20 Years On: Recalling The Mike Tyson/Frans Botha Clash

Twenty years ago, former heavyweight king Mike Tyson was the single most unpredictable fighter on the planet. No-one – as in absolutely no-one, not even Tyson himself – knew what would happen, what Tyson might do, when he was in the ring. It was just over a year-and-a-half on from his utterly disgraceful “Bite Fight” with Evander Holyfield (and we all remember what antics a thoroughly unhinged Tyson got up to that night) when Tyson unleashed his latest indiscretions.

Having been suspended and also fined for his cannibalistic actions in the rematch with Holyfield (Evander being the one man Tyson could never, ever hope to intimidate in the manner he had so many opponents), Tyson returned against South African heavyweight Frans Botha. What followed showed that Tyson had not changed, that he had not improved as a person, one single bit.

Ahead of the fight set for The MGM Grand in Las Vegas (scene of course of Holyfield-Tyson II and all that went down after the fight had reached its shocking conclusion), Tyson, perhaps even more angry at the world than he had previously been, said this of Botha: “I am going to go right at him and I expect him to go down cold. I expect him to die.”

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This was in no way a man who was feeling remorseful over the atrocities he had inflicted on the boxing world just over 18-months before. And when Tyson and Botha got in the ring there was more poor form to come from the now perfectly-named “Baddest Man On The Planet.”

Tyson was 43-1 and Botha was 39-1 (his sole loss coming at the hands of Michael Moorer in an IBF title challenge). The man who had the potentially tough task of being the third man in the ring was Richard Steele and sure enough, Steele had his hands full.

Botha, in shape and fully motivated, boxed brilliantly in the first four rounds, outboxing Tyson, making him miss and frustrating him. Botha was no monster puncher (just as well for the hittable Tyson) but he had fast hands, decent movement and he in no way seemed to be intimidated by or afraid of Tyson. The crazy fireworks began at the end of the opening round, when Tyson held onto Botha’s arm at the end of the round, refusing to let go (Tyson later said he was trying to break Botha’s arm). Botha, appealing to referee Steele, had no choice but to punch at Tyson with his free arm.

Steele docked two-points from Tyson and the former heavyweight king almost fired a heat ray at Steele with his burning eyes. Tyson was furious, and mad as hell. What on earth might happen next?

It was a great performance from Botha, one that saw him sweep all four rounds on two of the official score-cards (the other judge had one round even). Then, in round-five, Tyson let loose with a perfect right hand to the head and down went Botha in spectacular fashion. Showing heart, Botha tried to get up but twice he fell, in the process showing that Tyson had retained his fight-ending power if nothing much else. Tyson then wanted to help Botha to his feet, his desire to be a normal human being having returned.

Should Tyson have been allowed to fight on after his latest behaviour? Again, no way had Tyson either mellowed or matured as a person. Had this been a no-name fighter, one who didn’t generate millions and millions of dollars, chances are he would have been banned permanently. But the Tyson show carried on for some six years and nine additional fights, until his collapse against the ordinary Kevin McBride in 2005.

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These days, Tyson is in a good place and he doesn’t even enjoy talking about his boxing career. Perhaps nights such as the one he had two decades ago today do not bring back pleasant memories for the fighter who once had true greatness in his hands.