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As we head toward UFC 155 and the heavyweight title rematch between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez, Brent Brookhouse of Bloody Elbow looks back at classic moments in heavyweight rematch history. The first entry in the series looks back at the notorious second fight between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.
In the lead-up to UFC 155 and the heavily anticipated rematch between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez, I'll be offering looks back at classic moments in heavyweight fight rematches. Some will be great fights, some will be important moments and some will have earned their fame from slightly less positive circumstances. We kick the series off with the infamous rematch between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.
When Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson met for the first time on November 9, 1996 it was Evander who managed to pull off the upset, scoring a knockout in the eleventh round. Holyfield opened in Vegas as a 25-1 underdog and was around 6-1 come fight time. The odds were a product of Holyfield seeming to have declined as an elite boxer, struggling in recent bouts including losses to Michael Moorer and Riddick Bowe.
But what Holyfield had was one of the key skills that always gave you a chance against Tyson: he wasn't scared and he was a straight-up dirty bastard. Fighters who weren't scared of Tyson always seemed to do well, Buster Douglas brought that same lack of fear and spent the majority of his fight with Tyson kicking the then champions ass all across the ring.
We made (Tyson) into a demigod; we made him into a monster. I always thought that he was a monster as long as you allowed him to act like a monster. When you stood up to a monster it wasn't a monster anymore. We didn't know what Tyson wasn't.
That Douglas upset actually kept the Tyson/Holyfield fight from happening as planned all the way back in 1990. Then again in 1991, but a combination of Tyson's rape charges and an injury pushed it off again. So it took until the end of '96 for the two to meet in front of a huge crowd (and 1.6million PPV buys) where Holyfield dominated so convincingly that one judge saw the fight 100-93 -- a complete shutout including a knockdown scored by Holyfield in the sixth -- while the other two had it slightly closer at 96-92. The sixth round knockdown came after a clash of heads opened a cut on Tyson, something that would rear it's head again in the rematch.
With the two men met again it was an even bigger money fight than it had been the first time around. Holyfield pulled in $35 million while Tyson took home $30 million.
Holyfield vs. Tyson II was, at the time, the highest grossing boxing match in history in all categories. A crowd of 18,187 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena produced a gate of $17,277,000. Domestic pay-per-view buys totaled more than 1.99 million and generated $99,822,000. The fight was shown on closed circuit television at 1,625 locations in the United States and generated $5,959,000. The fight was also seen in 97 foreign countries and foreign sales totaled $21,240,000, which included sponsorships.
Holyfield started out the fight hot again, hurting Tyson in the first round with a right hand. Round two saw the heads of the two men clash again, again opening a cut on Tyson that had to be checked by a doctor.
Holyfield was known throughout his career for being the kind of "dirty fighter" that crafty boxing veterans admire. He wasn't afraid to use his "bowling ball head" on the inside and could even get a little creative with his elbows. Tyson's camp had complained about the choice of referee Mitch Halpern for the rematch. Halpern had reffed the first match and they felt that he had let Holyfield get away with far too much as far as using his head. Clearly the Holyfield tactics had bothered the mentally fragile Tyson and foreshadowed what would happen in the rematch. Halpern chose to remove himself from the fight and Mills Lane would get the call instead.
Atlas -- a former Tyson trainer -- had a feeling things would go the way they ended up going in the time leading up to the bout:
The day of the fight, [late New York Daily News boxing writer] Jack Newfield was having his garden party. All these people that like to pool their head around boxing. It was getting closer to the fight. I said I don't want to stay, Jack. I don't want to watch this guy. I'll watch it privately at home. I don't want to talk to anybody about this guy. Jack asks "Teddy what do you think is gonna happen?" I said "I think Tyson is going to find a way to get disqualified."
As the fight continued into the second and third rounds, blood pouring from the cut on Tyson's face, Mike continually complained to Lane about headbutts. A rough fight was getting dirty and Mike wasn't in the right mindset to handle it.
Tyson talked about it in Sports Illustrated's look back at the fight:
I prepared extremely hard for the second fight. I realized in the first and second rounds of that fight I was blacking out and feeling dizzy like I was in the first fight. After that first fight, I said I am going to get in the best shape of my life. And then it was happening again. I started freaking out. I wasn't getting any help from the referee. (Holyfield) must have butted me 15 times.
Then, in the final minute of round three, the two men were clinching and suddenly Holyfield jumped in the air, spinning around in obvious pain. He started complaining that he'd been bitten and blood was streaming from his ear.
Mills Lane came close to calling for the disqualification, but allowed the fight to continue after Holyfield appeared okay and was cleared by the doctor. Tyson complained to Lane that the blood was from a punch, not a bite and was met with a classic response from Lane of "bullshit!"
After the action was restarted Tyson immediately bit Holyfield's other ear, the round came to an end, Lane saw the bite and called for a disqualification.
The moments following the disqualification were chaos as the commission tried to figure out what happened while also keeping control of the two camps who were in the ring shouting at each other. Tyson would, as expected, claim that the bites were retaliation for Holyfield headbutting him and causing him to panic as he was blacking out, but that was of little concern to anyone involved.
With the commission unable to fine him any more than 10% of his purse and hand down a year suspension, Tyson would be sidelined for a year and lose $3 million for the incident.
Don King would sum up the events and the attention that it brought in the same Sports Illustrated article:
It was such an awesome event and so high profile. Naturally it had an impact on boxing because from one perspective, it made boxing more interesting because it got much more play in the news than it would have had it been a knockout. That would have been tremendous in itself, but this kind of action in an ear-biting, it got tremendous exposure and media concern. ... You had a boxing turmoil, but it always kept boxing in the limelight. It was the act that took place, not the sport that caused that to take place.
Here's the chaos surrounding the fights -- including the great moment of "Bullshit!" from Lane: