LAS VEGAS — LAS VEGAS -- Five years ago, when Tyson vs. Holyfield was first proposed, fight fans considered it a dream match.
But when it finally happened last night, it was even more spectacular than anyone could have envisioned. And the ending more shocking as Evander Holyfield, a 10-1 underdog, butchered and battered Mike Tyson before referee Mitch Halpern stopped this classic heavyweight brawl at 37 seconds of the 11th round, giving Holyfield the World Boxing Association heavyweight crown.
Holyfield, 34, whose well-being had been questioned by Nevada ring physicians after losing his third fight with Riddick Bowe a year ago, displayed a heart bigger than the arena in battling Tyson from the opening bell.
He shook Tyson repeatedly in the early rounds and dropped the once-intimidating champion in the sixth round. Tyson barely survived a relentless barrage in the 10th round when he staggered back to his corner.
But the devoutly religious Holyfield, who said he was driven to continue fighting by God's command, was humble in victory.
"Glory to God," said Holyfield (33-3). "With God on your side, there are always things you can do.
"I fought competitively every round and hit him with a lot of big right hands. He showed he could take it, but I was at my best."
Tyson (45-2), who was not talking too coherently, said he wanted rematch and did not issue a complaint at the fight being stopped while he was still standing.
"I really don't know what happened," he said. "I believe the head butt [in the seventh round] caused the gash over my eye. I'm OK but my eyes hurt. He fought a good fight. I'm not going to make any excuses."
Said Halpern: "Mike wasn't making adjustments to Holyfield's punches. I didn't want him to get hurt."
Promoter Don King, who helped construct Tyson's comeback, said: "Evander proved what courage can do. But don't write Mike Tyson off yet. We're going to dance again, and fortunately I have promotional rights to Evander."
All three judges had Holyfield comfortably ahead. Dalby Shirley and Jerry Roth scored it 96-92 while Frederico Vollmer of Venezuela had Holyfield winning every round, 100-93.
With his stunning victory, the Atlanta native matched Muhammad Ali as the only heavyweight to win the crown three times. He previously claimed the title by beating Buster Douglas and Bowe.
Tyson, 30, had won his first four comeback fights in a total of six rounds since being released from jail last March after a three-year internment for rape. He discovered last night that Holyfield was a far cry from the likes of Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon, who were intimidated before the opening bell.
And, for the second time in his professional career, he was beaten by an undervalued long shot. Douglas, at 40-1, handed Tyson his first loss in Tokyo six years ago. But this one was almost as surprising since Holyfield had shown serious signs of wear and tear in losing to Michael Moorer and Bowe.
It was small solace to Tyson, who received the lion's share of the purse with a $30 million guarantee. Holyfield earned $11 million, but will now be in the driver's seat when, and if, they negotiate a rematch.
And the five years was certainly worth the wait for the former Olympian who saw his first two scheduled bouts with Tyson canceled by a rib injury to Tyson, followed by his rape conviction.
Holyfield not only beat Tyson, he dominated the dominator. He knocked Tyson down with a left hook in the sixth round, cut him over the left eye in the sixth, had him in serious trouble in the 10th and stopped him with a nine-punch barrage in the 11th.
It was Holyfield who drew the biggest cheers from the capacity crowd of 16,325 at the MGM Grand Garden following the introductions.
The wild first round ended with a toe-to-toe exchange, and Tyson landed several blows after the bell. Halpern had to pry the two apart.
Tyson continued to be overanxious, striving for a quick finish. But Holyfield countered with a hard shot to the ribs. After catching Tyson on the ropes, he landed a vicious left hook. And the ex-champion seemed to quickly be growing in confidence.
By the end of the second round, Tyson seemed a bit shocked and confused by this startling turn of events.
When Tyson came out for the fourth round, it marked the longest he had gone in any of the five fights he'd had since being released from prison in March 1995.
The sixth round really turned the fight in Holyfield's favor because in the fifth, Tyson had wobbled him with two jolting uppercuts and it appeared Holyfield might become Tyson's fifth comeback victim.
But in the sixth Holyfield suddenly exploded a short left hook flush on Tyson's chin. The champion flew to the canvas, but beat the count. In the final 10 seconds, he fought back gamely, but looked the worse for wear.
The sixth-round knockdown was the second of Tyson's career, the other being when he lost the title to Buster Douglas in 1990.
Pub Date: 11/10/96