The rematch between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson was billed as "The Sound and the Fury," borrowing a line from Shakespeare's Macbeth. How fitting then that Saturday's World Boxing Association heavyweight championship fight at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas turned out to be not only a tragedy but also a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.
The idiot was Tyson. The former champ and eternal bully, having already lost the first two rounds, decided to retaliate for an accidental head-butting cut over his eye by biting part of Holyfield's right ear off with 40 seconds left in the third round. The reigning champ jumped up in pain and walked away in anger, blood streaming from the ear. Tyson then ran after Holyfield and shoved him in the back before referee Mills Lane intervened. During an ensuing four-minute delay, a physician examined Holyfield and determined that he could continue, while Lane deducted 2 points from Tyson's score and warned him another bite would get him disqualified. "I told Tyson, 'One more like that and you're gone,'" Mills recalled later. Sure enough, when the fight resumed, Tyson bit Holyfield on the left ear, and when the round was over, Lane disqualified him. Bedlam followed as Tyson tried to get at Holyfield and struck a police officer.
Tyson, who obviously had "eaten on the insane root that takes the reason prisoner," said afterward, "He has a cut on his ear, and he didn't want to fight. Regardless of what I did, he had been butting for two fights. I addressed it in the ring...What else could I do?" Holyfield, who was taken to Valley Hospital after the fight to surgically repair the ear, addressed Tyson by saying "I truly believe fear itself causes people to do the easy thing. The quickest way was to get out. If you think you can whup me, do it with the gloves on. You had a chance to fight. Why did you bite?"
The depths to which Tyson sank were in direct contrast to the high hopes for this fight. When Holyfield, then a 7-to-1 underdog, upset Tyson last November, he revitalized heavyweight boxing and guaranteed himself and Tyson a huge payday for the rematch--$35 million for the champ, $30 million for the challenger--not to mention a stiff pay-per-view price of $49.95 for home viewers. Promoter Don King called it "the biggest event of all time," and while it may not have been that, it was a classic rematch between the good Holyfield, who wore the biblical inscription PHIL. 4: 13 on his trunks, and the bad Tyson, who sought guidance before the fight at the gravesite of legendary thug Sonny Liston. Even after his prison term for rape and his subsequent exposure as an ordinary fighter, Tyson still fascinates the public, which is why SPORTS ILLUSTRATED elected to put him and not Holyfield on the cover the week before the fight. Indeed, Tyson was a 2-to-1 favorite to become only the fourth heavyweight in history to regain his title from the man who dethroned him.
"The Sound and the Fury" also had Controversy. Tyson's co-managers John Horne and Roy Holloway called for the dismissal of referee Mitch Halpern on the grounds that he had worked the first fight and might be prejudiced against Tyson. While the Nevada Athletic Commission refused to back down, Halpern pulled out the day before the fight, and Lane was named to replace him. There was more than a little irony in Tyson's being disqualified by the referee his people preferred.