• July 25, 2024

What made Mike Tyson furious enough to bite off both of Evander Holyfield’s ears?

The event when Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield’s ears during the 1997 match is one of the most talked-about incidents in boxing history.

Mike Tyson’s autobiography – “Undisputed Truth” was released to Vietnamese readers with the translation by Tran Minh. The book is shocking with its candid story about the life of the world-famous boxing legend.

As the third round began, I couldn’t control my emotions anymore. The frustration made me extremely angry. I was so agitated that I forgot to put my mouthguard back in after the break between rounds. Thankfully, Richie noticed and called me to put it back on; otherwise, I might have lost a tooth or two.

The fight resumed, and I threw two lightning-fast punches. The crowd in the stands started buzzing, probably sensing that the tide was turning. However, Evander continued his aggressive headbutts. I felt a bit dazed for a moment, thinking I might go down, but the rage pulled me back.

At that point, all I wanted was to take this guy out; everyone could see how blatantly Holyfield was headbutting. Angry, losing my composure, and being undisciplined as I was, I thought, “Okay, I’m going to bite your ear off.”

 

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Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield used to have a fairly good relationship before the historic 1997 fight.

People thought I deliberately spat out my mouthguard to bite him. That wasn’t the case. But I was in a blind rage at that moment, and I didn’t remember much. Watching the footage later, I suddenly realized I spat out a piece of Holyfield’s ear onto the canvas. I even pointed at it as if to say, “Here’s your meat, I’m giving it back to you.” After the fight, they tried to pick up the piece of ear and reattach it, but it was too late.

Holyfield jumped in pain and tried to retreat to his corner, but I kept pursuing and knocked him down. I really wanted to kick him in the ass, but I ended up just pushing him. By then, I had thrown all rules out the window and just wanted to brawl like we were on the street.

The doctor examined Holyfield’s condition and allowed him to continue the fight. Mills Lane deducted two points from me, but it didn’t matter at that point. Everyone just wanted to go against me. The fight continued, and Holyfield kept headbutting like a bull. And the referee seemed to turn a blind eye. Wh

After that, everything became chaotic. Holyfield’s team accused me of biting his ear again, so Lane decided to stop the fight. I was infuriated when I heard the announcement on the loudspeaker: “Referee Mills Lane has disqualified Mike Tyson for biting both of Evander Holyfield’s ears.”

 

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Holyfield retreated to his corner. He didn’t want to get involved in this mess anymore, but I wasn’t ready to let go. I wanted to take revenge on anything and anyone who stood near him. They pushed me, blocked me while he was leaving.

Everyone protected him. Holyfield was terrified. About fifty people rushed towards me, not to mention the police. They could have used tasers to knock me out. Maybe they should have.

Somehow they managed to pull me out of the ring. On the way to the dressing room, someone threw a full water bottle at me, and another person gave me the middle finger. If they hadn’t held me back, I would have jumped into the stands and beaten those bastards. After that, my team and I drank many more bottles of beer and soda. Anthony Pitts’ two-and-a-half-thousand-dollar robe ended up in the trash.

Mills Lane was interviewed right in the ring, and he proudly stated that all of Holyfield’s headbutts were accidental. And Holyfield couldn’t praise him enough.

“I’m incredibly grateful to have a referee like Mills Lane in control of this fight.”

In the dressing room, I was still furious. I vented my anger on the walls. Seeing that, John Horne hurried to find Jim Gray, the Showtime commentator.

“I saw Mike’s eye almost gouged out, while Evander only had a small cut on his ear. And this is not the first time Holyfield has pulled this dirty headbutt stunt. Think about it, one headbutt, you might excuse it as an accident, but fifteen times, it’s damn deliberate,” John said.

 

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I hardly remember having to give an interview after the fight. At that moment, I must have looked like I was wearing a damaged mask, swollen and bruised all over. People probably found me repulsive. As I was preparing to leave, Jim Gray rushed up and asked immediately:

“That headbutt you got in the second round, which almost ripped your eye, Mike, tell us about it.”

“That asshole has been butting me since the first round, and he kept doing it in the second. When he headbutted me, I looked at him, and he held me back, staring into my eyes. He looked at me, and I looked at him. And then what, he started pecking at my head like a woodpecker. Up and down, up and down, he just kept doing it. Nobody warned him, and no one deducted points either. What was I supposed to do now? My career. I definitely don’t want to keep getting headbutted like that. I have a bunch of kids to take care of, and he headbutts like that, careless about the injuries. I had to get revenge.”

“So, right after the fight ended, did you turn to Lane and say something since he couldn’t resolve it? What exactly did you say?”

“I don’t remember. I told him that guy kept butting me. I knew I had complained about it repeatedly, even before the previous fight. But you see, Holyfield is not the great warrior everyone praises him to be. He got a small cut on his ear and wanted to run away. I got my eye almost ripped out, and he continued headbutting me. Tit for tat. I always want to fight to the end, but he doesn’t. Now let him come out here and fight me.”

“But Mills Lane stopped the fight, not Holyfield.”

“Yeah, but he didn’t want to fight either…”

“Mills stopped the fight because you bit Holyfield’s ear. Was that to take revenge?”

“Never mind what I did; that bastard was butting me all through both fights.”

“But you should have told the referee, Mike.”

“I was yelling the whole time! I told the referee during the fight!”

“But why did you do that, Mike? Wasn’t that the right way to respond?”

At this point, I was getting really angry.

“Look at me, look at me, look clearly! Now I have to go home; my kids are worried sick! I don’t have time to worry about what’s right or wrong.”

I stormed off in anger. Our cars drove straight home, where our women were waiting. I don’t know why none of our wives came to the arena; they just watched on TV at home. When we arrived home, there was an angry crowd protesting outside the gate. They were shouting fiercely: “The battle is over! Get out of here!” Some even threw fish heads into my house. It only stopped when the security guards fired rubber bullets to disperse them.

 

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The doctor came to stitch up the wounds, and then I stood up, pacing around the dining room.

“You shouldn’t have done that, Mike.” I began to feel regret, but in truth, it was half-hearted. I’m not the type of person who cares much about morals. “Your fans will turn their backs on you.”

Monica understood and sympathized with me in this situation. She comforted me, saying that everyone makes mistakes. Feeling relieved, I smoked some weed, had a drink, and then fell asleep.

When I woke up the next morning, my mood plummeted. I didn’t know how the world would react to this news. My life was often precarious, with things that seemed small to me, but others thought they were serious. I hope my actions won’t diminish a legendary career. I should have considered the consequences of my actions, but honestly, that’s not my philosophy of life.

People speculate that I thought I would lose, so I played dirty. Nonsense. If I were that kind of person, I wouldn’t have to fight honestly in the first place. In all my previous fights, the audience saw my true courage, even in defeat, I never lost my spirit. So nobody has the right to call me a mad dog.

Yes, I was furious, in a fit of rage and lost my composure. At that moment, I bit Evander Holyfield because I felt dissatisfied and didn’t care about adhering to the rules set by the Marquess of Queensberry. But no matter the reasons or justifications, I found myself trapped with no way out.

Sports Illustrated had a huge headline that read “THE MADMAN!” Even President Bill Clinton said he felt “horrified.” They even brought this up on shows hosted by David Letterman and Jay Leno to mock and ridicule me.

I was honored with the title of “Ear’s Sportsman.” They made fun of the fight as a marketing stunt for a chewing gum brand. Newspapers called for a permanent ban. The name Mike Tyson was associated with a series of extremely derogatory adjectives like “despicable,” “vile,” “disgusting,” “barbaric,” “cannibal,” “inhumane.”

But I didn’t care, I knew this would have repercussions for me. Part of the reason is that they were only reacting to the images they saw, not the story behind it. If they watched the footage, they would have seen that Holyfield was playing dirty but was lucky to be portrayed as the gentleman. Strolling into the ring and humbly singing gospel songs. Perhaps, thanks to those images, his drug use in Alabama was quickly buried.

Surprisingly, there were also many people who stood up to defend me. Foreign newspapers showed me much love. Tony Sewell, a British writer, ran an article titled “Why Mike Tyson was Right to Bite his Opponent’s Ear.” He wrote: “While the whole world is outraged, worrying about the decline of moral standards and demanding Tyson’s banishment, I can only smell the scent of hypocrisy. Tyson is truly a pugilist, someone who dares to break the rules. The only difference is that the audience wants to see him torn apart by that lion.”

I also questioned my conscience. Perhaps, I had touched the deepest recesses of humanity. It’s the torment of contradictions: “Oh no, I shouldn’t have done that. But why not, it’s just who I am.”

A few days later, I went out. There were crowds gathering to cheer for my actions, thinking they were cool.

“Oh, the champion, I would have bitten him too.”

Honestly, I felt more comfortable with people cursing and scolding me than praising me as a hero.

 

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Before the waves calmed down, new waves surged in. A series of lawsuits followed one after another. One guy sued demanding ticket money back. Holyfield’s wife threatened to sue “The Crocodile” for constantly cheering: “Bite him, chomp him, Mike!” But she didn’t know that the term “bite” simply meant fighting aggressively.

Don was worried that I could be permanently banned from boxing, so he persuaded me to do something to salvage the situation. Don asked Sig Rogich, a public relations expert, to write a “heartfelt letter” for me to “answer” at the press conference on Monday at the MGM Grand.

“I bit Holyfield. Last Saturday was the worst night of my career. I’m here to apologize and hope that those who had expectations for Mike Tyson will forgive that action, something I will never do again.”

I apologized to Holyfield and continued reading the scripted lines. “I was afraid of being defeated. The injury on my head was quite severe, and in a moment, I only knew to rush and bite him. I am thirty-one years old, at the peak of my career, and I behaved that way because there was really no other choice. I grew up on the streets, struggled a lot to get out and promised not to return to that path. I’ve learned bitter lessons from the past because I didn’t have good conditions to develop. No schools, no supportive friends when I fell into misery. I’m ready to accept any punishment and will take it like a man. I met with a psychologist and tried to understand why I behaved so recklessly. I will continue this process and now not only train my body but also my spiritual life.”

I read the lines mechanically, but those words completely slipped away from my mind. I felt embarrassed when uttering such empty words. They didn’t come from my heart, everything felt forced and insincere. And no matter what, I knew that this incident would be remembered forever. The media storm would last for a hundred years.

I really didn’t care how I would be punished. While the Nevada State Athletic Commission was meeting to decide, I was wandering around New York shopping for a Ferrari. My lawyer defending me was Oscar Goodman, who later became the most famous mayor in Las Vegas history. Fierce journalists called for a permanent ban. Oscar refuted them with sharp arguments, but in the end, the commission remained unyielding.

 

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Later on, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield reconciled with each other, and both of them were eventually inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame.

On July 9th, they announced that I would be fined ten percent of my total assets, equivalent to three million USD, and suspended from boxing for at least a year because I had “tarnished the sport of boxing.” I felt disappointed, as if I was being taken advantage of after all the tax money I had poured into the city’s budget. Nobody had ever been punished so harshly and unjustly, not just in boxing but in any sport. Perhaps my case was too exceptional.

In 1977, Los Angeles Lakers basketball player Kermit Washington broke the jaw and skull of Houston Rockets player Rudy Tomjanovich. When he landed a punch on Rudy’s face, Kermit also ended his opponent’s career and nearly killed him. So what happened? Kermit was only fined ten thousand dollars and suspended for sixty days. Another case involved hockey player Dale Hunter, who swung his stick directly into Turgeon’s face after he had scored a goal.

That vicious blow ended Turgeon’s season early, but Hunter was only suspended for twenty-one games and fined one hundred thousand dollars. Another even more laughable case was when, in the final game of the 1972 hockey series between Russia and Canada, Bobby Clarke swung his stick directly into Valeri Kharlamov’s shin, Russia’s best player. That malicious act broke Kharlamov’s shin but helped Canada win the series that year. In the end, Clarke not only went unpunished but was praised as a hero.

I believe Evander also understood that feeling. At eighteen years old, in the semi-finals of the Golden Gloves in Georgia, when fighting against a guy named Jakey Winters, he had a similar experience. Winters threw a left hook at him and then another left to his head, and Holyfield fell to the canvas. When he got up, Holyfield still had a swollen face and was at risk of being knocked out. He quickly grabbed Winters, bit off a piece of his ear, and gnawed at his shoulder. Winters screamed in agony. Right at that moment, the bell rang, and the referee deducted one point from Holyfield, and the fight continued. All the judges chose Winters as the winner. Holyfield, apart from the disappointment of losing, didn’t face any further consequences.

There are two sets of rules in this world. One is for Mike Tyson, and the other is for everyone else.

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