The evening Mike Tyson bit both of Evander Holyfield’s ears remains the most memorable of a career that was as decorated as it was controversial.
Even at the age of 50 and 12 years after his final fight, Tyson remains perhaps boxing’s best-known living figure and one of its finest heavyweights.
His 2002 defeat to Lennox Lewis may have proved the biggest match-up he was involved in, but it was the rematch with Holyfield, on June 28 1997, that defines him more than any other.
The American had been undefeated for six years when, as the reigning WBA champion, he agreed to meet the seemingly in-decline Holyfield at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand in November 1996.
A shock 11th-round stoppage defeat followed, before the famous rematch seven months later at the same location. The original date of May 3 had been postponed when, during training, Tyson suffered a cut over his left eye.
On the evening of June 27, Tyson’s former trainer Teddy Atlas predicted to reporters that if he did not secure an early knockout, the fighter would “try to disqualify himself either by elbowing, throwing a low blow, butting or biting”.
If that was what the challenger had planned, he may have begun considering it as early as the opening round, when Holyfield landed a big right hand and, as they went toe-to-toe, remained untroubled.
Tyson had complained of head-butting during the first fight, and did so again to referee Mills Lane early in the second round when, following what the official considered to be an accidental clash of heads, a cut opened by his right eye.
With Holyfield appearing physically stronger and his challenger swinging without success and growing more frustrated, the third brought the increasing drama of Tyson’s heightened aggression.
The champion’s impressive punch resistance kept him upright amid his compatriot’s speed and power and, as Holyfield again tied him up, the then 30-year-old took his first bite of his rival’s left ear, forcing the Alabamian to leap up and down in pain, before pushing Tyson away when he turned his back.
Despite blood coming from Holyfield’s ear, Lane allowed the fight to continue after a break of four minutes in which he also deducted Tyson two points. After further exchanges of punches, from a similar position Tyson took a bite of the other ear, and after Lane allowed the third round to finally conclude, he disqualified the challenger.
An in-ring melee followed between the two camps before Tyson was spat on as he left the arena and Holyfield, then 34, was taken to hospital where it was discovered a chunk around half-an-inch wide was missing from his left ear.
Later that night Tyson claimed he was acting in retaliation to head-butts, but the following month the Nevada State Athletic Commission banned him from boxing for 15 months.
Despite a further 10 fights, five of which were victories, he only once more fought for the world heavyweight title. He would lose to Lewis in Memphis, Tennessee.