Former heavyweight champion on the world on being bitten, belts and business in the Middle East
It still ranks as the most bizarre incident in the history of sport. 28 June 1997, and 40 seconds into the fourth round of the world heavyweight championship fight between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfied. The capacity crowd at the MGM Arena in Las Vegas, and a billion people watching on television, are at first bemused — then stunned — as Tyson bites a chunk of Holyfield’s ear.
Holyfield may have pocketed $33m for his efforts, the highest-ever fee for a single sporting appearance, but history will always remember the fight as “The Bite.”
Nearly fifteen years on, is Holyfield still angry? “Mike Tyson and I have never been enemies. People just perceived that, because we both wanted to be world champion. I really never had nothing against any fighter. Everybody had the right to want to be the very best, but you all can’t be the best at the same time,” he says.
Few wouldn't argue that bite or no bite, Holyfield has always been one of the best. The only five-time heavyweight champion of the world, and having earned over $230m in the ring, Holyfield is now 49 years old. But unlike many boxers who have struggled to find a career outside the ring, the self-styled “Real Deal” has been equally impressive in the business world. He has a record label “Real Deal Records”, while “Real Deal Promotions” is looking to put on and promote fights all around the globe. Fancy a workout? You could head to one of the many “Holyfield Gyms” in the USA and now India — with plans to roll them out across the Middle East. Then there is the Holyfield Warrior and Real Deal-branded boxing-specific products which include gloves, shoes, shorts, head gear, and punching bags. If that wasn’t enough, there are Holyfield video games, a string of television appearances, and even three cameo roles in movies to his name.
Make no mistake — Holyfield may have been a box office dream in the ring, but he is seriously big business outside it. He explains: “I do consider myself as a business person. Boxing is business. Whatever you do, you have to be a business person to be able to continue to do things that make money,” adding: “There are many things we are looking to do with the brand, especially in the Middle East – so we’ll see, we’re talking to different people about different ventures, and if something is the right fit, we will look more into it.”
Part of the reason the Holyfield brand is so huge today is because of his boxing record, which by any measure is staggering. Forty four wins in 57 fights, 29 by knockout. After winning the bronze medal in the Light Heavyweight division at the 1984 Summer Olympics, he debuted as a professional at the age of 21.
Holyfield moved to the cruiserweight division in 1985 and won his first title the following year, when he defeated Dwight Muhammad Qawi for the WBA cruiserweight belt. He would then go to win the Lineal, IBF and WBC titles, becoming the undisputed cruiserweight champion. Holyfield moved up to heavyweight in 1988, defeating Buster Douglas for the Lineal, WBC, WBA, and IBF titles in 1990.
He holds other notable victories over fighters such as George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer and twice against Mike Tyson.
In boxing circles, he is one of just a handful of “greats”, alongside Ali, Foreman and Frazier. All of which begs the question, how come all these years later, few, if any names rattle off the tongue, and certainly not in the heavyweight division.
Holyfield is quick to lay the blame squarely at the media and boxing commentators.
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