November 10, 1996 just may be the single most exciting night in the history of sport. Of course there’s no way to measure such things but boy oh boy – if you saw this fight live or on pay per view there’s no doubt you remember witnessing one of the best pure beatdown performances the boxing ring has ever shown us. The quiet confidence of the hopeless underdog rose above and beyond all expectations and spectacularly slayed the dragon of Tyson. At least those were the perceptions before the fight. Holyfield always exuded a certainty of winning from the get-go – boldly declaring and explaining at the August press conference in Las Vegas exactly how and specifically why he was going to dethrone Tyson – so verbally accurate in his words that Tyson actually got agitated and shouted threats at Holyfield during the speech. You knew right then Holyfield had the belief and Tyson was rattled by that (Note: exact Holyfield speech quotes are in my “Tyson vs Lewis Heavyweight Armageddon book).
Steve Cantor’s new film titled “Chasing Tyson” which aired last night on ESPN – exactly twenty years to the night of the actual event – is a grand slam smashing success. The drama and hype and the actual contest itself was the ultimate glory of sport and now this new doc captures the essence of it perfectly. PERFECTLY. The contrast of styles and personalities of Tyson and Evander all meshed together to create athletic magic. I always believed that Holyfield caught Tyson at the precise right moment and beat a shell – but watching the fight again last night I must revise that erroneous idea. Evander Holyfield was Tyson’s kryptonite – he would have beaten Tyson any time anywhere. For whatever reasons – which journalists and ring observers will never understand – Holyfield owned Tyson – he was the superior in every way – as a man and as an athlete – bigger stronger wiser tougher more dedicated but also less colorful and less dramatic. Holyfield had a little less style but he had more substance.
Some observations I jotted down: Don Turner saying with a knowing smile that Tyson was overrated by the media and the media didn’t really know or appreciate how good Holfyield is/was — Tyson admitting before the rematch: If he beats me again then I never could have beaten him (Tyson could be so endearingly honest and sincere about his own shortcomings) — Evander saying that he could sense before the rematch that Mike did not really want to be there and he didn’t really believe – “I saw it on him” — Sam Watson was part of Holyfield’s entourage in the first fight – or did he splice his face into the fight film? — After getting bit the second time Holyfield’s corner yelled to him in the moments of chaos: “Think of the Lord Think of the Lord” — That was Captain Kirk pardon William Shatner at ringside — Bobby Czyz stating: “This is the most unbelievable thing that I’ve been privileged to witness” — After the fight at the press conference Tyson showed incredible class – his first words were “I just want to shake your hand it’s been so long – I just want to touch you” — Tyson’s awe of Holyfield was profound – remember what a great fighter and historian Tyson was – to show that level of respect for Holyfield was awe inspiring and astounding to see — Tyson actually turned his head and stared and listened to Holyfield’s speech absorbing every word from his hero – I have never seen a beaten boxer show that kind of full attention and respect to his conqueror before or after that.
The fight itself was as good as any ever. Tyson throwing his bombs and Holyfield giving right back. Watching the fight I now fully believe with conviction that even if Tyson’s younger version was in the ring that night he also would have gotten thrashed. Holyfield was just too too good. Tyson absorbed an incredible amount of punishment before he finally accepted defeat. I don’t know if any heavyweight champion ever looked more mighty then Holfyield as he destroyed Tyson, it was man at his very best. And to echo what Bobby Czyz said, it was a privilege to watch the fight but also a privilege to watch Steve Cantor’s superb documentary twenty years later. And it will be another privilege to watch the fight and documentary again – and again and again… –By Scoop Malinowski
Scoop Malinowski’s book “Muhammad Ali: Portrait of a Champion” is available at amazon for $9.99.