AFTER seven decades spent writing about boxing, veteran Jerry Izenberg has seen just about everything. Yet when he was sat ringside for the infamous “Bite Fight” between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson – 20 years ago – Izenberg witnessed something truly shocking.
The author of new book, “Once There Were Giants” recalls the madness inside The MGM Grand in speaking exclusively with Boxing News:
Q: You have seen just about everything there is to see in boxing, over your decades-long career. At the Tyson-Holyfield “Bite Fight,” what was your immediate reaction other than shock?
Jerry Izenberg: “At first, I didn’t know what had happened; I had no idea. They were fighting in close and then Holyfield started running around in circles. Someone yelled how Tyson had bit him, and then he did it again of course; on the other ear. I can tell you what I heard up close: Mills Lane, a good referee, told Holyfield that if he felt he couldn’t go on, he would call it right now and he’d [Holyfield] be the champ still. Don Turner, Holyfield’s head trainer told him, ‘take it, champ.’ But Holyfield said, ‘put the mouthpiece in, I’m gonna knock the muther*****r out!’”
Q: Things got even crazier afterwards, as you know – with a near-riot in the ring.
J.I: “It was just ludicrous afterwards. I know Holyfield had a style that was conducive to quite a lot of head-clashes, but I never thought it was deliberate. Tyson tried to blame it [his bite actions] on the head-clashes. Listening to Tyson talk afterwards, along with a fellow called [John] Horne, who was one of his cronies, was awful. Horne said that he [Holyfield] fought like a little bitch, and to hear that, and Tyson’s excuses, was just awful – there was no remorse at all.”
Q: How much respect did you lose for Tyson?
J.I: “Oh, I had lost respect for him before that fight. I first met Tyson when he was aged 12; Cus [D’Amato] took me to see him. I had respect for his ability, obviously, but he just pissed it all away. I said before the Holyfield fight, Tyson’s not the same fighter. He had stopped moving his head, he was moving straight back, he wasn’t thinking and he was no longer boxing. He thought he could KO anyone with one punch. He thought he could KO the whole world with one punch, and of course he couldn’t. Years before, in 1990, Buster Douglas showed how Tyson could be badly beaten by technique, and Tyson didn’t like it at all.”
Q: A tough, hypothetical question, but what would Cus have thought if he’d seen Tyson do what he did against Holyfield? Or would it never have happened if Cus had still been alive?
J.I: “Well, no-one knows and it is hypothetical. But I don’t think Cus would have prevented it from happening. This was on Tyson; he got beat by Holyfield and he knew he could not beat him at that stage in his career. He wanted to get disqualified, rather that than take a second beating from Holyfield. And the first fight was not even close, just a total beating. Tyson wasn’t going to go through that again. I think Cus would have made some excuse. Cus loved Tyson and he always found an excuse for him, he always kissed his ass.
“Cus had just two world champions: Jose Torres and Floyd Patterson, and later on he was just a crazy old man living in the mountains. His final chance for a champion was Tyson and I believe he wanted the glory. He always took Tyson’s side, over Teddy Atlas, who is a straight arrow – never looking to make a dollar. Cus always gave Tyson the benefit of the doubt.”
Q: “Why do you think Tyson is still so revered, idolised even? Even people in their 20s love him so much.
J.I: “To be honest, I don’t care what kids in their 20s think (laughs) – they really don’t know anything yet. Someone recently asked me my top-20 greatest heavyweights, and I tell you, Tyson is not in the first five. There were more complete fighters, who are ahead of him. Age got to the great fighters, but with Tyson, he just stopped training, believing he could knock anyone out.”
Q: Finally, did Tyson ever talk to you about what he did in the second Holyfield fight, years afterwards?
J.I: “Never. And he wouldn’t talk about it anyway. He knows why he did it: because he knew he couldn’t beat Holyfield and he wasn’t ever going to go through that beating [from the first fight] again. He looked for a way out and he sure found one.”