Titans of the Heavyweight Division: Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield 11/09/96

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By: Steve Gallegos

In 1995, the heavyweight divsion and all of boxing got a shot in the arm when former Undisputed Heavyweight Champion Mike Tyson was released from prison. After a 3 1/2 year stint in prison for rape, the once regarded “Baddest Man On The Planet” emerged back on the scene with a series of KO’s over “B” and “F” class opponents while winning both the WBC and WBA Heavyweight Championships. Shortly after winning the WBC title, talks began for a megafight between Tyson and former champion Lennox Lewis, however Tyson opted to vacate the title and give up $3 million dollars not to fight Lewis. He instead opted to fight former two-time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield.

Holyfield appeared to be an easier task as many believed that Evander was no longer the “Real Deal“. Evander Holyfield appeared to be at the end of his road. After beating Ray Mercer in his 1995 comeback, Holyfield was KO’d in his rubber match with Riddick Bowe and he struggled against the much smaller Bobby Czyz, who was making his debut as a heavyweight. After Tyson’s first round TKO over WBA Heavyweight Champion Bruce Seldon on 09/07/96, the stage was set for the long awaited showdown between Tyson and Holyfield.

They were originally scheduled to meet in 1992 when Holyfield was the Undisputed Champion, however the bout was scrapped due to Tyson being found guilty in the rape of Desiree Washington. Their 1996 bout was billed as “Finally” and they finally met on 11/09/96 at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas, NV.

Tyson came out in the first round and immediately went after Holyfield, landing a hard right hand on the top of Evander’s head. Holyfield shook it off well and seconds later landing his own combination, which brought cheers from the crowd. Tyson was trying to land the “home run” shot and when he landed, it didn’t back Holyfield up.
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Holyfield began to employ his strategy of keeping the fight on the inside and rough Tyson up, not allowing him any space to throw his hard punches. When Evander would land a combination, he would immediately tie Tyson up. After the bell sounded to end the first, Tyson threw a right hand and Holyfield retaliated with a shot of his own, letting Tyson know he wasn’t going to tolerate any cheap shots.

Holyfield’s game plan was working effectively as he dominated rounds two-four as he smothered Tyson on the inside and began landing good shots to the body and head. Tyson was being taking into unchartered territory as he hadn’t gone past three rounds in all four of his previous bouts since being released from prison. Also, Tyson was facing a man who wasn’t intimidated whatsoever and didn’t freeze up as his past four opponents had.

In round five, Tyson finally rallied as he unleashed lethal combinations to both the body and head of Holyfield. It was Tyson’s biggest round and many other fighters would have goned down, however Holyfield took the shots well. The fight would take a dramatic turn in the sixth. Early in the round referee Mitch Halpern called time so the ringside doctor could inspect a small cut over Tyson’s left eye caused by headbutt. When the fight resumed, both men began exchanging hard shots, however Holyfield was getting the better of the exchanges and began gaining confidence as the crowd began chanting “Holyfield!!, Holyfield!!” With less than a minute to go in the sixth, Tyson threw a right hand and Holyfield ducked and came back with a left uppercut to the body that put Tyson down for only the second time in his career.

Evander would capitalize on the knockdown by unloading hard shots on Tyson against the ropes just as the bell sounded. Holyfield would dominate the seventh and towards the end of the round, the two fighters collided heads, causing another cut over Tysons left eye and it buckled Mike. Mitch Halpern once again called time to have ringside physician Flip Homansky inspect the cut and he let the fight continue.

Rounds eight and nine were fought at a much slower pace, however Holyfield still dominated. In round 10, Holyfield looked tired and appeared to be wearing out, however with 21 seconds left, Evander landed a hard right hand that hurt Tyson. Holyfield began to land hard shots to the body and head. Holyfield then landed a hard right hand that buckled Tyson and sent him reeling backwards. Holyfield then jumped on Tyson landing hard lefts and rights and Mitch Halpern was very close to stopping the fight.

In the 11th, Holyfield wasted no time going after Tyson and began to land hard combinations and after 37 seconds, Mitch Halpern stepped in and stopped the fight. It was pandemonium as the crowd cheered loudly as Holyfield’s corner lifted their man up in the air. It was the second biggest upset of the decade behind Buster Douglas’ upset of Tyson in 1990 and Holyfield would join Muhammad Ali as the only other fighter to win the Heavyweight Championship three times.

During the post fight interview with Ferdie Pacheco, Holyfield thanked God and said he lived by the strength of the “Almighty”. Tyson, who was still in a daze, did not protest or offer any bad feelings. He was even more humble at the post fight press conference as he gave credit to Holyfield at the post fight press conference and thanked him, saying he just wanted to shake his hand and hopefully they could fight again.

They would fight again seven months later and Tyson would be disqualified in the third round after biting Holyfield twice on his ears. 11/09/96 will always be a historic night for both boxing and sports in general. Holyfield showed tremendous heart and will to defy the odds and make history as he pulled off one of the biggest upsets in boxing history.

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