On a frigid March morning in 1995, as the sun was preparing to rise and a crescent moon hung in the sky, Mike Tyson exited the Indiana Youth Center, a medium-security prison just outside of Indianapolis, Indiana.
With helicopters circling high overhead and a fleet of black limousines lined up below them, Tyson made his way outside, leaving as a free man for the first time in three years. His release offered up as many questions as it did answers. Would he fight again? Who would promote him? Could he re-enter the ring and regain the same form and ferocity that led him to become the youngest Heavyweight champion in history?
In the coming months Tyson would announce that Don King would promote his fight and the MGM Grand in Las Vegas would play host to the second chapter of his career. The anticipation would quickly grow as he began training and his return to the ring was penciled on for August. That night would register as one of the biggest events in all of sports.
On August 19, 1995, Tyson met the relatively unknown, but wildly entertaining, Peter McNeely. That fight still ranks as the fifth largest grossing pay-per-view bout of all time, raking in 96 million dollars. After a second vicious knockdown, McNeely’s corner stopped the fight halfway through the opening roundm leaving many fans feeling cheated.
King then orchestrated a bout in Philadelphia on December of 1995. On network television, free to the viewing public, Tyson knocked out Buster Mathis Jr. inside of three rounds. Just three months later, with the “tune-up” fights now complete, Tyson would rematch Frank Bruno for the WBC Heavyweight championship.
Tyson had first met Bruno in February of 1989. After being knocked down seconds into the fight, Bruno regained his composure and rocked Tyson, badly wobbling his legs and momentarily stunning the seemingly invincible champion. Tyson responded by delivering a brutal fifth-round beating, forcing referee Richard Steele to stop the action.
Just over seven years later, Tyson delivered Bruno another beating. In a far less competitive bout than their first encounter, Tyson ended the night inside of three rounds with a devastating barrage of power punches. In September, he then blew out Bruce Seldon in just 109 seconds to win the WBA Heavyweight crown. Immediately after the win,while still in the ring, King announced that Tyson would meet Evander Holyfield in November.
Tyson and Holyfield, the two men who befriended one another during the 1984 Olympic Trials, had first signed to fight on November 8, 1991. Shortly after the announcement, the super fight fell apart. The Tyson camp announced that he had hurt his ribs in training. Things got worse as Tyson was the focal point of a grand jury investigation in which the former champion was accused of rape, accusations that eventually landed him inside the Indiana Youth Center.
Now, just five years later and almost to the day, Tyson would meet Holyfield. The fight was appropriately billed as “Finally” and was scheduled to take place at the MGM Grand on November 9, 1996.
Holyfield had long lived with the “knock” of not fighting Tyson. While Tyson was on the sidelines, Holyfield had defeated the man who had beaten Tyson in 1990, James Buster Douglas, and won the undisputed titles in the process. He defended those titles against George Foreman, Bert Cooper and Larry Holmes.
After Tyson had been sentenced, Holyfield lost to Riddick Bowe in November of 1992. In a rematch one year later, Holyfield returned the favor by defeating Bowe. In April of 1994, Holyfield lost his crown to Michael Moorer. Looking tired and lethargic through much of the fight, Holyfield would be diagnosed with a heart condition and retire.
Undaunted and unable to walk away, the warrior returned. He would beat Ray Mercer and Bobby Czyz only to again look lethargic in the third installment against Bowe. Now, with Tyson back as the WBA and WBC champion, fate intervened and the two signed to meet one another in the long anticipated matchup.
Many believed Tyson would be hazardous to Holyfield’s health. Tyson opened as a 25-1 favorite. However, the odds were down to 6-1 on fight night. A crowd of over 16,000 would witness Ring Magazine’s “Fight of the Year” and “Upset of the year” in the same night.
Holyfield controlled much of the action and seemed intent on bullying the man most perceived as the bully. He floored Tyson in the sixth round and battered him into submission in the eleventh. Not one person could be seen sitting as the fight was halted by referee Mitch Halpern.
Holyfield had shocked the world. The two would meet again the following year on June 28, 1997. Billed as “The Sound and the Fury,” it would live up to its name in a way that no one expected.
Tyson (45-2, 39 KOs) clearly needed to improve from their first meeting. He hired former trainer Rich Giachetti as his chief second. Holyfield (33-3, 24 KOs) expected Tyson to be better, therefore he told the world that he would be better himself the second time around.
The fight would air live on SET, Showtime Event Television, and be broadcast to 97 countries worldwide. It became, at the time, the largest grossing fight in history and over 18,000 fans packed the MGM Grand to see it in person.
The pre-fight hype included an unfolding drama over who would referee the rematch. The Tyson camp protested the choice of Halpern, who was the third man in the ring during the first encounter. Complaining of head butts and his refusal to reprimand Holyfield, the pressure from team Tyson became so intense that Halpern stepped down. In stepped Mills Lane.
As the bout got underway, Czyz, Ferdie Pacheco and Steve Albert were ringside to call the blow-by-blow action.
Tyson was clearly faster, moving his head and moving side to side as Round 1 began. Midway through the round, Holyfield connected solidly and with a series of rights and lefts to the head and body that drove Tyson into the ropes. Tyson tried to counter, but the speed and power of Holyfield ruled the action early on.
The crowd chanted, “Holyfield! Holyfield! Holyfield!” The champion easily won Round 1.
As the two met in the center of the ring to begin the second, head fakes and feints dominated the first 30 seconds. As Tyson stepped in and launched an overhand right, the two came together and clashed heads leaving Tyson pointing to his eye and talking to Lane.
Albert immediately saw the blood, “He looks over to Mills Lane. There’s a cut over the right eye from a clash of heads!” Lane immediately ruled it an accidental butt. The action resumed with Tyson looking to step in and launch bombs, but only one at a time. Holyfield, bouncing on his toes, continued to jab and counter with rapid fire combinations.
With 40 seconds remaining in the round, Tyson locked Holyfield’s left arm, violently twisting it as he wrestled him to the ropes. Holyfield aggressively pulled away and Lane stepped in to break the fighters. As the round came to a close, Tyson had a look of disgust on his face as he stared at Holyfield.
As the bell sounded to begin the third, Lane led Tyson back to his corner. Giachetti was motioning that he had forgotten his mouthpiece. Once placed in his mouth, Lane signaled to start the action and Tyson, with a renewed vigor, attacked Holyfield throwing lethal hooks to the body.
Albert described the scene, “A ferocious Mike Tyson! And the crowd, really picking up now. A frantic pace.” With one minute gone into the third, the crowd changed course and a new chant filled the MGM Grand, “Tyson! Tyson! Tyson!”
As the tide began to turn, the two exchanged heavy artillery at mid ring. After Lane reprimanded Holyfield for a low blow, Tyson stepped in with his best combination of the fight. Albert screamed over the crowd, “Tyson with a short left hook to the head of Holyfield! A right hand by Mike Tyson to the head of Holyfield! A straight right!”
With just 30 seconds to go in the round, the two men came together inside. Holyfield stepped back and began jumping up and down. As a miffed Lane called time, Holyfield tapped his right ear with his glove. At that moment, Tyson walked over to Holyfield and shoved him into the ropes.
Pacheco saw it right away, “He got bit, I think! He got bit in the ear! And that hurts like hell!”
Czyz echoed Pacheco, “I can’t believe what I’m seeing! I can’t believe what I’m seeing fellas.”
As Lane sorted out the mess, he walked over to Tyson’s corner to deduct two points for the bite. Tyson immediately countered, “That was a punch!” Lane sized up Tyson, put a finger in his chest, and responded to the false claim, “Bullshit!”
After a two-minute delay, the fierce action resumed. As the bombs flew, Tyson again leaned forward and bit Holyfield on his other ear. Pacheco screamed in horror, “He bit him again! He bit him again!”
As both men continued to throw haymakers at one another, Albert shouted, “Mike Tyson has bitten Evander Holyfield for the second time and it is all-out war!”
The bell sounded to end the third, and ultimately the fight. As Holyfield screamed in his corner that he was bit a second time, Lane had seen enough. Holyfield was declared the winner by disqualification.
The scene after the stoppage was an incredible sight. The ring was filled with police, security, both fighters and their camps. Tyson tried to get at Holyfield and a melee ensued. “Look out now! More fighting in the ring after the end of the fight! Tyson’s trying to get at Holyfield again I believe! It is complete bedlam! Tyson is just taking swipes at anybody in front of him!”
Pacheco added, “The police are coming in by the squad! And they’re still fighting in there!”
Czyz added, “This is the most unbelievable spectacle I have ever seen.”
In the aftermath, Tyson claimed to be incensed by the head butts from Holyfield. He soon had his boxing license revoked by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for one year and was fined 10 percent of his purse, or 10 million dollars.
Although talk of a third fight floated around the boxing universe for years, the two never met in the ring again. After years of not speaking, the two met and reconciled their differences. Now friends, the two have spent time together, both publicly and privately.
Nearly 20 years later, Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield are former champions, Hall of Famers, ring legends and friends.