Twice Bitten – The Untold Story of Holyfield-Tyson II, by George Willis

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The Independent Culture

Whoever said that history is written by the victors can't have been watching the Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield rematch at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on 28 July 1997.

Because Tyson didn't win, but he certainly made history by first chewing off and spitting out a chunk of Holyfield's right ear and then, after the heavyweight title bout was – almost unbelievably – allowed to continue, sinking his teeth into the other ear to earn a third-round disqualification.

These facts are well-known, but George Willis's research and interviews with all the major players involved have fleshed out the bare bones, as it were, with a wealth of less publicised detail. The two boxers' careers had been intertwined since amateur days, and Willis points to an incident when they trained in the 1984 US Olympic squad.

Holyfield, though then in a lower weight division, had much the better of a ferocious sparring session, saying 12 years later as they prepared to meet for the first time as pros: "I whipped his ass. He ain't ever forgot that and I ain't ever forgot that."

Holyfield stopped "Iron Mike" in that initial pro encounter, going forward and taking the fight to him, and the strong suggestion is that when Holyfield won the first two rounds of the rematch, Tyson's pride couldn't face a second defeat, and he started looking for a way out.

Yet Tyson was actually winning the third round before the first bite, so his actions remain incomprehensible, even to him, it seems.

Willis explores other mysteries from that night, such as how did the retrieved piece of chomped-off ear vanish from the hospital to which Holyfield was taken; and were gunshots fired in the post-fight mayhem, or was it the sound of champagne corks popping? Willis doesn't find conclusive answers, and while he does know the identity of the NBA basketball star caught stealing gambling chips as near-rioting spread through the casino, he can't say for legal reasons.

Nevertheless, by sticking to neutral reportage rather than indulging in fanciful speculation, Willis has produced a famous account of an infamous event.

Published in hardback by Mainstream, £14.99