”I’m no Mother Teresa... I’m not Charles Manson either.” - Mike Tyson
On June 8, 2002, Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson met in one of the most highly-anticipated heavyweight clashes of all-time at the Pyramid Arena in Memphis, Tennessee.
The megafight had been pencilled in for April, 1,581 miles away in Las Vegas, but when a press conference to end all press conferences took place in January, everything changed.
The conference, at New York’s Hudson Theatre, started off innocently enough as Tyson stood alone on a podium, patiently waiting for the World Champion to join him on stage - even in a situation involving somebody as volatile as ‘Iron Mike’, nobody could really have expected what would happen next.
The majority of people in attendance that day had expected some insults to be volleyed back and forth between the two combatants and that would be the end of it, but when Tyson took off his beret and began to approach Lewis, who was making his way to his own podium, it was clear he had other plans.
When a member of Lewis’ security put an arm out to keep the menacing Brooklyn fighter at bay, he received a signature Tyson left hook in response. Fortunately for the bodyguard, the punch sailed harmlessly past him but all hell broke loose as a result.
Lewis responded by throwing a right hook of his own and as both camps’ respective entourages engaged in a mass brawl, the two fighters found themselves scrapping it out on the floor together - it was at this point that Mike Tyson decided to take a bite out of Lewis’ leg.
Mass brawls and cannibalism aside, the chaos was surely over right? Nope.
With the brawl broken up, ‘The Baddest Man On The Planet’ decided to direct his anger at the onlooking crowd who’d just witnessed one of the most bonkers events in boxing history.
One, particularly brave, reporter shouted “put him in a straightjacket” towards the stage - Tyson responded in kind with a foul-mouthed rant that included both racial and sexual threats to his heckler.
As a result of the madness, Mike Tyson was refused a license in Nevada and several other states putting the fight in serious jeopardy before Memphis finally bid $12 million to host the fight there.
Truthfully, the actual fight itself was a bit of a dud with both fighters at this point at the tail-end of their respective careers but the tension definitely still remained.
A number of security guards formed a barrier from one corner of the ring to the other in order to keep the two fighters divided.
The fighters had even received their instructions from the referee in the dressing rooms and didn’t meet in the centre of the ring to touch gloves, in order to keep the violence contained within the first last and last bells.
On the night, Lewis kept hold of his WBC, IBO and IBF belts with relative ease and was clearly ahead before sending Tyson sprawling to the canvas in eight round to end the fight early.
The actual fight may have left fans underwhelmed in the end but the press conference brawl would go on to win The Ring Magazine’s Event of the Year for 2002.
It might not have been boxing’s prettiest moment, but it’ll never be forgotten.
This article first appeared in The Sportsman on 08/06/19