It was 23 years ago this month (June 28) when it happened. With many millions watching, a completely unhinged Mike Tyson inexplicably and shamefully sank his teeth into the ear of arch-rival Evander Holyfield. Not once but twice.
At first, no-one watching knew what was happening as Evander leaped into the air and began waving his arms around, but it was soon clear what had transpired: Tyson, the self-proclaimed “Baddest Man On The Planet,” had committed an act that all but ruined his name as an athlete.
Along with “The Fight Doctor,” Ferdie Pacheco and Steve Albert, former IBF light-heavyweight and WBA cruiserweight champ Bobby Czyz called the fight for the Showtime network in the U.S. Like millions of others, Czyz is unable to forget that astonishing evening.
“At first, it was difficult to see what was happening,” Czyz told this writer some time back when recalling the fight.
“I wasn’t sure at all, but after the second bite, it was plain to see what was happening; obviously, you are never looking for a thing like that, one guy biting the other! I could sort of relate to it, because I got bit myself, in my second pro fight – the guy bit me in the shoulder. And so I do kind of get the frustration factor, and Tyson did later say he didn’t remember doing it. And there is such a thing as a stress blackout. But at the same time, I do have issues with [accepting] that, because Tyson bit him the first time, but then he did it again. It appeared to be a conscious act, that second bite.”
Czyz watched as Tyson, a fighter he admired, went crazy.
“The first bite shocked me; there really wasn’t anything you could relate to with that; nothing on that scale of horror and shock. It was the first time in my life that I was actually speechless. The second bite, I was upset because I knew then there was no way he wasn’t going to be DQ’d. Tyson had shown malice with his actions, to the point wherein a court of law his actions would have been deemed as bad as can possibly be. The fight, which had so much anticipation to the point where you could feel the energy and the excitement in the air, had been totally ruined. I heard people at ringside screaming for their money back. And again, I’m not justifying Tyson’s act or acts, but Holyfield did butt, he did use his elbows and his forearms. I ought to know; he did it to me when I fought him [losing via 5th-round corner retirement in May of 1996]. But the difference is, I didn’t bite him. But Holyfield goes and does all these illegal things, and then, after the fight, he says ‘praise be to Jesus,’ and everybody forgives him. So I can kind of see why Tyson snapped.
“You know, even today, there is around 60 percent of the human brain that we don’t really know what it actually does. Some people just have that side to their mental make-up, where they are prone to do bad things. There will always be good, rational people, and there will always be bad, irrational people in the world. And with the sheer stress and pressure he was under, Tyson may have snapped, and it’s as simple as that, although it was shocking and unforgettable.”
Years after the fight and the event, Czyz was surprised the fight wasn’t terminated instantly, after the first bite. Instead, round-three was permitted to be fought to the bell.
“I couldn’t believe he wasn’t DQ’d after the first bite. But I knew straight away that Tyson would be suspended. I just didn’t know for how long. The key thing for me was the fact that it was two separate acts: bite one and bite two. He [Tyson] really seemed as though he wanted to completely rip his ear off. That’s why he went back and did it that second time.”
With millions of armchair fans screaming at their TV screens and thousands of fans inside the MGM baying for Tyson’s blood, Czyz somehow managed to keep his composure.
“It’s part of the job, staying calm,” the former champ said.
“You always have to be in control. Also, I have people talking in my ear as I’m talking [when commentating]. You have to think about what you’re going to say and what you’re going to comment on. But again, for this fight, no-one knew what the hell to say (laughs). It was just a terrible, shocking night. It was not a good night at all. Afterward, we were all full of adrenaline and no-one could stop talking about the fight, but how many times can you say, ‘I don’t know what to say!?'”
Perhaps surprisingly, Czyz feels boxing, and its image didn’t overly suffer due to Tyson’s act of cannibalism.
“I really don’t think boxing suffered too much as a result,” he said.
“I think Mike Tyson suffered and a lot of damage was done to him – to him and to his reputation. His reputation never fully recovered. Some people labeled him a coward; others said he was simply crazy.”
“I just think he’d had enough and snapped. Watch the tape of the fight, and look at how many times Holyfield put his head into Mike’s face and how many times he used his elbows and forearms. Again, this is not justifying what Tyson did, but I can, in a way, see why he snapped. Holyfield did get away with lots of things, and he did so throughout his career. There were people in his corner, doing whatever they could to make sure he didn’t lose. When I fought him, I swear, my face, my eyes, were burning – the skin was actually coming off my face! But [after] the post-fight investigation, the results came back as inconclusive! There is no such thing as inconclusive in a case like that. Why was my face burning? I’ve never had a satisfactory answer to this day.”
Along with a number of other people – former Holyfield for Dwight Muhammad Qawi, for example – Czyz has his doubts over whether or not “The Real Deal” achieved all that he did without relying on “artificial enhancement.”
“Let me put it this way: how can you go from 190-pounds to 218-pounds, putting on 28-pounds of muscle, while losing body fat, and yet increase your strength? It’s impossible. It’s impossible. I don’t care; it can’t be done without artificial enhancement. Let’s face it; people do cheat – look at Lance Armstrong. You cannot be superman; you just can’t.”
Czyz summed up his recollections of “The Bite Fight” by attempting to rate both rival heavyweight legends.
“Today, despite everything that happened, I look at both guys as great fighters, both of them will go down as great heavyweight champions. But some of Holyfield’s achievements I do look at as very questionable. I mean, today there are a lot of baseball players having their records taken away due to cheating and being caught. I do have questions over Holyfield, no doubt. Tyson, I’ve run into him from time to time, and he is a changed man. It’s difficult to say who the better fighter out of the two is. With regards to who won both fights, that’s a question of styles making fights. Tyson lost both fights, but it’s up to the historians when it comes to who is ranked as the greater fighter.”