Ten performances that shook the world: Boxing - Tyson bites the hand th at feeds as legend fades

A few hours before Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson met in Las Vegas last June for the World Boxing Association heavyweight championship I fell in with a man who thought it likely that Tyson would be disqualified.

This did not strike me as the way to bet but sensation was soon upon us. No longer fighting in accordance with precepts that were central to his violent advancement, unable to handle a contest so rough that both men received stern warnings in the first two rounds, Tyson lost all control and was disqualified on his stool at the end of the third for biting Holyfield's ears.

The extent of Tyson's folly was not immediately apparent. "What the hell is going on in there?" one veteran ringsider exclaimed when Holyfield broke from a clinch to stomp angrily around the ring. "Jesus, he's bitten a slice out of Holyfield's ear," another said.

On our feet, straining for a better view of quite extraordinary proceedings we were further shocked when Tyson charged across the ring to push Holyfield in the back. Astonishingly, Mills Lane, the tough little circuit judge from Reno who took over as referee when Mitch Halpern withdrew following a protest from the Tyson camp, allowed the fight to continue after indicating that he had deducted two points from the crazed challenger.

Before Holyfield could attempt the knock-out he now felt confident of delivering, Tyson bit him again. At the bell Lane first examined Holyfield then crossed the ring to inform Tyson that it was over. In the pandemonium that followed security guards and police wrestled with Tyson and his entourage and then plunged into the audience to make arrests. Shortly afterwards the MGM Casino was closed off after the firing of a shot.

Nothing in boxing's turbulent history had matched the disbelief caused by Tyson's pretty obvious emotional collapse. It was not just the aura of invincibility that had slipped from him but the notion of a street fighter's grim purpose.

With his warrior instinct, superior boxing skills and vast experience, Holyfield, as when stopping Tyson seven months earlier, was equipped to exploit the former undisputed champion's fallibility under fire, the confusion caused in him by violent transgressions that had led to imprisonment for the rape of a beauty queen.

If himself running the risk of retribution for rough house tactics, especially such dangerous use of the head that the challenger was stunned by a butt and cut over his right eye early in the second round, Holyfield put paid to Tyson's reputation as one of the greatest heavyweights in history.

An indefinite suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission is unlikely to end Tyson's career - a third match with Holyfield would unquestionably be the richest of all time - but the perception of him has altered.

A vivid memory is the rage in Tyson's eyes when fulfilling an obligation to Showtime, the American cable television network that put out the contest. Pointing to a gash in his right eyelid, Tyson snarled: "How much was I expected to put up with? He was butting me all the time. He butted me in the first fight. I was left with only one eye. My career was on the line. I've got kids to bring up. Who cares about me and my children? The referee wouldn't listen. I had to retaliate."

This from the ghetto fugitive who was programmed to spread terror throughout the heavyweight division.

For once conspicuous by his silence, Don King confined himself to a brief appearance on television. "Mike was ready to fight. I don't why they stopped it," he said lamely. The truth was that Tyson had been found out. No heavyweight has hit with more power or caused more consternation in the division, but he was only at his best when the going was good.

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