“I just wanted to kill him.” Mike Tyson.
The fight remains one of the most infamous and shocking in the history of boxing, having been abandoned just three rounds in when Tyson bit both of his opponent’s ears, leading to his disqualification and eventual suspension from the sport.
The fight was billed by promoters as “The Sound and the Fury”, and came merely seven months after Holyfield became just the second boxer to beat Iron Mike. The then-reigning heavweight champion headed into the contest with a record of 33 wins and three defeats, while Tyson had won 45 fights, and lost just the two.
In the first two rounds, Holyfield was looking good to retain his belt, easily landing more punches than his opponent, but infuriated Tyson when he headbutted him while ducking a right jab, leaving the challenger with a cut above his right eye. Despite Tyson’s protests to the referee, Holyfield was not punished as it was determined that the clash of heads had been unintentional.
The headbutt seemed to inspire Tyson to a strong third round as he channeled his frustration to land a series of shots, but with less than a minute until the bell, Holyfield was caught in a clinch, and Tyson bit a one-inch piece of cartilage out of his opponent’s right ear before spitting it into the floor of the ring.
After a delay, the ringside doctor managed to stem the bleeding from the bite, and ruled that Holyfield was able to continue. However, Tyson was disqualified from the bout at the end of the round after trying to bite his left ear when the fight resumed. The ring was filled with security personnel, police and members of Tyson’s entourage as he tried to reach Holyfield to continue to fight, throwing punches at a number of security officers before eventually leaving the ring.
Shortly after the action stopped, it was confirmed that Holyfield was to retain his title and receive the prize money. As a result of his actions, Tyson had his boxing licence cancelled, although it was reinstated just over a year later. He also had to pay a $3m (£1.75m) fine, and complete a spell of community service.
Although Tyson returned to the ring in 1999 for a fight with Francois Botha, his career never truly recovered. He failed a drugs test in 2000 before losing a world title fight with Lennox Lewis the following year, and eventually hung up his gloves in 2005.
Holyfield spent two more years as world champion before losing his belt to Lewis in 1999, although he did win more titles later in his career. He continued to fight until 2011, but retired a year later after failing to secure a fight with the Klitschko brothers.
In a documentary on Tyson released in 2008, he maintained that the biting was merely a retaliation for the headbutt, although he publicly apologised to Holyfield during an appearance in the Oprah Winfrey show in 2009. The pair are reported to have become good friends since quitting the sport.