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#RememberWhensdays: Mike Tyson bites off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear

We look back at the fight that was more about biting than boxing

When boxers Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield pummeled each other with punches for the first time on Nov. 9, 1996, they did so for a fight that was billed with the tagline “Finally” during its promotion. It was a bout that had been scheduled as far back as 1990. And after Holyfield snatched one of the more jarring upsets in the history of the sport, a rematch was inevitable.

That rematch, fought on June 28, 1997, was promoted as “The Sound and The Fury,” and rightfully so. After all, both men were beasts. Holyfield carried a 33-3-0 record into the ring, Tyson, a cool 45-2. The difference? Holyfield knocked out a respectful 24 of his opponents. Tyson? He coldcocked 39 of his. He was just more lethal.

Yet, by the end of rematch, the talk wouldn’t be about boxing, but biting. The fight might have been sold one way, but it’s remembered forever differently as “The Bite Fight.”

It started with a head-butt. Not the fight itself, but Tyson’s unwavering rage. In the second round, Holyfield’s head crashed into Tyson’s, opening up a cut above Tyson’s right eye, but the referee ruled it accidental.

“He butted me in the second round and he butted me again,” Tyson said following the fight. “He kept butting me and nobody would help me. This is my career. What am I supposed to do? I’ve got children to raise.”

When the third round began, Holyfield spotting something odd: Tyson was missing his mouthpiece. He was ordered to retrieve it and pop it back in, but his motives had already been revealed. With 40 seconds left in the round, the two men clutched onto each other after exchanging strikes. Holyfield buried his head into Tyson’s shoulder, trying to rest for just a beat. Tyson turned his head, opened his mouth and clamped down on Holyfield’s ear, twisting and jerking his head.

A close-up of the injury to the right ear of Evander Holyfield of the USA after Mike Tyson Of the USA bit off a piece of it in the third round of their World Heavweight title fight on June 28, 1997 at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

A close-up of the injury to the right ear of Evander Holyfield of the USA after Mike Tyson Of the USA bit off a piece of it in the third round of their World Heavweight title fight on June 28, 1997 at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Tyson spit out a chunk of earlobe and grinned maniacally. Holyfield spun around furiously, screaming and in complete disbelief. When he turned his back, Tyson’s grin faded into a growl and he charged forward, punching Holyfield in the back. Why not?

Referee Mills Lane initially wanted to disqualify Tyson, but after the ringside doctor determined that Holyfield was able to keep fighting, Lane announced he would be deducting two points from Tyson and the brawl would go on, missing ear chunk and all.

In the final 10 seconds of the third round, Tyson and Holyfield locked into a clinch once more and, yet again, Tyson bit. That was enough for Lane, who disqualified Tyson, something that would ultimately cost the man his boxing license and a $3 million fine.

An enraged Tyson berated Holyfield and his corner. Security swarmed and Tyson tried punching them, too. One fan threw a rolled-up piece of paper at Lane. When Tyson tried ramming into Holyfield again, he bowled over a police officer. And when he finally tried to leave the ring, things got even worse. As the New York Daily News wrote that night:

As Tyson … left the ring he made obscene gestures to enraged spectators, grabbing his crotch and pointing fingers. He walked through the crowd toward the dressing rooms in the back of the arena when a plastic bottle filled with mineral water hit a spectator. Tyson, according to several eyewitnesses with cameras, then jumped into the stands, knocking over temporary railings and swinging at customers, trying to reach the alleged bottle-thrower, who was later arrested.

“It’s the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen in all my years of boxing,” Holyfield’s trainer, Don Turner, told the New York Daily News about the bite.

Eventually, Holyfield publicly forgave Tyson, when the two appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2009. By 2013, nearly 16 years after The Bite Fight, Holyfield and Tyson completely buried the moment and became friends. The two men stood elbow-to-elbow at an event promoting Holyfield’s barbecue sauce.

Still, the best and most full-circle moment between the two former boxers happened in August 2014 when Holyfield was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame. Out came Holyfield’s buddy to introduce him to the crowd, calling him “one of the greatest fighters in the history of the world.” It was high praise coming from Tyson.

Ryan Cortes is a staff writer for The Undefeated. Lemon pepper his wings.