Sports fans remember the June 1997 fight when Mike Tyson viciously bit a chunk out of Evander Holyfield’s ear and was disqualified for his attack. Strangely, that wasn’t Tyson’s only biting incident. Less than five years later, in a press conference promoting an upcoming fight with Lennox Lewis, Tyson bit Lewis during a brawl on stage, and it cost him more than $300,000. Here’s a look back at one of the most bizarre pre-fight press conferences in boxing history.
Mike Tyson bites Lennox Lewis in press conference
In January 2002, it started off as your standard pre-fight press conference. Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson stood atop platforms on stage, spotlights focused on each fighter, while cameras snapped photo after photo of the two men facing each other.
Then, out of nowhere, Tyson suddenly stepped off his platform, threw down his hat, and started pacing toward Lewis a few feet away. Lewis’ security man stepped in front of Tyson, only to have the former heavyweight champ throw a left hook. And then all hell broke loose.
“Everyone started jumping in. At the bottom was me and Tyson,” Lennox Lewis said in an interview on the Rich Eisen Show. “They were clearing everybody off. I said, ‘Hey! He’s biting my leg.’ And everybody had a shocked look. My security saw it. And then they started giving him some elbows. Then, he released my leg.”
The brawl lasted for less than a minute, but the damage was done. Lewis still has a visible scar on his upper left thigh.
Tyson goes crazy on profanity-laced tirade
After the melee subsided and the boxers were separated, Tyson continued his outburst. He turned his escalating anger to an unspecified person in the crowd, repeatedly grabbing his crotch and calling out the person. Some thought it was Lewis’ mother. Others thought it was a female photographer. Either way, a freelance writer named Mark Malinowski didn’t like Tyson’s behavior. He booed him and then shouted, “Get him a straitjacket!”
Unsurprisingly, Tyson redirected his focus to Malinowski and went off in a profanity-laced tirade. Multiple times he challenged Malinowski questioning his manhood and called him a plethora of unsavory names. After several minutes of rage, Tyson was led off the stage. Malinowski hurriedly made his way to the exit fearing for his safety.
“I thought, ‘Oh, oh, he’s got a lot of guys around him,” Malinowski recalled in a New York Times interview.
Tyson’s manager Shelly Finkel, later recalled that Tyson told him, “Shel, I was off the wall at that point, and more so because I knew I couldn’t go in the audience.”
Mike Tyson loses fight and pays $335,000 for bite
The press conference brawl had lasting effects. The fight, which was originally scheduled for April in Las Vegas, was delayed for months after Nevada and several other states refused to grant Tyson a license to fight following his erratic behavior. Tyson’s camp became so concerned about his conduct, he was forced to train away from any potential distractions and trouble in Maui.
The fight was eventually held in Memphis, Tennessee on June 8. Tyson started strong the first couple of rounds, but steadily faded with each passing round. With less than a minute remaining in the eighth, Lewis delivered a sharp right hook that sent Tyson down to the canvas for the second time in the round, ending the fight.
Lewis retained his WBC, IBO and IBF heavyweight titles and earned a healthy paycheck of $30 million. He also received a $335,000 payment from Tyson’s cut as compensation for the bite at the press conference brawl.
The victory by Lewis effectively ended Tyson’s pursuit of returning to the top. He fought three more times after the bout, losing twice. Ironically, most people don’t remember the fight as much as they do the press conference melee. The Ring magazine named the brawl the Event of the Year for 2002.