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'The heart and soul of black America in one fight' | Tyson v Holyfield revisit

Thom Malone
Thom Malone

22:12 14 May 2020

Paul Dempsey dropped into Off The Ball alongside Andy Lee as the pair looked back on some classic bouts from the five decades of Dempsey's broadcasting career - including Tyson v Holyfield 1.

The fight of the 1990s was a classic heavyweight bout, between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. It was one of the ultimate clashes of styles, both inside and outside the ring according to Dempsey.

The fight was many years in the making, with a series of events conspiring to defer previous attempts, most notably a rape charge and a shock defeat to James 'Buster' Douglas.

The pair finally squared off at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in November 1996.

A real concern for the safety of Evander Holyfield dominated the pre-fight build-up. Tyson's two fights in 1996 had lasted less than four rounds on aggregate.

"The build-up to that fight was of a different order," recalled Dempsey "both in the days beforehand and on the night in Las Vegas.

"What you had was the heart and soul of black America at that time represented in that fight, or that's how it seemed at the time.

"On the one side all the bad people, you know the rap scene was growing quickly, all those hangers-on, the showbiz fraternity around Tyson.

"Then Evander, who in public, to a degree played the part of a bible-loving, decent, quiet human being.

"They were the two roles they were in, it was much more complex than that in reality."

Bible club excursion

Dempsey recalled a moment during the fight that even just the recollection still creates a physical reaction.

"There was a moment after about four or five rounds, and there had been this enormous clamour for Tyson to go out and finish the job early.

"Then right from the back of the crowd, and even now the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I even think about this.

"You started to hear this tiny little cry, this plaintive cry 'Holyfield, Holyfield, Holyfield' and it was these ten little grannies on a bible club excursion from Alabama, who'd made this trip so their boy was going to have a few friends in there. That was what it was like.

"Suddenly, the whole crowd started to take it up, and it was hysteria, absolute hysteria, unlike hardly anything I have ever seen.

"Sure enough, Holyfield, the indomitable warrior of his era, put Tyson away at the end of it and the scenes were unbelievable."


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Andy Lee Boxing Evander Holyfield Mike Tyson

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