Evander Holyfield was always taught to retaliate even worse when someone did something to hurt him.
His immediate instinct when Mike Tyson bit him the first time in their rematch was to bite Tyson directly on his face. If it weren’t for his strength and conditioning coach, Tim Hallmark, and the words of Holyfield’s grandmother lingering in the back his mind, the legendary heavyweight champion would’ve bit Tyson in retaliation that infamous night in Las Vegas.
Holyfield showed restraint after Tyson bit off a piece of his right ear, only to have Tyson bite him a second time on his left ear almost as soon as the action resumed in the third round of their second title fight at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Referee Mills Lane deducted two points from Tyson following the first bite, but he disqualified Tyson after the third round, once Lane realized Tyson bit Holyfield again.
The 57-year-old Holyfield, who is friendly with Tyson these days, recalled what stopped him from biting Tyson back during the newest episode of Sports Illustrated’s boxing podcast.
“He bit my ear, man, and I just remember how mad I was and how upset I was,” Holyfield told host Chris Mannix. “And, you know, I realized that I was gonna bite him back. But [at] the point of me knowing that I was gonna bite him back, my corner guy named Tim Hallmark, because his papa had told us that in the match that this guy gonna do something to you and, you know, for me not to lose my cool and all that. He told me to keep my mind on the lord.
“And so, I told my trainer, Tim Hallmark, to remind me if that do happen. And he kept calling and telling me, ‘Keep your mind on the lord.’ I didn’t wanna keep my mind on the lord. I wanted to bite him back. And but, then all of a sudden it came across my mind what my grandmama said – they always catch the person who do it the second time. So, I decided not to bite him back. And he bit me again. Yeah, he bit me again. Then, you know, Mills Lane, he stopped the fight and all that.”
Holyfield is thankful that he didn’t allow anger to make him do something he would’ve regretted. Had Holyfield responded by biting Tyson, he believes he would’ve done irrevocable damage to a sport that took intense criticism due to Tyson’s actions alone.
“When it’s all said and done, because I kinda felt because I did the right thing, I actually think that it saved boxing,” said Holyfield, who beat Tyson by 11th-round technical knockout in their first fight seven months earlier. “I truly believe that if I would’ve did what I wanted to, I was gonna bite him right there in that face. And I told Mike that, and he said, ‘You really was?’ And I said, ‘I was.’ I said, ‘But Tim kept hollering to me to keep your mind on the lord.’
“And I said I thought about that what would’ve probably happened to the game of boxing if the two best fighters biting each other, goring each other, and you know, the game may be over. We wouldn’t even be talking about the game now.”
The Nevada State Athletic Commission suspended Tyson and fined him heavily after that disqualification defeat.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.