15 Years After: The Bite Heard 'Round The World

 

On June 28, 1997, Mike Tyson's decision to bite both of Evander Holyfield's ears during a heavyweight bout had cemented their places in sports media lore. Recently, he appeared on ESPN and was not informed of the 15-year anniversary of "the bite".

While boxing enthusiasts and casual sports fans alike are just starting to forget about Timothy Bradley’s controversial decision over Manny Pacquaio earlier this month – perhaps forgetting about the sport of boxing altogether after that card – today marks the crystal anniversary of a controversial development in the third round of one of the most anticipated boxing matches, from a time where boxing’s following among the public was much bigger than it is today.

June 28, 1997. Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson were facing each other in a rematch of a previous fight, in November 1996, which had been six years in the making. The two would have first fought in 1990, had Tyson not lost the heavyweight title to Buster Douglas. When Holyfield took the title from Douglas in a subsequent bout later that year, he was scheduled to fight Tyson again in 1991, but Tyson dropped out, citing a rib injury. Then the following year, he was convicted of rape and had to serve a few years in prison. Since then, Holyfield compiled a personal 7-3 record, possessing the title for two separate periods. Meanwhile, Tyson returned to boxing with a personal five-game win streak and gained the title from Bruce Seldon en route to his initial match with Holyfield. The result: Holyfield virtually dominated Tyson wire-to-wire, with the referee, Mitch Halpern, stopping the fight in the eleventh round. The title would be Holyfield’s for the third time – or once for each time his first bout with Tyson was delayed – and it would once again be on the line in their next fight.

In Holyfield-Tyson II, “The Real Deal” picked up right where he left off the previous fall, stunning “Iron Mike” for the first two rounds.

That was about the time Tyson really started to get hungry for the title. Literally.

The fact that he started the following round without his mouthpiece might have been a hint.

With roughly forty seconds remaining in the third round, Tyson gnawed Holyfield’s right ear during a clutch. Holyfield immediately jumped up and down in the ring in pain – and anger. Referee Mills Lane called time to examine Holyfield’s ear. The fighters finished out the round, as Tyson immediately made a beeline for Holyfield’s other ear when the fight resumed. It was when the round ended that Lane decided to call the fight and disqualify Tyson.

Not only did it immediately become the top sports story, it also was the top local news story in Las Vegas.

As a result of Tyson’s rogue bicuspids, the state of Nevada revoked his boxing license, which would eventually be reinstated a little over a year later. He would compete in just two more matches – a win and a no contest – in Vegas.

Never mind the fact that the chances of Tyson ever regaining the title, well, bit the dust (he had a chance in a matchup with Lennox Lewis in 2002). The bizarre circumstances of Holyfield-Tyson II had raised the bar for weird moments in sports. When Nancy Kerrigan’s knee was clubbed by the boyfriend of skating rival Tonya Harding, who wasn’t comparing that to Tyson’s bite?

There weren’t as many sports radio and television outlets fifteen years ago as there are today. Tyson’s bite would have been instant chum for these channels.

And imagine if the Internet was as prevalent in 1997 as it was today. Mike Tyson’s teeth would probably have got their own Twitter account.

“The bite” supplanted places in pop culture for all of the main players involved in the fight. The “wacko” factor for Tyson just started to take off at that point, as evidenced by this interview prior to his first fight in Las Vegas since “the bite fight.” And while Tyson and Holyfield continued their respective boxing careers, Lane capitalized on his involvement in their rematch with his own courtroom series, “Judge Mills Lane” (Warren Sapp might learn a thing or two from him) plus his likeness refereeing fantasy superstar bouts in the animated MTV program “Celebrity Deathmatch.”

When ESPN celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2004, Tyson’s bite was the thirtieth of the “100 most memorable moments” in sports under the Worldwide Leader’s watch (in fact, the aforementioned Kerrigan attack was right in front of the bite at No. 29). Buster Douglas’ knockout of Tyson at No. 28 was the only other higher boxing-related moment on the list (that is, if you don’t count Muhammad Ali’s lighting the Olympics flame at No. 8). To suggest the bite was not memorable would be an understatement.

It makes you wonder, if we’re lucky enough to be alive in June 2027, which boxing memory will be more prevalent: Timothy Bradley’s stunning upset of Manny Pacquaio, fifteen years ago at that point, or the three-decade anniversary of Tyson’s bite?

Maybe this would serve as a clue: In a very recent appearance on ESPN’s “Pardon The Interruption,” on their “Five Good Minutes” segment (which actually lasted eight minutes this the around), Tyson, promoting a new Broadway show he is starring in, was not told of the 15-year anniversary of “the bite.” (Though they may have reminisced about it in the “happy anniversary” segment at the end of today’s show.)

Then again, would you blame Tyson if he wanted to forget about that infamous incision inflicted on Evander Holyfield’s ears?

As it turns out, 1997 turned out to be a banner year for high-profile sports figures and their penchants for biting. Yet as the anniversary of Marv Albert’s arrest related to a sodomy charge had passed last month, there was little fanfare (other than my piece, of course) from the media, let alone the sports media. That might have something to do with the fact that Marv Albert eventually returned to doing what he has been known to do – and mind you, he was calling an NBA conference playoff game on the 15th anniversary of his arrest.

Granted, Mike Tyson, whose last two bouts in the mid-’00’s resulted in two losses, probably is not in shape to return to doing what he has been known to do. But make no mistake, with all of his efforts over the last several years – a face tattoo, an Animal Planet reality series, and, of course, his new one-man Broadway show – he’s been trying hard to make people forget about “the bite.”

Just not on June 28 of each year.

Mills Lane would allow it, right?

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