Superfight No. 6: Tyson-Holyfield I

Updated: August 25, 2013, 3:51 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Tyson-HolyfieldAl Bello/Allsport/Getty ImagesEvander Holyfield was given little chance to beat Mike Tyson when they finally met in their first fight.

It's boom times for boxing, with one of the sport's finest years in recent memory barely two-thirds finished and a handful of blockbusters still to come before the calendar flips again.

With Floyd Mayweather Jr. defending his pound-for-pound crown against Mexican darling Canelo Alvarez on Sept. 14, Juan Manuel Marquez taking aim at a fifth title against welterweight beltholder Timothy Bradley Jr. on Oct. 12, and Manny Pacquiao preparing to bring world-class boxing to China against Brandon Rios on Nov. 23, there has never been a better time to celebrate the pomp of the must-see prizefight than right now.

And so, over the next several days, we'll be counting down boxing's top superfights of the ESPN era (dating back to Sept. 7, 1979, for those of you scoring at home), as picked by our panel of boxing experts. Of course, we know there can be, ahem, disagreement on such a subjective topic, so we'd like to know what you think about our choices, get your picks, and hear any other comments you might have related to our project. Just tweet using the hashtag #ESPNsuperfights and we might feature your comment below.


Heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield and former champion Mike Tyson were scheduled to fight on Nov. 8, 1991, in Las Vegas in one of the most anticipated fights in years. But Tyson, who was awaiting the start of his rape trial, tore cartilage in his rib in training and the fight was postponed.

Little did anyone know at the time just how long the fight would be delayed. Convicted in the case, Tyson went to prison, while Holyfield went on to participate in other big fights, including his epic trilogy with Riddick Bowe.

After Tyson came out of prison, he spent much of 1995 and 1996 rekindling his "Baddest Man on the Planet" persona as he blew through four opponents who were petrified to face him and given little chance to do anything more than get smashed: Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno (in a rematch to win a world title that Tyson would eventually vacate) and Bruce Seldon (to pick up another belt).

While Tyson looked like a beast in taking them out in fewer than eight combined rounds, Holyfield appeared to be on his last legs. Bowe had knocked him out in their third brutal fight in November 1995, and then Holyfield looked spent in a struggle to defeat Bobby Czyz in May 1996.

For promoter Don King, hoping to keep the Tyson gravy train rolling, the time was right for a Holyfield fight. Everything was perfect.

So little was thought of Holyfield at the time, and there were such concerns over his health, that the Nevada State Athletic Commission asked him to go through a special battery of medical tests at the Mayo Clinic before he could be licensed. But the fight would be a pay-per-view bonanza, and the heavily favored Tyson, who opened as a 25-to-1 favorite, would steamroll the perceived-to-be faded former champion.

But that, of course, is why they fight the fights.

So it was on Nov. 19, 1996, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas that Tyson and Holyfield finally met, nearly five years to the day after their date with destiny had first been scheduled, and they produced not only a legendary fight but one of the biggest upsets in boxing history.

[+] EnlargeTyson-Holyfield
Michael Brennan/Getty ImagesEvander Holyfield, right, ate a shot from Mike Tyson in the fifth round and then, in the sixth, dropped the champ to his backside to take control.

Although given little chance to win, Holyfield guaranteed victory in the heavily hyped buildup to the fight and then kept his promise in stunning fashion, evoking memories of another big upset: Buster Douglas' knockout of the supposedly invincible Tyson in 1990.

In an action-packed fight, Holyfield mostly dominated. In fact, Holyfield bullied the bully. Although Tyson wobbled him with an uppercut in the fifth round, Holyfield dropped Tyson to his rear end with a left hook in the sixth round, the same round in which an accidental head-butt (Tyson claimed it was intentional) opened a cut over Tyson's left eye.

Although Tyson was landing hard punches, Holyfield took everything and continued to wear Tyson down with his own shots. He had Tyson in huge trouble in the 10th round before finally stopping him on his feet with a massive barrage of blows early in the 11th round.

Naturally, the shocking upset set the stage for the rematch seven months later. You might remember something about an ear bite.

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