Tyson vs. Holyfield I
Tyson attempted to defend the WBA title against Evander Holyfield. Holyfield was in the fourth fight of his own comeback after retiring in 1994 following the loss of his championship to Michael Moorer (who subsequently lost to George Foreman by knockout during his first defense). It was said that Don King and others saw Holyfield, the former champion, who was 34 at the time of the fight and a huge underdog, as a washed-up fighter.
On November 9, 1996, in Las Vegas, Nevada, Tyson faced Holyfield in a title bout dubbed ‘Finally.’ In a surprising turn of events, Holyfield, who was given virtually no chance to win by numerous commentators, defeated Tyson by TKO when referee Mitch Halpern stopped the bout in round 11.Holyfield made history with the upset win by being the second person ever to win a heavyweight championship belt three times, after Muhammad Ali. However Holyfield’s victory was marred by allegations from Tyson’s camp of Holyfield’s frequent headbutts during the bout. Although the headbutts were ruled accidental by the referee, they would become a point of contention in the subsequent rematch.
Tyson vs. Holyfield II and aftermath
Tyson and Holyfield fought again on June 28, 1997. Originally, Halpern was supposed to be the referee, but after Tyson’s camp protested, Halpern stepped aside in favor of Mills Lane. The highly anticipated rematch was dubbed The Sound and the Fury, and was held at the Las Vegas MGM Grand Garden Arena, site of the first bout. It was a lucrative event, drawing even more attention than the first bout and grossing $100 million. Tyson received $30 million and Holyfield $35 million—the highest paid professional boxing purses ever until 2007. The fight was purchased by 1.99 million households, setting a pay-per-view buy rate record that stood until the May 5, 2007, De La Hoya-Mayweather boxing match.
Soon to become one of the most controversial events in modern sports, the fight was stopped at the end of the third round, with Tyson disqualified for biting Holyfield on both ears. The first time he bit him the match was temporarily stopped. Referee Mills Lane deducted two points from Tyson and the fight resumed. However, after the match resumed, Tyson did it again: this time Tyson was disqualified and Holyfield won the match. One bite was severe enough to remove a piece of Holyfield’s right ear, which was found on the ring floor after the fight. Tyson later stated that his actions were retaliation for Holyfield repeatedly headbutting him without penalty.In the confusion that followed the ending of the bout and announcement of the decision, a near riot erupted in the arena and several people were injured in the ensuing melee.
Tyson’s former trainer, Teddy Atlas, had predicted that Tyson would be disqualified. “He planned this,” Atlas said. “That’s the only reason he went through with this fight. This was a charade so he could get out and live with himself as long as in his world he would be known as savage and brutal. In his world, he was the man who attacked like an animal and people would say he was trying to annihilate Holyfield, trying to kill him, when nothing could be further from the truth.”
As a subsequent fallout from the incident, US$3 million was immediately withheld from Tyson’s $30-million purse by the Nevada state boxing commission (the most it could legally hold back at the time). Two days after the fight, Tyson issued a statement, apologizing to Holyfield for his actions and asked not to be banned for life over the incident. Tyson was roundly condemned in the news media but was not without defenders. Novelist and commentator Katherine Dunn wrote a column that criticized Holyfield’s sportsmanship in the controversial bout and charged the news media with being biased against Tyson.
On July 9, 1997, Tyson’s boxing license was rescinded by the Nevada State Athletic Commission in a unanimous voice vote; he was also fined US$3 million and ordered to pay the legal costs of the hearing. As most state athletic commissions honor sanctions imposed by other states, this effectively made Tyson unable to box in the United States. The revocation was not permanent, as a little more than a year later on October 18, 1998, the commission voted 4–1 to restore Tyson’s boxing license.
During his time away from boxing in 1998, Tyson made a guest appearance at WrestleMania XIV as an enforcer for the main event match between Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin. During this time, Tyson was also an unofficial member of D-Generation X. Tyson was paid $3 million for being guest enforcer of the match at WrestleMania XIV.