Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield III: Let's get ready to rumble
By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
Mike Tyson. Evander Holyfield. Fighting each other again.
No, you haven’t become ensnared in a time warp that transported you back a quarter-century or so. It’s real, apparently.
It doesn’t appear to be a hoax or a prank, neither a television commercial nor a scam. According to Tyson, the fight – to follow the pair of unforgettable heavyweight encounters he and Holyfield waged in the 1990s – is going to happen.
"I just want everyone to know," Tyson announced Tuesday night. "The fight is on with me and Holyfield. I’m going to be successful – May 29."
The obvious question to begin with: How can this be a thing?
Tyson is 54 years old and last fought competitively in 2005. Holyfield took to the ring more recently and even battled for the WBA title in 2008. But he’s 58.
The fact that they would wish to fight again is somewhat ridiculous. That it now seems likely to actually go ahead is barely believable. But these are odd times — in boxing, in entertainment and in what the public has shown it is prepared to pay for.
Holyfield and Tyson have gone back and forth on negotiations for several months, and the whole saga has been a wild ride.
Just a day before Tyson said the fight would take place, Holyfield’s team released a statement saying that Iron Mike had rejected a $25 million guarantee and that his demands had become "untenable." Now, it seems, it’s on.
Is it OK to be interested in this? Is it OK to be kind of excited?
In truth, it is difficult to not be at least a little intrigued, just because the characters remain two of the most interesting athletes of recent times.
The 1980s and '90s were a spectacular period in boxing, and the heavyweight division held a special place in the sports world. It featured blockbuster clashes, such as the Holyfield victory in November 1996, when the referee stepped in to save Tyson, and the rematch that ended with the infamous ear bite, which made the world stop.
The upcoming matchup will almost certainly be billed as an exhibition, as that is the only way gentlemen of such advanced years will be permitted to fight publicly. They’re not going to get a full license at this point.
Even so, there is a certain guilt attached here. Old guys shouldn’t be fighting. Boxing is an electrifying sport but also one that comes with an inherent and extreme level of danger. It is difficult enough when you’re in your 20s and able to reach maximal physical shape. Frankly, the concern that something bad could happen to Tyson or Holyfield is real and scary.
And still … their names continue to carry such weight and elicit such extraordinary memories that it’s impossible to dismiss them from your mind altogether. And that, of course, is what they will rely on with their promotional efforts.
Holyfield-Tyson III has no shortage of selling points. The nostalgia, the name recognition and, yes, let’s be honest, the "this is bizarre" element to it. Boxing is in a weird place. Major title fights struggle to break into even the outer reaches of the public psyche, yet bouts between rappers or, in this case, quinquagenarians, will sell in droves if marketed right.
It is not difficult to market this one. Last time they fought, one guy bit a piece of the other’s ear off. Sales pitch complete, without even having to refer to their list of remarkable accomplishments or the status they attained in their pomp.
"Just because of how heated and intense that rivalry was, there will be eternal interest in Tyson and Holyfield," Lance Pugmire, boxing writer for The Athletic, told me. "Certainly, by these guys actually training to be in the best possible shape, they understand they can cash in as part of a new media landscape."
In November, Tyson took part in an exhibition against Roy Jones that was well received, and his personality, coupled with that of Holyfield, means he is more interesting to a widespread audience than many current athletes.
What he says still matters. And Holyfield, who carries a pair of victories over Tyson, is obviously his ultimate foil. Therefore, he also finds himself thrust back into a position of relevance.
This is one of those moments as a writer when it is hard to comprehend what you’re actually putting down on the laptop. A fight between Tyson and Holyfield? In 2021? Really?
For a long time, I lamented the fact that my career started just too late to see Tyson or Holyfield in their prime.
Now, decades later, they’re still in the spotlight enough to grab our focus, even at 54 and 58 and even with everything else that’s going on.
It's proof perhaps that some characters never fade and that personality remains one of sports’ most powerful currencies.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the daily newsletter here.