, the bite was a result of the heat of the fight, and retaliation for Holyfield’s continued headbutts, one of which had caused a cut on Tyson’s eye in the second round that referee Mills Lane ignored.

Critics suggested that Tyson simply knew he was on his way to being beaten by Holyfield once again and was looking for a way out.

Many observers who have analyzed the fight in the years since have noted that by the third round Tyson came out without his mouth guard, stating that this proves the premeditation of the bite.

However, Tyson has dismissed this theory, saying that throughout his career he always took the beatings “like a man.”

“In any fight that someone saw me lose, I took my beating like a man, I never sat down”Tyson said, adding that the reason for the sudden desire to bite off Holyfield’s ears was: “I was angry, I was angry. I lost my composure.”

The Mikey Tyson versus Evander Holyfield fight turns 25 today.
The Mikey Tyson versus Evander Holyfield fight turns 25 today.

Without a doubt, Tyson saw the world against him in the third round. He was cut down, felt as if he was being ‘punched senseless’ and would receive no help from referee Lane.

Tyson, the “baddest man on the planet,” was also tired of playing the pantomime villain, claiming it was unfair that everyone saw Holyfield as the good guy no matter what. “He didn’t make big headlines when he was later implicated in a steroid ring,” Tyson pointed out.

Interestingly, Tyson was having his best round in the third pre-bite, answering Holyfield’s hooks with some of his own power shots.

“I was fainting a bit,” Tyson said about the impact of headbutts, “But my anger and adrenaline hit me. I just wanted to kill him. Anyone looking could see that the head butts were so obvious. I was furious, an undisciplined soldier and I lost my composure. So I bit him on the ear.”

Whether knowingly or unknowingly, Tyson was certainly looking for a way out of the competition. Beating Holyfield wasn’t impossible, but he was such a rough and granite-chinned gladiator that it almost always took a long war of attrition to finish him off. In addition, he was a boxer in love with the sport who had the necessary motivation to seek to be the best. A post-prison Tyson just didn’t have what it took to take him on.

“My heart was not in boxing, but I needed the money”reflect on his biography. “Once I got out of prison, the fun really died.”

In another famous statement, Tyson said that he bit Holyfield because: “I didn’t mind fighting by the Marquess of Queensbury rules anymore.”

Preview of interview with Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson has become an icon of popular culture, paradoxically thanks to his infamous bite.

And it is that Tyson’s bite, looking back, did not seem against Holyfield, but against the whole world of boxing in general, a sport that he practiced since he was 13 years old, being exploited by managers and promoters for more than a decade. His heart was no longer there, so he bit into the box, chewed it up, and spat it out like bloody gristle.

an iconic legacy

The “Bite Fight” has been reproduced ad nauseam in countless references within popular culture. From episodes of The Simpsons, comedy parodies, or Hollywood movies.

That infamous bite that marked the end of Mike Tyson’s career also made him a celebrity, who now has another career but in the world of entertainment.

In addition to other projects, such as his company “Earbites” of cannabis-based edibles with shapes of bitten ears.

With so much time and so much history, Mike has also had time to reconcile with Holyfield, who even got his ear piece back in 2018 in a comical publicity video.