Tyson chewed more than Holy­field’s ear 20 years ago

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - THOM LOVERRO

Marc Rat­ner can still re­mem­ber the tension 20 years later that he felt in the MGM Grand casino the night Mike Tyson would meet Evan­der Holy­field in the ring for their re­match — and this was be­fore the fight.

“I al­ways get there early,” said Rat­ner, the for­mer Ne­vada Ath­letic Com­mis­sion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, in a con­ver­sa­tion with me on my “Cigars & Curve­balls” pod­cast, hosted by The Wash­ing­ton Times. “As I walked through the casino there was a feel­ing of tense­ness. But I didn’t think any­more of it be­cause most of those peo­ple weren’t go­ing to be at the fight.”

“The fight,” though, would turn into a fi­asco the likes of which had never been seen be­fore, and those peo­ple in the casino who were not in the MGM Grand Gar­den for the Holy­field-Tyson re­match — more than seven months after Holy­field up­set Tyson with an 11th round knock­out in their first fight — would wind up be­ing dan­ger­ously af­fected by what hap­pened in the ring.

In fact, the rip­ples that fol­lowed Mike Tyson bit­ing off chunks of Evan­der Holy­field’s ears that June 28, 1997, night in Las Ve­gas went be­yond the ring, the arena, and the casino, which, on its busiest Satur­day night of the year, would wind up be­ing shut down after ri­ots en­sued fol­low­ing Tyson’s bizarre dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion in the heavy­weight ti­tle bout.

Box­ing hasn’t been the same since.

There was one last hur­rah for Tyson — his bout against Len­nox Lewis in 2002 in Mem­phis where Lewis stopped Tyson in eight rounds — but that was a farce in its own right, as Tyson was fin­ished by then as a com­pet­i­tive fighter. This may seem like a ridicu­lous state­ment, given the cor­rupt na­ture of the busi­ness of box­ing, but what­ever trust box­ing had in the re­la­tion­ship with sports fans was lost the night Tyson used his teeth.

It could have been worse. Tyson, after his first help­ing of Holy­field’s ears, might have come back and knocked Holy­field out. After all, he wasn’t dis­qual­i­fied.

That re­mains Rat­ner’s big­gest

night­mare 20 years later — what could have been.

“The fight started nor­mal enough,” said Rat­ner, now the vice president of reg­u­la­tory af­fairs for UFC. “I think Mike thought he got head butted in the sec­ond round. Then the third round is when he bit him.

“I didn’t know what hap­pened,” Rat­ner said. “Mills (ref­eree Mills Lane) called me up to the apron. Re­mem­ber, the whole world is watch­ing. I thought that maybe there was a knee or some­thing or a low blow that I couldn’t see, and maybe Evan­der’s cup pinched him or some­thing. Evan­der was jump­ing up and down.

“Mills said to me, ‘He bit him. I’m go­ing to dis­qual­ify him,’” Rat­ner said. “This was the first bite. Once again, from be­ing an of­fi­cial (Rat­ner was a long-time re­spected col­lege foot­ball of­fi­cial), I just asked sim­ply, ‘Are you sure you want to dis­qual­ify him?’ I didn’t know what hap­pened and I wanted to make sure Mills knew ex­actly what he was say­ing.

“Then he said, ‘Let’s bring Dr. Flip (Ho­man­sky, the Ne­vada Ath­letic Com­mis­sion physi­cian) up. He looked at Evan­der and said he could go on.”

Then came Tyson’s sec­ond bite out of Holy­field’s ears, and the dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

“I’ve won­dered all th­ese years what would have hap­pened if Mike had some­how knocked out Evan­der after the first bite hap­pened,” Rat­ner said. “I’m sure no­body would be talk­ing to me ever again. I would have prob­a­bly lost my job. It was a very fright­en­ing mo­ment. After the fight in the casino, I saw hordes of peo­ple scream­ing, run­ning, pan­ick­ing.”

Those crowds were pan­ick­ing be­cause they heard gun­shots, though Las Ve­gas po­lice and MGM of­fi­cials later claimed it was cham­pagne bot­tles break­ing — an ex­pla­na­tion no one took se­ri­ously. I was ring­side for that bizarre night, and by the time the post-fight press con­fer­ences took place and we had filed our sto­ries, the casino was a ghost town — empty — as we walked through it in the af­ter­math of the riot.

Tyson would be fined $3 mil­lion and would be sus­pended from fight­ing un­til he met Frans Botha in Jan­uary 1999. In that fight, Tyson was los­ing after four rounds and was nearly dis­qual­i­fied for try­ing to break Botha’s arm.

But he landed a right hand on Botha’s chin that stopped him with 10 sec­ond left in the fifth round. His next fight against Or­lin Nor­ris ended in a no con­test when, after a Tyson hit after the bell sounded put Nor­ris down, Nor­ris said he had in­jured his knee when he went down and could not con­tinue. After four for­get­table wins against Julius Fran­cis, Lou Savarese, An­drew Golota and Brian Nielsen, Tyson would face Lewis in a bout ini­tially set for Las Ve­gas but moved even­tu­ally to Mem­phis after Tyson caused a melee at the press con­fer­ence an­nounc­ing the bout.

Three years later, Tyson would be out of box­ing — his fi­nal fight a six-round knock­out at the hands of jour­ney­man Kevin McBride at the MCI Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton.

In look­ing back at my sto­ries lead­ing up to that fight, I found this re­veal­ing ex­cerpt that I wrote three days be­fore the June 28 bout.

“Pri­vately, Holy­field has told his han­dlers that he be­lieves he can take the fight out of Tyson and pos­si­bly even make him quit in the ring.”

That is what Evan­der Holy­field did — make Mike Tyson quit rather than suf­fer the shame of an­other knock­out de­feat. It just took Marc Rat­ner two help­ings of Holy­field’s ears to re­al­ize that.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mike Tyson (left) was dis­qual­i­fied after bit­ing into the ear of Evan­der Holy­field in the third round of their WBA heavy­weight bout on June 28, 2007, in Las Ve­gas.

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