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The Bite Fight….And The King of Cowboys

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The review copy of The Bite Fight: Tyson, Holyfield and the Night That Changed Boxing Forever arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago. The promotional flyer that accompanied the 222-page book called it “An unparalleled account of the infamous bite felt ’round the world.”

Written by George Willis, the excellent New York Post sports columnist, this behind-the-scenes account of one of the most bizarre nights in boxing history delivers on that heady promise. Everything you know, or think you know, about the fateful night of June 28, 1997, is in there, as well as some stuff you might not have heard at all.

But even George, gifted wordsmith and hard-digging reporter that he is, doesn’t know every tiny detail of what went on after Tyson’s teeth sank into Holyfield’s ears as if they were a medium-rare filet mignon at Ruth’s Chris. I have my own particular recollections of the aftermath of the “Bite Fight,” and they can’t be found in any book, magazine, newspaper or web site.

Until now.

TSS readers, you are about to learn of the (mostly) secret connection between Holyfield-Tyson II (Holyfield won their first matchup, and Tyson’s WBA heavyweight championship, on an 11th-round TKO on Nov. 9, 1996) and the “King of the Cowboys,” Roy Rogers.

Well, at least there is a connection as far as my wife Anne, our youngest daughter Amy, our foreign-exchange student, Izumi Tirado, and I are concerned. When Tyson got the munchies and the spit hit the fan, he altered what I somewhat foolishly had presumed would be a working vacation, with three days scheduled to be spent with my female entourage in and around the Los Angeles area following the big bout. I had arranged for lodging at a nice hotel in Marina del Rey, Calif., where the plan was for our group to do Disneyland, Universal Studios and, you know, the whole tourist bit in the brief time allotted. I’d been to L.A. before, of course, but this was to be the first such experience for the missus, Amy and Izumi.

But then Tyson chewed off a one-inch chunk a Holyfield’s right ear in the third round, prompting no-nonsense referee Mills Lane to disqualify him prior to the start of Round 4, and … hey, you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men.

June 29 was not spent by our group in southern California; I was obliged to remain in Las Vegas, as was the army of media types who changed their travel plans to accommodate the post-bite set of circumstances. Anne, Amy and Isumi hung around the MGM Grand while I tried to find out what the very perturbed members of the Nevada State Athletic Commission planned to do in terms of disciplinary action for Tyson. On July 9, the NSAC socked him with a “lifetime suspension” subject to annual review (his boxing license was reinstated on Oct. 18, 1998) and a record $3 million fine, the maximum allowable under Nevada law.

So we got a late start for SoCal, on June 30, traveling by rental car across the desert. I can’t recall whether I possessed a cell phone in that technologically unadvanced age – if I did, the reception in the desert must have been pretty bad – so I stopped en route to call my editors at the Philadelphia Daily News and find out if there was anything new and interesting about the ongoing story on which I might need to be brought up to speed. It was like asking if the sun is hot and it gets dark at night. Of course there were fresh developments; I was told to check into the nearest hotel so I could make a few calls, gather any pertinent information and crank out another story or two or three.

On the way to that hotel, in Barstow, Calif., we passed a sign advising us that just ahead was the Roy Rogers Museum, where it was said that Roy himself and wife Dale Evans (birth name: Lucille Wood Smith), the “Queen of the West,” were on-site nearly every day, regaling visitors with tales of their many screen adventures amidst a treasure trove of memorabilia, including Roy’s stuffed palomino, Trigger.

“Oh, we have to stop there!” exclaimed Anne, who, like me, was an unabashed fan of Roy – born Leonard Slye on Nov. 5, 1911, in that noted Wild West outpost of Cincinnati, Ohio — through our constant Saturday-morning exposure to his movies and TV shows when we were children.

“Sorry,” I had to tell her. “I have to get to work on this Tyson stuff as quickly as I can. We can catch Roy the next time we’re out this way.”

You can probably guess the rest. Our three days in Los Angeles had been reduced to part of a single day, which meant the only place I got to take Anne and the girls was nearby Universal Studios. Amy seemed to particularly enjoy that experience, probably because she spotted comedian/actor Pauly Shore on the grounds, which probably seemed like a big deal to your average 15-year-old. Pauly Shore? All I could think was, he’s no Bob Hope. Or Roy Rogers, for that matter.

We flew back to Philadelphia from LAX, which meant no return trip across the desert to Vegas and no stopping off at the Roy Rogers Museum. Then, on July 6, 1998, it was reported that Roy Rogers was dead at the age of 86. He was physically beyond our reach, at least in this dimension.

To this very day, I don’t think Anne has forgiven Mike Tyson for the missed opportunity he caused her.

The Roy Rogers Museum in Victorville, Calif., closed a few years later and in 2003 its contents were moved to Branson, Mo., where another museum was operated by Roy and Dale’s son, Roy “Dusty” Rogers Jr. But Roy Sr. had left instructions to Dusty to shut everything down once the museum started to operate at a loss, which it did, and it shut its doors permanently on Dec. 12, 2009. A public auction of Roy’s most treasured keepsakes was held in New York City on July 15, 2010, with sales totaling $2.98 million. Among the items which sold at much higher prices than the auctioneers had expected was Roy’s 1964 Bonneville, which went for $254,500; an even more cherished ride, stuffed Trigger, was purchased by a Nebraska cable TV network for $266,500. Trigger’s fancy saddle and bridle fetched a whopping $386,500, one of Roy’s shirts sold for $16,250 and one of the beloved hero’s favorite cowboy hats – white, of course – for $17,500.

Which got me to thinking: What would the most distinctive memento from the front end of our Bite Fight adventure, the chewed-off piece of Holyfield’s ear, be priced at if it still existed and were somehow made available to a collector looking for that extra-special piece of boxing history?

I went back through my own voluminous files – sorry, George, you weren’t the only reporter to assiduously chronicle the event – and rediscovered that that the missing part of Holyfield’s ear was, in fact, really missing. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, it still is.

Mitch Libonati, a member of the MGM Grand’s Convention Services staff, took possession of the severed piece of flesh, at least temporarily. “A buddy of mine said Evander had been bitten,” Libonati said. “I didn’t see it, but I did see that Tyson had spit something out. There was a melee in the ring after the fight and when it cleared up, I found it. I picked it up, put it in a latex glove and ran back to the locker room.

“I told some of Evander’s people, `I have a piece of Evander’s ear. I’m sure he wants it.’” According to Libonati, heavyweight Michael Grant, a member of the Holyfield camp, took the piece of ear and placed it in an ice bucket that included several other latex gloves.

“But the piece didn’t get (to Valley Hospital),” Tim Hallmark, Holyfield’s conditioning specialist, said on June 29. “Somewhere in the locker room to the ambulance to the hospital, it never turned up. The plastic surgeon (Julio Garcia) and I were rooting around in three or four gloves in the ice pack, but we never found it.

“I’m not a doctor, but I imagine if somebody found it at this point, it wouldn’t be in very good shape.”

I’ll leave it to George to provide additional details, which he does in Chapter 12 of his book, cleverly entitled Ear Piece.

Garcia, who was born in Cuba and came to this country with his father, an orthopedic surgeon, 37 years prior to the Bite Fight, was watching the pay-per-view telecast at a pool party in Southwest Las Vegas when Holyfield and the upper portion of his right ear became separated.

“Some poor guy is going to get called in to sew him up,” Garcia, in Willis’ book, recalled thinking. Five minutes later, Garcia’s beeper began to buzz. He was being immediately summoned to the emergency room at Valley Hospital.

“Traditionally, human bites are the most prone to infection,” Garcia said of the task he was being asked to perform. “They’re worse than a dog bite. We have more bacteria in our mouth than a dog has.”

But Garcia had an even more daunting task. The latex glove containing the piece of Holyfield’s ear had been placed in a red biohazard bag, but when Garcia examined the bag’s contents, he found only a piece of skin, not the cartilage. And matters got worse from there; after Garcia left to change into operating garb and to scrub, he returned to find the red biohazard bag missing. He suspects it might have accidentally been thrown away, but who knows for sure? Perhaps a souvenir-seeking hospital employee or bystander had grabbed it.

“It’s not a locked facility,” said Garcia, who nonetheless performed a 45-minute procedure to repair, as best he could, Holyfield’s raggedy ear. “Any person could have come into that area and taken it.”

One story that has made the rounds is that someone from Holyfield’s camp wound up with the cartilage and sold it in New York where it was purchased for $25,000 by a stockbroker. Another has it that the cartilage lies in a trophy case displayed in the memorabilia section of a restaurant in Cincinnati (Roy Rogers’ hometown!) although the granddaughter of the founder of the restaurant says the gristly thing on display there is actually from a chicken and was placed in a glass case as “a joke.”

Perhaps you have heard of the “Six Degrees of Separation” theory involving Kevin Bacon, in which virtually every other actor you can think of can be linked to fellow actor Bacon or one of Bacon’s movies within six easy-to-connect dots. For our family, that premise more or less holds true with Mike Tyson.

But first let it be noted that where we missed out on seeing the “King of the Cowboys,” we did not miss out on seeing the “King of Rock ’n’ Roll,” Elvis Presley, in an eerily similar situation. Anne and I, natives of New Orleans, were living down South in the 1970s when an entertainment reporter friend advised me he could procure tickets for us, if we wanted them, to the May 5, 1975, Elvis concert at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. Elvis diehards were pitching tents days in advance of those ducats going on sale, and Anne was, at best, lukewarm about attending in any case. We liked Presley’s music for the most part, but it wasn’t as if we thought he walked on water or anything.

“But the guy is not in real good shape,” I said of the fat Elvis, whose health was obviously deteriorating. “We better see him now, because we might never get another chance.”

It didn’t happen quite as quickly as it did with Roy Rogers, but Elvis passed away on Aug. 16 (Anne’s birthday), 1977, at the too-young age of 42. Which brings us to …

The night of June 8, 2002, in Elvis’ longtime home of Memphis, Tenn. WBC/IBF heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis – who had had a piece of his left leg chomped by Tyson during a scuffle at a New York press conference to officially announce the much-anticipated matchup – savagely kayoed the erstwhile “baddest man on the planet” in eight rounds. A pundit might say that Lewis had sunk his own teeth into Tyson and chewed off a chunk, without so much as opening his mouth in the ring. Lewis’ fists had served as his incisors.

I thought of all this when I made the obligatory pilgrimage to Graceland, Elvis’ mansion-turned-museum, a few days before Lewis-Tyson, and every time I grabbed a, um, quick bite at a Roy Rogers Restaurant, a chain of fast-food joints in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states that, as of August 2012, have been reduced in number to 49 from its previous high of 650. There probably are more people around today who think of roast beef sandwiches, cheeseburgers and fried chicken rather than blazing six-guns and a galloping Trigger when they think of Roy Rogers, if they think of him at all.

Hard times, it would seem, can descend even on the most heroic of figures, as well as the most villainous. Tyson and Holyfield are bereft of all or most of their nine-figure fortunes, the aura of their fame dimming along with the boxing skills that made them icons. Tyson, now a reasonably placid stay-at-home husband and father, tours the country as the star of a one-man stage show in which he essentially beats himself up for the snarling pit-bull image he so relishly created when his bite was even more dangerous than his bark. Most of whatever income he brings in these days goes to the Internal Revenue Service and a long line of creditors.

On Nov. 14, I will be one of 14 inductees into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013, along with – you guessed it – Mike Tyson. I figure the ghosts of Elvis and Roy will be floating somewhere around the room, so connected are they in their own way to Mike and me.

 

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Tanaka vs. Kimora: A Monday Morning Treat For Serious Fight Fans

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Kosei Tanaka was just 4-0 the first time he was appraised on The Sweet Science back in 2015; the question then was, is Tanaka the world’s brightest boxing prospect? The question now is whether or not Tanaka is about to add a strap at a third weight to an already glittering career that has seen him annex belts at 105 and 108lbs in just his first eight fights.

Now 11-0 with seven knockouts he prepares, this coming Monday, to duel Sho Kimura in Nagoya, Japan and with a lot more than just the WBO trinket on the line.

Hearts and minds, as always, translate into dollars and yen. The winner of this all-Japanese contest will find himself buoyed in fame, glory and gold in his home country, which also happens to be one of the few places on the planet where a boxer can collect a small fortune without ever leaving his native shores. Should the winner dare to dream a wider dream, then that too can be facilitated by the win.  Even fistic denizens of boxing strongholds in Japan and Britain feel a shiver run down their spines when the words “Las Vegas headliner” are whispered into their ear.

The favored man among the hardcore in the west is Tanaka. He is still very young at just twenty-three years old and is slick and quick, what the west expects of a Japanese force. Interestingly enough, however, the Japanese seem to be leaning towards Kimura: older, at twenty-nine, armed with a superb work-rate, good power, limited technique but the conqueror of Chinese superstar Shiming Zou who he stopped in the summer of 2017. Zou may have had his bubble burst by the Thai brawler Amnat Ruenroeng in 2015, but it was Kimura who sent him stumbling into retirement and at a time when the talk was of China stealing Japan’s thunder as boxing’s home in the east.

Kimura was indeed impressive that night in Shanghai. He maintained pressure with wonderful variety, eschewing the jab, perhaps, for spells, but filling those gaps with an assortment of wonderful punches, most of all his body attack, which was persistent, withering, and apparently went unscored by two of the three judges who somehow had the Chinese ahead at the time of the eleventh round stoppage. Zou had shown a skill for flurrying while fleeing and Kimura had shown him how to fight.

Now a strapholder at 112lbs, Kimura staged two defenses in the following twelve months. The first was against Toshiyuki Igarashi, the man who beat Sonny Boy Jaro, the man who had beaten the superb champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam before a softer fight against Froilan Saludar. He won both by stoppage.

Kimura, then, rather came from nowhere but made the most of his arrival. What he displayed in all three of these fights was a determination to offer pressure and footwork educated enough to do it while taking many fewer steps than his harried opponent. A tad overrated as a puncher, I suspect, he places himself in hitting position often enough that his default fight plan – chase, harass, throw – makes him capable of hurting his opponents by way of persistence and pressure.

He left Zou, Igarashi and Saludar, broken in his wake.

In short, he is the type of opponent Kosei Tanaka has been waiting for.

There have been calls for Tanaka to be considered a pound-for-pound talent should he overcome Kimura this Monday. I understand the impulse. Tanaka, were he to triumph, would become a three-weight world champion and he hails from a boxing territory which has little direct control over the meaningful pound-for-pound lists, if such a statement is not a contradiction in terms.

In short, it is felt he would be undervalued.

Tempering these calls is the fact that he has never beaten a divisional number one and that Kimura would be, by far, the best opponent he would have bested, and the most proven. Some Tanaka opponents have come good after he defeated them, some were ranked in the lower reaches of their respective divisional top tens when he matched them, but none are scalps as impressive as those dangled by the likes of Errol Spence or Anthony Joshua, who populate the nine, ten and eleven spots in reputable lists.

But this is neither here nor there; the key is not what Kimura does not represent, it is what he does represent. He is the best that Tanaka has met and, I would argue, the first truly elite fighter that Tanaka has met. He is the litmus test and he is one with a stylistic advantage.

Tanaka can punch. Here we will find out whether or not he punches hard enough to keep Kimura off him. Personally, I doubt it and that means that Kimura is going to hand him a serious gut check.

Interestingly, it will not be Tanaka’s first. The first time I wrote about him I stressed that his chin was essentially untested. That is no longer true. Tanaka, who is reasonably sound defensively, can be lazy in minding himself and foolish in pursuing the attack.

Thai puncher Rangsan Chayanram checked him in 2017, delivering a serious eye injury among other ignominies before succumbing in nine; puncher Angel Acosta, a ranked fighter if not a great one, hit and hurt Tanaka repeatedly late in their 2017 contest. If Tanaka has been learning these lessons, expectations concerning his potential may be realized. If he is not, he will fall short. Kimura is the man to test him.

Kimura’s experience and seemingly limitless twelve-round stamina are to be pitted against Tanaka’s skill, proven heart and taut footwork. It sees a superior technician – Tanaka – who has shown a propensity for being drawn into a cruder fighter’s wheelhouse matching an aggressive stalker – Kimura – who specializes in drawing technically superior foes into knockdown-drag-out scraps.

It is framed both as a fight that is likely to finish a future pound-for-pounder’s education and a fight where a young pretender is found out by a grizzled veteran.

Best of all, it is a fight that fight fans can watch for free, simply by clicking here.  The Asian Boxing website has secured exclusive international rights to the fight and will broadcasting it, free of charge, to anyone with an internet connection. As can be seen here, the fight is due to start at 4pm Japanese time.

All the reader has to do is find out what that means for timing in their own corner of the globe and a potential fight of the year will unfold before his or her eyes free of charge.

World class boxing being broadcast for free and including two of the best below 115lbs; a stylistic crossroads contest that opens up the on-ramp to pound-for-pound recognition for at least one of the combatants – on a Monday.  All facts worth keeping in mind the next time that someone tells you boxing’s prime was any number of decades ago.

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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UK sporting

It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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