Evander Holyfield bears the scars of Mike Tyson's cowardice

Boxing has never quite forgotten when fighting turned to maiming.

Evander Holyfield,left, with Express and Star's boxing reporter Craig Birch
Evander Holyfield,left, with Express and Star's boxing reporter Craig Birch

It was perhaps the most controversial ring incident ever during one of the most high-profile contests of all time, writes Craig Birch.

Evander Holyfield, the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, memorably went toe-to-toe with Mike Tyson for a second time in Las Vegas some 16 years ago.

‘The Real Deal’ was an Olympic bronze medallist and undisputed world ruler at two weights but might forever be regarded as a victim, thanks to one heinous act.

You would have to have been living under a rock somewhere for over a-decade-and-a-half to not know that Tyson bit part of Holyfield’s ear off in the third round, as the two jostled for the WBA world title.

Holyfield had upset Tyson – who looked to be back to his best after becoming world champion for a second time – by 11th- round stoppage to score what was considered by some an upset win a year earlier.

But that was nowhere near as shocking as Iron Mike’s actions in the 1997 rematch. Most simply thought the ‘Baddest Man on the Planet’ had truly lost the plot this time.

The theory that Holyfield subscribes to – and few ever know better than the other man in the ring – is simple and convincing.

Tyson was simply beaten; he wanted to turn and run. Such a vicious act was committed not because of his desire to take violence to a new level, but out of desperation and cowardice.

He was afraid, knowing Holyfield had his number. They could have boxed another 100 times and Tyson could have trained 100 different ways, but the end result was always going to be the same.

He’s practically been scarred to tell the tale and it’s befitting of the man that he doesn’t hold a grudge. Boxing is a sport and he’s never forgotten that since he laced up his first glove.

Holyfield said at a sportsman’s dinner in the Holiday Inn, Birmingham city centre: “Styles make fights and it was a proven fact that Tyson was perfect for me, he just came right into everything I did.

“Tyson had that capability of fighting guys who were taller with longer arms better than any short person ever; when he caught them he could beat them easy.

“But a person who was not afraid could beat him to the punch, he realised he couldn’t handle that and I never took it personally.

“I understood it for what it really was, a cover-up to disguise his reason and intention for doing what he did. He realised he wasn’t going to win the fight.

“It started going bad for him, he knew I was going to beat him again and he didn’t want that, so he thought he would do something to get disqualified.

“If a kid bites you on the hand, it’s because they want to you to let them go, you do things like that when you want to get out of there. He quit without being confronted by quitting – it was a good scheme and I guess it worked.”

Holyfield considered Tyson a bully – and the native of Atmore, Alabama has had experience of dealing with them since he was born to the world in 1962.

In fact, sometimes he got lost when the opponent wasn’t a brute, saying: “It takes me back to when I was a kid, I was the youngest of nine children in my family and always had to defend myself.

“It seemed like everyone who was big was a bully, but their aggression just seemed to give me more fight.

“For example, I had a hard time fighting someone like Lennox Lewis, who was just stepping back and looking like ‘get away from me’.

“When I talked to Lennox later on, he was like: ‘I beat you in the end.’ But they called the first fight a draw and then a win for him, but all he ever did was prevent me from knocking him out. I give him credit towards the end of his career, he started stepping it up but he wasn’t like that against me. He got better afterwards.”

Holyfield took great pride in being the ‘undisputed’ of his pomp. A heavyweight fighter of today may never again be able to boast that status, the way the titles are spread around.

He said: “In my era, I never wanted to have someone else as a champion while I was a champion, I wanted to be the best. That’s the point.

“I suppose it’s how much money you can make, too, because it doesn’t last forever. The titles are not going to stop with you, they keep moving.

“It’s whether you are the best in your era, it’s a wonderful game if you can make that happen.”