The Pugilist

Tyson’s most infamous moment comes alive in new book

The Pugilist

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There are certain moments in history where you never forget where you were or what you were doing. And there are about eight hours of June 28, 1997, that I'll never forget.

That was the night that Mike Tyson finally lost it and chomped off the top of Evander Holyfield's ears in their rematch for the heavyweight title at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas. It led to a wild night in Las Vegas and an equally wild series of hearings in front of the Nevada Athletic Commission.

New York Post sports columnist George Willis recounts the event in his behind-the-scenes look at the events of that night, and its aftermath, in a compelling and riveting new book, "The Bite Fight: Tyson, Holyfield and the Night that Changed Boxing Forever."

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New York Post sports columnist George Willis wrote 'The Bite Fight'

Willis obtained access to virtually everyone who played a role in that fight and tells the fast-paced story with depth and suspense.

As a reporter at the time for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, I covered that fight and remember it as if it were yesterday. I sat next to Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times -- in my opinion, the Babe Ruth of sports writers -- and marveled at the outstanding column he'd written on deadline.

After the chaos ensued following the bite -- and there was good reason to be fearful -- I experienced a wild journey trying to gather news for those who'd read the morning newspaper.

I recalled seeing a celebrity turn over black jack tables in the casino and picking up casino chips. There were reports of gun shots in the casino. A colleague at the time, Joe Hawk, went with me to investigate. We didn't find a shooter, but I did run into a guy on a pay phone who had a gun sticking out of his waist band. He didn't seem like he was a police officer. I left and called my desk from another bank of pay phones (Remember, this was 1997 and cell phones weren't in widespread use at that time).

Willis adds plenty of colour of his own to the story. He explains how Marc Ratner, then the executive director of the Nevada commission, discussed with referee Mills Lane his plan to disqualify Tyson after the first of two bites.

In an interview with Jim Gray, who was doing in-ring interviews for Showtime that night, Willis reveals a slice of the fear everyone around the ring as Tyson was raging out of control and police officers had swarmed the ring to try to maintain order.

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Another view of the bite (AP file)

Gray had gone over to interview Lane and found the hard-nosed referee, an ex-Marine, clutching a Las Vegas police officer's shirt.

That scared me. Not because I thought I was going to be hit by Mike. He'd never been aggressive with me in any way. But when the police start pulling out billy clubs and there's pushing and shoving and you have fans, it's scary because you don't know who's coming in the ring and who's swinging their batons. You just don't know what is going to happen.

Willis captures what happened in the ring well, but also its aftermath. He tells the story that I saw in the casino through various people, including a paramedic who had worked the fight that night.

Brian Rogers wound up tending not to injured fighters that night, but to people he encountered in the casino in the zaniness that followed the fight.

At first, I didn't know what I was getting myself into. People were fainting. People were fighting. It was a scary time. ... There were some that sounded like rapid gunfire out in the parking area. I heard it myself. We all took no chances and assumed for a while that it was shots fired.

Willis does an excellent job describing all the events that made that night one of the most memorable, as well as infamous, in boxing history.

If you're a Tyson fan, a boxing fan, or a fan of a true-life drama, this book is well worth your time.

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Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson on a 2012 commercial shoot (AP)

By Kevin Iole

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