As the 16,000 spectators drove out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 28, 1997, after a night of fighting, MGM employee Mitch Libonati noticed something strange on the floor of the boxing ring. He later described it as about the size of a fingernail, with the texture of a piece of hot dog or sausage.
It wasn’t a holdover from the franchise. It was part of Evander Holyfield’s ear.
Libonati wrapped the piece of meat in a latex glove and rushed backstage to where Holyfield spoke to officers and doctors after his opponent Mike Tyson was disqualified for biting his left ear. In all the excitement, Libonati was not allowed to enter the room. But Michael Grant, one of Holyfield̵
Libonati’s discovery culminated in one of boxing’s most controversial and bizarre evenings, when “Iron” Mike Tyson – the most famous fighter of the day – received a savage reprimand for what he believed to be dirty fights from Holyfield. The slapping far exceeded the brutal basics of boxing, adding to Tyson’s reputation as a frenzied fighter both inside and outside the ring.
Mike Tyson’s collision with Evander Holyfield had started when the two were teenagers. They had teamed up on the amateur track – they didn’t know exactly what heights each would reach, but understanding each other would be a formidable obstacle if they ever met as professionals.
Tyson was a child prodigy who won the 1986 Heavyweight Championship at the age of 19 and dominated the division until a disgruntled loss to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, Japan in 1990. Holyfield was the lighter cruiserweight (190 pounds) fighter, advancing to the heavyweight division in 1988 and gaining respect for his trilogy with Riddick Bowe.
Long before that fateful night in 1997, Tyson’s personal life had begun to overshadow his achievements in the ring: an allegedly abusive marriage to actress Robin Givens darkened his media image and ended in a very public divorce after just a year. In 1992, the fighter was rape incapacitated for more than three years while serving his prison sentence.
When Tyson returned to the ring, he ripped off a string of wins against fighters who weren’t quite on his level, including Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon. Holyfield had withdrawn from the competition in 1994, but as Tyson put inferior opponents out of the way, the conversation about a fight with Holyfield grew intense. Eventually the two met in Las Vegas on November 9, 1996, with Tyson being a 17-1 favorite over the semi-retired Holyfield.
Holyfield would prove otherwise to his doubters. In eleven rounds of action, he outmaneuvered and outperformed Tyson by negating the strength of his opponent with movement and volume. Holyfield also landed nuts declared unintentional, but to Tyson this seemed deliberate. Before the fight could see a 12th round, Holyfield knocked out Tyson for a technical knockout win.
While for Tyson it was undoubtedly a disappointing moment, A boxing surprise practically guarantees a lucrative rematch. Both men agreed to meet a second time. Holyfield made $ 35 million and Tyson made $ 30 million. However, Tyson’s camp insisted that the umpire from the first fight, Mitch Halpern, not be booked for the second because Tyson felt he was not going to name the illegal nuts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission did not want to be seen surrender to Tyson’s demands, but Halpern voluntarily stood aside. So umpire Mills Lane took his place.
In front of a crowd of A-list celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and a record 1.99 million households who bought the event via pay-per-view, Tyson and Holyfield met for the second time at MGM on June 28th Grand Garden Arena, 1997. Tyson looked fit and adaptable as Holyfield took the first round, and came up in flames on round two. Then, just as Tyson had feared, Holyfield’s headbutt hit him again.
The clash of heads opened a cut above Tyson’s right eye that threatened to impair his vision as the fight progressed. It also opened a reservoir of frustration in the fighter that would manifest itself in spectacularly violent ways.
When Tyson came out for the third round, he had forgotten his mouthpiece and had to go back and get it back – a clue of things to come. His aggression worked against Holyfield, but with 40 seconds to go the two succeeded. Tyson moved his mouth so it was near Holyfield’s right ear. With his mouthpiece still in place, he clung to his ear, tore the top off, and spat it onto the canvas along with his mouthguard.
Holyfield jumped in shock and pain. Referee Mills Lane was initially confused by what had happened until Holyfields coach Don Turner and Tommy Brooks shouted out what Tyson had done. Lane called for a doctor and told Marc Ratner, the executive director of the sports commission, that he would end the fight. Ratner asked if he was sure. Seeing Holyfield bleeding from his ear but otherwise ready to fight, Lane waved the two men back into the competition.
Incredibly, Tyson bit Holyfield a second time, this time in the left ear, before the round ended. This time Lane was aware of what was happening and had seen enough. Before starting the fourth round, he disqualified Tyson.
That was not all. Realizing he had lost the fight, Tyson got angry and pushed Holyfield from behind and pawed at the security guards who had stormed the ring to restore order.
After the fight, Tyson didn’t seem overly contrite. He stated that he was frustrated when Holyfield hit him on the head without punishment and said he had lost control.
“Look,” said Tyson. “Holyfield is not the tough warrior everyone says is. He got an incision in his ear and stopped. “
Tyson believed his retribution was justified. “This is my career,” he said. “I have to raise kids and this guy keeps bumping into me, trying to cut me and cut me.” I have to take revenge. What else could I do? He didn’t want to fight. I am ready to fight now. Regardless of what I did, he pushed me for two fights. I have one eye. He is not affected. He has ears. I have to go home and my children will be scared of me. Look at me, look at me, look at me! “
Two days later, Tyson spiritedly apologized to minimize the consequences, but it was too late. In addition to losing his boxing license in the state of Nevada, Tyson was fined 10 percent of his wallet, or $ 3 million, which was considered the largest fine in the sport at the time.
Tyson could never quite shake the stigma of his actions. When a lucrative fight with Lennox Lewis was planned in 2002, the fight finally took place in Memphis, Tennessee. Nevada refused to restore Tyson’s license after a press conference between the two men.
Tyson eventually went on through 2005 when he lost his final fight to Kevin McBride. Holyfield retired in 2011. Earlier this year, 54-year-old Tyson expressed a desire to return to the ring. The fighter who was once known as “the worst man on the planet” is due to fight Roy Jones Jr. on November 28, 2020. However, the 57-year-old Holyfield remains a possible future opponent.
The two have occasionally interacted publicly in interviews, with Tyson expressing remorse and Holyfield admitting that he had briefly considered biting Tyson on his face right away. The couple even filmed a spot for Foot Locker in which Tyson “gave” the missing piece of his ear to Holyfield.
In reality, Holyfield never got his ear back. After Mitch Libonati handed it to Michael Grant, the piece somehow fell out of the latex glove when it was rushed to the hospital.
Many fighters talk about leaving a little bit of themselves in the ring. It’s usually metaphorical. For Evander Holyfield, it was just the truth.