With all the reflection this week on the 10th anniversary of the infamous Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson “Bite Fight,” Marc Ratner thought about his fateful role that night at MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas and what might have been.
What if Mike Tyson had won that fight?
It would have changed history, and certainly, Ratner’s life.
“It probably would have been the end of my career,” said Ratner, the former executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission and now a vice president with Ultimate Fighting Championship, the mixed martial arts promotion.
Like nearly everyone in the arena that night, Ratner, who sat next to judge Jerry Roth — close enough to have his hands on the canvas — didn’t realize exactly what had happened.
“As a college football official, the first question they want you to ask is to the referee who wants to throw someone out, is, ‘Are you sure you want to disqualify him?’ ” Ratner said. “I don’t know why, but that was the first thing I asked him. I don’t think I even understood at that moment exactly what had happened.
“Now, imagine what would have happened if Mike would have knocked him [Holyfield] out after the first bite. It would have been all on me for letting them fight more. Can you imagine the repercussions? Fortunately for me, Mike bit him again, and that was it.”
It was a bizarrely historic night. The casino was shut down on a fight night because of a panic and an ensuing riot. And most Vegas regulars believe gunshots, not champagne bottles or broken glass, were heard in and around the casino. The cops with their guns drawn didn’t believe they were protecting themselves against broken champagne bottles.
Many believe this was the end for Tyson, but his aura had initially been broken in November 1996, the first time he and Holyfield met in the ring. The “Bite Fight” has overshadowed Tyson-Holyfield I, which may have been the last great heavyweight title fight.
Holyfield was considered a shot fighter going into that first matchup, which also took place at MGM Grand Garden. He had lost the championship to Michael Moorer, and had been knocked out by Riddick Bowe in their third fight. In May 1996 he barely stopped out-of-shape former cruiserweight champion Bobby Czyz in six rounds.
Meanwhile, Tyson had emerged from his three-year prison stay in Indiana and quickly recreated his menacing aura. He dispatched club fighter Peter McNeely in one round in August 1995, then posted a third-round knockout of Buster Mathis Jr.
Tyson was back to being the “Baddest Man on the Planet” after knocking out World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Frank Bruno in three rounds in March 1996. Five months later, Tyson won the World Boxing Association version of the heavyweight crown by supposedly knocking out champion Bruce Seldon in one round. It appeared that Seldon was so frightened of Tyson he went down as soon as the first punch grazed his chin, and stayed down.
There was so little respect for Holyfield at the time that Tyson agreed to fight him just two months after the Seldon fight. People feared that Holyfield would not just lose, but get killed. Yet, in a thing of beauty, Holyfield systematically dismantled Tyson, piece by piece, until the fight was stopped in the 11th round. The fight turned in the fifth round, when Holyfield went punch for punch with Tyson and backed him up. That was when Tyson was finished, and he knew it. He knew it after the fight, when he acted like Holyfield’s puppy dog in the post-fight press conference, and he knew it going into the ring 10 years ago, when one of his associates from his amateur days — trainer Teddy Atlas — predicted before the fight that Tyson would do something in the ring to quit. He did, but no one could have predicted how.
Tyson quit that fight but continued to be a spectacle in the ring until his last fight two years ago, a loss to Kevin McBride here in the District. Today is his 41st birthday, and he faces trial on Aug. 20 in Phoenix on drug possession charges. Holyfield, at the age of 44, continues to fight and will meet Lou Savarese tonight in El Paso.
“I even gave [promoter] Don King the name for it — ‘Forgiven but not forgotten.’ ”
No one who watched it will ever forget the “Bite Fight.”