- - Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Marc Ratner can still remember the tension 20 years later that he felt in the MGM Grand casino the night Mike Tyson would meet Evander Holyfield in the ring for their rematch — and this was before the fight.

“I always get there early,” said Ratner, the former Nevada Athletic Commission executive director, in a conversation with me on my “Cigars & Curveballs” podcast, hosted by The Washington Times. “As I walked through the casino there was a feeling of tenseness. But I didn’t think anymore of it because most of those people weren’t going to be at the fight.”

“The fight,” though, would turn into a fiasco the likes of which had never been seen before, and those people in the casino who were not in the MGM Grand Garden for the Holyfield-Tyson rematch — more than seven months after Holyfield upset Tyson with an 11th round knockout in their first fight — would wind up being dangerously affected by what happened in the ring.

In fact, the ripples that followed Mike Tyson biting off chunks of Evander Holyfield’s ears that June 28, 1997, night in Las Vegas went beyond the ring, the arena, and the casino, which, on its busiest Saturday night of the year, would wind up being shut down after riots ensued following Tyson’s bizarre disqualification in the heavyweight title bout.

Boxing hasn’t been the same since.

There was one last hurrah for Tyson — his bout against Lennox Lewis in 2002 in Memphis where Lewis stopped Tyson in eight rounds — but that was a farce in its own right, as Tyson was finished by then as a competitive fighter. This may seem like a ridiculous statement, given the corrupt nature of the business of boxing, but whatever trust boxing had in the relationship with sports fans was lost the night Tyson used his teeth.

It could have been worse. Tyson, after his first helping of Holyfield’s ears, might have come back and knocked Holyfield out. After all, he wasn’t disqualified.

That remains Marc Ratner’s biggest nightmare 20 years later — what could have been.

“The fight started normal enough,” said Ratner, now the vice president of regulatory affairs for UFC. “I think Mike thought he got head butted in the second round. Then the third round is when he bit him.

“I didn’t know what happened,” Ratner said. “Mills (referee Mills Lane) called me up to the apron. Remember, the whole world is watching. I thought that maybe there was a knee or something or a low blow that I couldn’t see, and maybe Evander’s cup pinched him or something. Evander was jumping up and down.

“Mills said to me, ‘He bit him. I’m going to disqualify him,’” Ratner said. “This was the first bite. Once again, from being an official (Ratner was a long-time respected college football official), I just asked simply, ‘Are you sure you want to disqualify him?’ I didn’t know what happened and I wanted to make sure Mills knew exactly what he was saying.

“Then he said, ‘Let’s bring Dr. Flip (Homansky, the Nevada Athletic Commission physician) up. He looked at Evander and said he could go on.”

Then came Tyson’s second bite out of Holyfield’s ears, and the disqualification.

“I’ve wondered all these years what would have happened if Mike had somehow knocked out Evander after the first bite happened,” Ratner said. “I’m sure nobody would be talking to me ever again. I would have probably lost my job. It was a very frightening moment. After the fight in the casino, I saw hordes of people screaming, running, panicking.”

Those crowds were panicking because they heard gunshots, though Las Vegas police and MGM officials later claimed it was champagne bottles breaking — an explanation no one took seriously. I was ringside for that bizarre night, and by the time the post-fight press conferences took place and we had filed our stories, the casino was a ghost town — empty — as we walked through it in the aftermath of the riot.

Tyson would be fined $3 million and would be suspended from fighting until he met Frans Botha in January 1999. In that fight, Tyson was losing after four rounds and was nearly disqualified for trying to break Botha’s arm.

But he landed a right hand on Botha’s chin that stopped him with 10 second left in the fifth round. His next fight against Orlin Norris ended in a no contest when, after a Tyson hit after the bell sounded put Norris down, Norris said he had injured his knee when he went down and could not continue. After four forgettable wins against Julius Francis, Lou Savarese, Andrew Golota and Brian Nielsen, Tyson would face Lewis in a bout initially set for Las Vegas but moved eventually to Memphis after Tyson caused a melee at the press conference announcing the bout.

Three years later, Tyson would be out of boxing — his final fight a six-round knockout at the hands of journeyman Kevin McBride at the MCI Center in Washington.

In looking back at my stories leading up to that fight, I found this revealing excerpt that I wrote three days before the June 28 bout.

“Privately, Holyfield has told his handlers that he believes he can take the fight out of Tyson and possibly even make him quit in the ring.”

That is what Evander Holyfield did — make Mike Tyson quit rather than suffer the shame of another knockout defeat. It just took Marc Ratner two helpings of Holyfield’s ears to realize that.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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