x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

When Iron Mike came out biting

"There's nothing I ever saw that can compare with a heavyweight championship," pronounced Mike Tyson.

"There's nothing I ever saw that can compare with a heavyweight championship," pronounced Mike Tyson. "It's the idea that you never know what is going to happen. When you go to a comedy show, you know you're going to laugh. When you go to a horror movie, you know you're going to be scared. When you go to a world heavyweight title fight you have no idea what's going to happen."

Well, the fight fans who piled into the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas on June 28 1997 for Tyson's long-awaited rematch with Evander Holyfield certainly had no idea that before the night was out they would witness Iron Mike transmogrifying into Hannibal Lecter. But first let us rewind to the pair's original confrontation in the same arena seven months earlier. Since leaving prison as a convicted rapist, Tyson had been in murderous mood in his quest to regain the world title, knocking Bruce Seldon and Frank Bruno senseless in trademark quick-fire style while the 34-year-old Holyfield was generally regarded as a has-been, having lost three of his previous seven bouts.

From the opening bell Tyson came out firing bombs from every angle in his attempt to flatten an opponent for whom he had scant respect inside or outside the ropes; but wily old lion that he was, Holyfield survived the first round blitzkrieg and proceeded to bamboozle Tyson with his ringcraft. In the sixth round, he floored his baffled foe with a perfectly timed left hook and the fight ended in the 11th with a blood-splattered Tyson taking a merciless beating in the corner.

And so to Tyson-Holyfield II which began as their previous encounter ended, with Holyfield swaying out of range of Tyson's haymakers before landing a series of devastating counter punches. With the older man in the ascendancy, in the second round Tyson emerged from a clash of heads with blood streaming down the side of his face. Despite Tyson's fierce protestations that Holyfield had deliberately butted him, referee Mills Lane decided the collision was accidental and signalled "box on".

So keen was Tyson to resume hostilities at the start of round three that he left his corner without his gum-shield, causing a brief delay before he came back out snarling with menace - only to be met with a stinging left hook to the nose. With 40 seconds of the round remaining, Tyson engaged Holyfield in a clinch and - with the world's disbelieving eyes upon him - sank his teeth into his rival's right ear and spat out a three-centimetre chunk of flesh on the canvas.

As a clearly distressed Holyfield turned towards his corner, a crazed Tyson shoved him from behind before referee Lane called for a "timeout". Although the former champion insisted the wound was the result of a punch - to which Lane replied, 'B******t' - the referee chose not to disqualify the guilty cannibal when the ring doctor decreed that Holyfield was fit to continue. Bizarrely, Tyson repeated his ear-chewing stunt seconds later, at which Mills brought the fiasco to a belated end.

Having lost the fight on a disqualification, Tyson then charged across the ring swinging wildly at anyone standing in his way in an attempt to attack Holyfield before being bundled through the ropes by his cornermen. Even then he remained on the rampage, climbing into the stands to offer obscene gestures to the baying fans at ringside. There are those who still insist that Tyson deserves recognition as the greatest heavyweight of them all. Me? I agree with Larry Holmes when he said: "If he came up when I did, when Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali came up, then you'd never have heard of Mike Tyson ."

@Email:rphilip@thenational.ae