Monday, December 27
Tyson's infamous bite
By Tim Graham
Special to

 It was one of those rare times when you literally couldn't believe your eyes.

It wasn't one of those merely shocking instances such as Jim Marshall picking up a fumble and running into the wrong end zone or Bill Buckner letting Mookie Wilson's routine grounder dribble into right field.

Mike Tyson
Tastes like chicken? Tyson takes a bite out of Holyfield.

This was far stranger than those. This was downright unbelievable, a moment in which your brain knows exactly what your eyes saw, but convinces you of seeing something else, something fathomable.

On the night of June 28, 1997, more than 16,000 fight fans jammed into the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas to watch a brawl between two of the world's top heavyweights. Before the third round ended, they stood agape in stunned silence.

At first they were just confused.

Why is Evander Holyfield jumping around like a witch doctor instead of fighting? Why has Mills Lane called a timeout? Holyfield's bleeding. It couldn't have been anything more than a head butt, right?

Then the bout resumed, and Holyfield made the mistake of clinching again.

And it happened a second time. Mike Tyson raised his head from Holyfield's shoulder and brought his mouth up to the champion's ear. This, however, was no whisper.

Tyson sank his teeth into Holyfield.

What the hell was that?!

I know what I just saw, but what did I just see?

After the third round ended and officials attempted to sort out the bedlam, replays from the telecast were shown on the large screens inside the arena. The action was slowed down and the images confirmed our eyes hadn't lied: Tyson bit Holyfield on his right ear, turned his head and spit out a hunk of human flesh; a two-point deduction and a warning from Lane didn't stop him from biting Holyfield's other ear.

The fight's slogan - "The Sound and the Fury" - was fitting. It's difficult not to hear fury when its teeth are embedded in your ear.

Lane, after conferring with Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Marc Ratner, disqualified Tyson, thereby certifying the most infamous night in boxing history.

"Boxing has many black eyes," Lane said. "There are a lot of things that make you shake your head. But this is the most bizarre thing I've ever seen in boxing."

Although the result was official with Lane's ruling, this amazing bit of theatre was only in Act 1.

Upon learning he was disqualified, Tyson tried to swing and charge his way through a sea of police and security officers to reach Holyfield's corner. The crowd went crazy, wildly booing Tyson and chanting obscenities at promoter Don King. Fights broke out in the stands.

The mayhem spilled into the MGM casino, where some swore they heard gunfire and a near-riot ensued. Blackjack tables were overturned and a security camera caught, among others, Dominique Wilkins' hairdresser stealing chips in the rampage.

The debacle prompted Arizona Sen. John McCain to assail boxing. Nevada politicians did the same and quickly passed laws that would allow them to deny a fighter his entire purse under special circumstances such as the ones that had witnessed the Tyson debacle.

Tyson was indefinitely suspended and fined a sports-record $3 million despite the efforts of internationally renowned damage control specialist Sig Rogich -- he served on George Bush's White House cabinet and worked on Ronald Reagan's campaign -- and noted mob attorney Oscar Goodman, who now happens to be the mayor of Las Vegas.

"He means a lot of money, and this town is about money," Goodman said at the time. "People wouldn't live in 125-degree heat without a good reason."

Of all the appalling moments in Tyson's life, this one had the most impact. The "Bite Fight," as it has become known, produced innumerable sidebars.

For instance, there was the NSAC's instance that Tyson receive psychological counseling before he could be re-licensed and the ensuing debate over whether those reports should be made public. There was the infamous Playboy interview in which Tyson appeared on the verge of self-implosion, maybe even suicide.

Then there were the more humorous anecdotes, such as the arena worker who found the piece of Holyfield's ear appearing on "The Late Show with David Letterman" and the Hollywood Wax Museum moving its Tyson statue from the Sports Hall of Fame exhibit to the Chamber of Horrors.

"I had a lot of respect for Mike Tyson as a great athlete before. No more," said Tommy Brooks, one of Holyfield's trainers at the time. "I can't believe what I saw.

"Things like this happen in the street, maybe, but they have no place here. It's just disgusting, is all. It's completely disgusting."

By the way, Brooks now trains Tyson.

Can you believe it?

Tim Graham is based in Las Vegas and covers boxing for

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