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Evander Holyfield is the only four-time heavyweight champion in boxing history, yet he is largely remembered as the man who had part of his ear bitten off by Mike Tyson. BT Sport 1, Tues, July 23rd 9.30pm
This documentary details his determination to secure a bout against ‘Iron Mike’ and how it proved career-defining for all the wrong reasons.
Holyfield was already a two-time world heavyweight champion when he climbed into the ring to face Tyson in Las Vegas in November 1996. But his career had been completely overshadowed by his opponent up to that point, with Tyson continuing to dominate the heavyweight division even while he was in prison. Most critics dismissed Holyfield’s achievements, insisting that he would never be considered a great champion until he had fought and beaten Tyson. They said he was no match for his illustrious opponent, but the man nicknamed ‘The Real Deal’ was determined to prove them wrong.
Alabama-born Holyfield had been world cruiserweight champion before moving up to the heavyweight division in early June 1988. He was determined to take on Tyson, the first person to unify the three titles (WBA, WBC and IBF), the man who, at the age of just 21, had taken the world of boxing by storm and was already being talked about as one of the greatest fighters of all time.
Little did he know how long he would have to wait for his opportunity as events conspired against him at every turn. After defeating two former champions in Michael Dokes and Pinklon Thomas, he was finally set to get his wish in late 1990.
The only thing standing in the way of a meeting with Holyfield now was a certain James ‘Buster’ Douglas, a rank outsider who was more than six years Tyson’s senior. ‘Iron Mike’ had defended his title nine times without alarm and this was expected to be a routine defence, but Douglas produced one of the greatest shocks in sporting history when he knocked the champion out in the tenth. Holyfield duly dispatched the new incumbent in three eight months later to become heavyweight champion for the first time, but it didn’t quite feel the same.
Holyfield lost his title to Riddick Bowe two years later, but regained it in a rematch before being beaten by Michael Moorer in 1994. He had been due to face Tyson in November 1991, but the former champion was forced to withdraw with a cartilage injury. It would take almost exactly five years for the meeting to finally happen as Tyson spent three of following years in jail after being convicted of rape.
Day of destiny
By the time they finally met in November 1996 Tyson had regained the world title. Holyfield, at 34, was four years his senior and appeared to be well past his prime. The bookies didn’t give him a chance, but he defied the odds with a superb display, landing blow after blow on the champion before finally winning by TKO in the eleventh.
The world of boxing was shocked, but they hadn’t reckoned with Holyfield’s determination to secure his place among the sport’s greats. It made him a three-time winner of the heavyweight title, equalling Muhammad Ali’s record, but still there were whispers. He caught Tyson on a bad day – order would be restored in the rematch which was scheduled for June the following year.
Dubbed ‘The Sound and the Fury’, it was the richest event in boxing history with a purse worth over $100m. Sadly, it became one of the most controversial fights of all time with Tyson disqualified in the third round for biting both of Holyfield’s ears. One bite was so severe that it removed part of Holyfield’s right ear which Tyson spat to the ring floor. It was a truly shocking spectacle that continues to haunt both men, albeit for very different reasons.
Holyfield held the title for another three years before being beaten by British boxer Lennox Lewis, but he regained the vacant WBF title the following year to become the only four-time heavyweight champion in history. Despite his achievements, however, he is mostly remembered as the man who had his ear bitten off by Mike Tyson.
Director Steven Cantor tries to rescue Holyfield’s legacy in this documentary, with plenty of footage of his early bouts as he fought his way to the top. “Evander Holyfield is primarily known today as the guy who had his ear bitten off by Tyson,” Cantor explains. “While the insanity of that singular incident is permanently etched in our collective memory, it is my hope that this film will reintroduce an audience to a fighter who deserves to be remembered as one of the all-time greats.”
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