LAS VEGAS -- In barely the time it took him to bite a chunk out of Evander Holyfield's right ear, Mike Tyson yesterday threw himself upon the mercy of the court and public opinion.
The former heavyweight champion appeared alone for one of the few times in his public life and apologized for the actions that led to his disqualification Saturday night in his fight with Holyfield for the World Boxing Association's heavyweight title, and promised they would never be repeated if he is given a second chance in boxing.
"Saturday night was the worst night of my professional career as a boxer," Tyson said, periodically heaving deep sighs and stumbling across the prepared text he read from a small podium. "I am here today to apologize. To ask the people who expected more from Mike Tyson to forgive me for snapping in that ring and doing something that I have never done before and will never do again."
A hearing will be held today by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which temporarily suspended Tyson after he twice bit Holyfield on the ear and was disqualified in the third round of what had been ballyhooed as the biggest fight in boxing history.
The commission could merely set a date for a full hearing next month or it could suspend and fine him up to $3 million, which would be 10 percent of the purse the commission is temporarily withholding pending a final ruling.
Knowing he faced that hearing today and the possible wrath of Indiana Superior Court Judge Patricia Gifford, who could revoke his probation on a rape conviction and return him to prison if she decides his actions were a criminal assault, he made a point of apologizing to both long before he got around to Holyfield.
"I cannot tell you why, exactly, I acted like I did other than to say that when the butting occurred and I thought I might lose because of the severity of the cut above my eye, I just snapped and I reacted and did what many athletes have done and have paid the price for," Tyson said.
He cited basketball fights and baseball riots and alluded to the Orioles' Roberto Alomar spitting in the face of an umpire. He forgot to mention that in none of those cases did a guy leave a piece of his ear at the scene of the crime.
Tyson also did not elaborate on exactly who else had bit an opponent's ear off in the last century or so of athletic competition, nor did he point out that in neither of his fights with Holyfield has anyone but Tyson alleged there was intentional head-butting going on.
In fact, after the first fight, in which Tyson was also cut and finally knocked out, he said there had been inadvertent clashes of heads but they were neither his fault nor Holyfield's. Referee Mills Lane did call an inadvertent head butt in the second round Saturday night when the two clashed heads and Tyson sustained a gash above his right eye, but no points were deducted.
One round later, Tyson twice bit Holyfield's ear, ripping a one-inch hunk of flesh from the right ear and leading to his disqualification. Yesterday, Tyson seemed to try and walk both sides of that uncivilized act while trying to make his case for forgiveness.
"For an athlete in the heat of battle to suddenly lose it is not new but it's not right," Tyson said. "For me it doesn't change anything. I was wrong and I expect to pay the price, like a man."
Tyson then went on to say he would not challenge any penalty the Nevada commission hands down and admitted he expected a severe one. If he is suspended in Nevada, it will be honored in all the states based on a federal law that goes into effect today. He would likely still be able to fight overseas, but he indicated "I will not fight it."
Holyfield, in Atlanta, said Tyson's apology was "a good gesture." Only time will tell if that apology is accepted by the public at large, but it came exactly one week after Tyson told about 25 journalists during an obscenity-laced diatribe that he would never attempt to justify his actions to the public.
Yesterday, with his future and his freedom dangling in the balance, he changed his mind.
Pub Date: 7/01/97