Updated: Aug 6, 2019
With Mike Tyson's easy win over WBA champion Bruce Seldon, the world was looking forward to Tyson squaring off against WBC top contender Lennox Lewis. Don King had already paid Lewis $4,000,000 step aside money so the Seldon contest could go ahead, as a New Jersey court ruled earlier in the year that Lewis must be faced before the WBA champion.
As the two camps couldn't agree to deal for the fight, the World Boxing Council, following the court ruling, stripped Tyson of the WBC belt on 24th September 1996. "We are disappointed and surprised that Tyson decided to give up the title instead of fighting Lennox," said Lewis' promotor Dino Duva.
Now as WBA champion, Tyson put his belt on the line against Evander Holyfield. The bout was billed as Finally, as these two were originally pencilled in to face off in June 1990, but James 'Buster' Douglas put pay to that in Tokyo. Then the pair were due to meet for Holyfield's undisputed heavyweight title in November 1991, but during training Tyson injured his ribs. No other date was made as Tyson faced a court case in January 1992 and was finally convicted of an alleged rape of a beauty pageant and sentenced to six years in prison.
But Tyson-Holyfield would take place on 09th November 1996. At thirty-four years old the challenger was considered damaged goods and many feared for his health in taking on Tyson, who looked to be back to his destructive best. Since losing the WBA and IBF belts to Michael Moorer in April 1994, Holyfield outpointed Ray Mercer over ten rounds thirteen months later. This victory set up a rubber match with the WBO champion Riddick Bowe.
Holyfield deemed the WBO belt as worthless and the Bowe fight went ahead with no title at stake. Holyfield held his own in the first three rounds as he traded with the bigger opponent, but by the fifth he looked a spent force. A left hook in the sixth round put Bowe down for the first time in his career, but Holyfield didn't have the strength to finish things off. In the eighth Bowe caught his man with a right uppercut and Holyfield went down for a count of nine. He was allowed to continue but was dropped again by two right hands. This time the referee stopped the bout at the 58 second mark of the round.
On 10th May 1996 Holyfield took on former IBF light-heavyweight champion and ex WBA cruiserweight title holder Bobby Czyz. Czyz was game, but overmatched and had to retire after five rounds. He claimed that someone in Holyfield's corner had put a substance on their fighter's gloves. "My eyes are burning and I can't see," complained Czyz to his cornermen after the fifth round had ended.
Referee Ron Lipton halted the bout and declared Holyfield the winner by a TKO victory. He also went to Holyfield's corner and rubbed the gloves on his face. "Nothing came off the gloves," he told Czyz.
On 03 November 1996 in Tokyo, George Foreman, the lineal heavyweight champion outpointed former kick boxer Crawford Grimsley. The forty-seven year old weighed a whopping 253 lbs and won by scores of 119-109, 116-112 and 117-111.
On the night of Tyson-Holyfield, Michael Moorer defended his IBF heavyweight strap against Frans Botha. The 5-1 favourite was fully in control of the bout and knocked Botha down twice in the eleventh round. The contest was stopped after only 18 seconds on the clock of the final round, with Moorer still the champion.
At last the crowd watched Holyfield and Tyson get into the ring. There were reports that Holyfield was getting beaten up in training against Tyson-like David Tua, and the fears for his safety and his 25-1 underdog status seemed to be justified.
Holyfield seemed to have the crowd, but Tyson started in his usual fast manner and nailed the challenger with a lead right. It looked like the bookies were right and a quick Tyson knockout was on the horizon. As the round progressed, Holyfield's tactics of standing his ground and not getting pushed back got the champion's respect. The bell sounded and Tyson threw some punches, but Holyfield landed the last punch in retaliation.
The challenger wasn't intimidated by Tyson, unlike most of his opponents before him. Holyfield was happy to stand his ground and smother the incoming champion. He even managed to back Tyson up towards the end of the second. The contest continued in the same vain, Holyfield would tie Tyson up and stop him from working inside, whilst punching with him when he had to. As Tyson wasn't able to march forward, he couldn't get the leverage to throw hard punches.
Things looked to be changing in the fifth as Tyson finally hurt Holyfield with a right to the body, followed by a right uppercut to the head. The challenger looked weary as his punches didn't seem to have the same snap as the previous four rounds.
The champion looked to take advantage of Holyfield's demise of the previous round, but again the challenger stayed with him. An accidental head but had caused a cut over Tyson's left eye. The crowd were chanting "HOLYFIELD, HOLYFIELD!" Then an angry Mike Tyson missed with a left hook, but a Holyfield left hook put the champion on the canvas for the second time in his career. Both men ended the round swinging punches and Tyson was complaining to the referee about his cut as he went back to his corner.
The pace dropped significantly in the seventh round, but it was Tyson who was looking to the referee, a sure sign when the fight isn't going the way the boxer expected. Both men clashed heads and Tyson came away as if he'd been butted, but the replay showed that both men were at fault. The ring doctor checked the cut once more and was satisfied that the bout could continue.
Rounds eight and nine went to Holyfield as he peppered and mauled his way at a confused champion. Tyson was still trying to land the punches that mattered, but the challenger's tactics were working to perfection. The tenth was going the same way, but with twenty seconds remaining Holyfield landed a right that hurt Tyson. He teed off on him and Tyson covered up. The champion threw a right, but Holyfield's right landed and the champion backed up against the ropes as Holyfield landed through Tyson's defences. The bell sounded and a weary champion returned to his corner for a vital 60 second respite.
Tyson slumped on his corner stool as his team poured water all over him and his cutman worked on the eye. He looked finished as the eleventh round sounded, but he continued to throw the bomb to end matters. A left hook from Holyfield had Tyson in trouble and a right exploded through the champion's defence as he hit the ropes and the referee Mitch Halpern waved the finish with 37 seconds on the clock.
Evander Holyfield had done the unthinkable and beaten Mike Tyson and became the only man since Muhammad Ali to win the heavyweight championship three times.
Other Title Holders
On 07th February 1997 Lennox Lewis finally got his chance at regaining the WBC heavyweight title and revenge for his sole defeat as he took on Oliver McCall for the vacant belt. Lewis controlled the first three rounds from behind his stiff left jab and landed the occasional hard righthand to the head. As the bell sounded to end the third, McCall refused to go to his corner and just walked around the ring.
In the fourth he hardly threw a punch and just covered up on the ropes. He began to cry when referee Mills Lane grabbed him by the arm and took him to his corner at the conclusion of the round. He told his handler "I want to fight. I need to fight."
But in round five he just threw one punch before Lane stopped the contest 55 seconds of the round gone, meaning Lewis had become a champion once more. The following day at the post fight conference McCall stated "My strategy was - and I know it sounds kind of absurd - was a kind of rope-a-dope." With his his crying he said he was trying to get into an emotional state. McCall still had his purse suspended and fined $250,000.
The following month Micheal Moorer defended his IBF title against Vaughan Bean. The champion was a 6-1 favourite, but did little to enhance his reputation, nor win plaudits to justify a unification match at a later date. He kept his title with a majority decision.
On 26th April 1997 the lineal heavyweight champion George Foreman, faced Lou Savarese. Savarese was unbeaten in thirty-six contests and boasted thirty by knockout. Foreman was the underdog, but took a split decision over his younger opponent with scores of 118-110, 115-113 and 113-114.
But what the world really wanted to see was the rematch between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson...
The fight was billed as 'The Sound and the Fury' and was originally set for 03rd May 1997. But as Tyson butted heads with a sparring partner and opened a cut over his left eye the bout was postponed until 28th June 1997.
Tyson's co-managers John Horne and Rory Holloway appeared for an emergency meeting before the Nevada State Athletic Commission, two days before the bout, asking for the referee Mitch Halpern to be replaced. They cited that Halpern being in the ring will cause "psychological damage" to Tyson. "Mike Tyson is totally convinced that this man cannot be fair with him in this fight," said Horne.
The commission rejected their claims and kept Halpern as the referee, but Halpern stepped down later that night, saying he didn't want to be the focal point of the fight. The following morning Mills Lane was installed as the third man in the ring.
Evander Holyfield was intent on showing the world that the first victory wasn't a fluke. He took the fight to the challenger, as Tyson didn't start in his usual fast and ferocious way. Towards the end of the round he pushed Tyson back with some good punches and landed some big hooks as the challenger was on the ropes.
Tyson's corner asked him to throw the jab between the rounds. Holyfield again took things to the challenger. Tyson didn't look happy as he complained to the referee about a head butt, which opened up cut over his right eye this time. Tyson complained a few times before the round was out, which again went to the champion.
Tyson came out fast and aggressive in the third round and landed some good shots on Holyfield, who sucked it up and fired back, standing his ground like in the previous meeting. It looked like the challenger was warming to the task, as he was having the best of the action. Even the crowd began to chant his name. Then, with 40 seconds of the round remaining Tyson bit a chunk out of Holyfield's right ear and spat it on the canvas.
He jumped up and span around in pain as the referee came between them, then Tyson walked over and shoved Holyfield in the back. Referee Mills Lane called time as the chaos erupted. As the champion received some treatment in the corner, Tyson was deducted two points for the bite.
Amazingly, Holyfield was ready to fight on, with the injury he sustained, but within seconds of coming together Tyson bit Holyfield's left ear. The bell sounded and when the referee noticed the damaged left ear in Holyfield's corner, had no option but to disqualify Tyson right away. Pandemonium broke out and Tyson even initiated a brawl inside the ring.
"He spat out his mouthpiece and bit me in the ear," said Holyfield after the fight. "It doesn't show no courage to foul and get out of the fight. Fear causes people to do the easiest thing, the quickest thing."
"He butted me in the second round, and he looked at me and butted me again," explained Tyson. "No one deducted points. This is my career. What am I supposed to do? I've got children to raise. He kept butting me. Holyfield is not a tough warrior. He got a little cut on his ear and he quit. Holyfield didn't want to fight, regardless of what he did. Look at me. Look at me. I'll go home and my kids will be scared of me."
Don King also stuck up for his fighter by later saying, "I am not making excuses for Mike, but I know him. I know that he's a good human being. He's my friend, and I stand by him. What happened that night was an aberration, a sad episode that all of us wish could have been avoided. It has never happened to Mike before, and I believe it will never happen again."
Two days after the fight Tyson made a televised statement apologising for his actions. "I just snapped. I couldn't tell you why I acted exactly as I did."
The Nevada State Athletic Commission fined Tyson $3,000,000 for the incident. By law they couldn't fine him more than ten percent of his purse. Tyson earned $30,000,000 whilst Holyfield received $35,000,000. The Commission also revoked Tyson's boxing license, which wasn't reinstated until October 1998.
With Tyson out of action, the heavyweight division would have to go on without him again...
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