By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Evander Holyfield smiled as he recalled a chance encounter with Mike Tyson at the 1998 NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden.
Tyson came up behind Holyfield and horrified fans surrounding Holyfield feared the worst. They yelled to warn Holyfield, who calmly turned around to greet the menacing man who had bitten both his ears during their unforgettable heavyweight championship rematch.
“People started screaming, ‘Watch out, Holyfield! Watch out!,’ because he was behind me,” Holyfield, 51, said. “He had a big, old fur coat on. I looked up and he was over me, like this [looking over Holyfield]. Then I turned all the way around. I took my time because if he had wanted to hit me, he was in the best position. I turned around and he said, ‘All good?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He realized he wanted to say it himself. But everyone was screaming and hollering because they thought he was going to knock the daylights out of me. They know Mike was one of those types of people that could do that. But from that point on, me and Mike been OK.”
Holyfield discussed his repaired relationship with Tyson Thursday during a press luncheon at a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan to announce the Aug. 8 pro debut of Chinese heavyweight Zhang Zhilei, whom Holyfield is mentoring. Saturday marks the 17th anniversary of the infamous “Bite Fight,” which Holyfield won by third-round disqualification at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Tyson’s face-to-face apology didn’t come until more than a year-and-a-half later, but Holyfield said he forgave Tyson in the immediate aftermath of their ill-fated fight.
“Right after the fight I realized, you know, I got 35 million dollars for nine minutes,” said Holyfield, who retired as boxing’s only four-time heavyweight champion and said he made $230 million in purses during his 26-year pro career. “You’ve got to think about it. For nine minutes, this guy bit you on the ear. But he bit you on the ear really because he wanted to get out. He bit me one time, which was the worst bite, the first time. The second time he bit me on the other ear, which just put teeth marks on me.
“But Mills Lane stopped it because he realized this guy wants out. People bite when they want out. People don’t bite because [they’re] just mad at you. ‘I’m frustrated. I just want out.’ To do it twice means he wanted to get out of there. Why did he want to get out? He realized Evander Holyfield is the best-shaped fighter [and said], ‘Do I got to get beat up for nine more rounds? I got knocked out in 11 rounds last time. If I can’t win, then what is my purpose? People get the point where they say, ‘I can’t win. Let me do something.’ That’s the difference.”
Holyfield took into account Tyson’s upbringing and the sincerity of Tyson’s remorse when he decided to forgive his fellow legend. They have since done personal appearances together and supported each other in other endeavors.
“The thing is, what element does this person come from?,” Holyfield said. “I think more people do a lot of conning because they know what to say. Tyson told me something like, ‘It’s all good?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and that was it. We had put it behind us.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.