When it once more became the sort of fight Tyson simply could not handle, one so rough that both men received stern warnings in the first two rounds, he lost all control and was disqualified on his stool at the end of the third for biting Evander Holyfield's ears.
Tyson's $30m (pounds 18.75m) purse was immediately frozen by the Nevada State Athletic Commission and at a meeting called for Wednesday he could be fined $10m and suspended from the ring.
Still in a rage, roaring obscenities, hurling his corner men aside, Tyson twice tried to break through the cordon that stood between him and Holyfield. Fury filled Tyson's face as he left the ring under a bombardment of abuse and debris that resulted in arrests and a scuffle in the corridor leading to his dressing- room.
Explaining his decision shortly afterwards, Mills Lane, the circuit judge from Reno who took over as referee when Mitch Halpern withdrew following a protest by the Tyson camp, said: "I deducted two points from Tyson in the third round, first for biting Holyfield's right ear, then for pushing him in the back. At the end of the round I could see that Tyson had bitten Holyfield's other ear and I had no option but to disqualify him. The second bite was the end of the stretch. Boxing is a business that happens to get on the sports pages but fighters must have discipline."
Holyfield was bitten so badly the first time that he needed plastic surgery to reattach the inch long slice of flesh Tyson actually spat on to the canvas. It was recovered by an assistant in Holyfield's corner who took it to the dressing-room. "I saw Tyson spit something into the centre of the ring," he said. "Then there was a lot of hassle and I hoped that nobody stepped on it. When the ring cleared I put on surgical gloves and went into the middle. Seeing that it was flesh I picked it up and took it to them - they were surprised."
Tyson was still wild-eyed and ranting when fulfilling an obligation to Showtime, the cable television network linked to his promoter, Don King, that put out the contest. Pointing to a wide gash in the lid of his right eye caused by a head butt in the second round, accidental in Lane's view, he snarled: "Look at this. How much was I expected to put up with. He [Holyfield] 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 didn't listen to my protests. When Richie [Tyson's trainer, Richie Giachetti] complained about the butt he was told it was accidental. That was ridiculous, an insult. I had one eye, Holyfield had two ears. What else was I supposed to do? I had to retaliate. He's not tough. I'll fight him now, here, even with only one good eye."
Before leaving for hospital Holyfield said: "When he bit me the first time, I couldn't believe it. They have rules and regulations for this. After he bit me, I went back to my corner and they told me to take a deep breath and concentrate. He caught me with a good shot, bit my ear and spat it out. Look at the bite. I'm missing part of my ear. I heard Mills Lane tell him one more time and he's gone. He continued to foul and that was it.
"I'm not thinking about a rematch. I just want to concentrate on what happened. I can't understand the biting and he was trying to break my arm. He fouled in every way. He had no real courage. I think what he did was caused by fear."
Not so much by fear as, surprisingly, Tyson's obvious concern when he has to deal with rough-house tactics. It is not just the aura of invincibility that has slipped from him but the notion of a street fighter's grim purpose.
Evidence of a serious flaw came eight years ago in the first of two contests against Frank Bruno. Battered into submission after being penalised for fouling, Bruno, a limited heavyweight, nevertheless troubled Tyson with the hard approach advised by his trainer, George Francis.
With his warrior instinct, superior boxing skills and vast experience Holyfield was far better equipped to exploit Tyson's fallibility under fire, the confusion caused in him by violent transgressions. This was obvious last November when Tyson, unable to cope with Holyfield's persistent, unpunished fouling, was stopped in the 11th round.
Infringements run the risk of retribution, but Holyfield was again prepared to take the risk, using his head so dangerously that Tyson was stunned by a butt and felt blood seeping from his right eyelid early in the second round. Tyson waved angrily at Holyfield and was given time to recover but the damage had been done.
If the impression then was that Tyson would have gone for Holyfield with an iron bar had one been available in his corner subsequent events suggested an emotional collapse. Having lost the first two sessions, Tyson made Holyfield look anxious for the first time, at last getting to the champion with heavy head blows.
Then, just when it looked as though Tyson was getting on top he bit Holyfield's right ear. Holyfield jumped and twisted in pain and was facing his corner when Tyson charged in and pushed him violently in the back. Lane halted the contest and signalled that Tyson had been deducted two points, making it impossible for him to even share the round unless Holyfield took a count.
Before they were called back to the centre of the ring, Holyfield, who had been passed fit to continue by the ringside doctor, turned to his trainer, Don Turner and said, "Put my mouthpiece in, I'm going to knock him out." But before Holyfield could attempt it Tyson closed in and bit him again.
At the bell Lane examined Holyfield before crossing to tell Tyson that he had been disqualified. 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 sealed off after the firing of a shot.
For once Don King was conspicuous by his silence, making only a brief appearance on television. "Mike was ready to fight. I don't know why they stopped it," he said lamely. "I want to see the replays before I comment further. I will find out the facts and see what we will do."
The sadly predictable thing is that King and his television associates will attempt to profit from scandal perhaps even believing that it adds to Tyson's market value. The truth is that the bully has been found out. He was only at his best when the going was good.
Hide's world title, page 7Reuse content