Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of one of the most famous boxing matches of the modern era, the first fight between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson in Las Vegas. I was fortunate enough to be there as Holyfield, a natural cruiserweight on a mission from his God, somehow beat the brooding post-prison Tyson in 11 rounds, breaking him down physically and psychologically long before the end actually came. All of the talk beforehand was about the heart condition that Holyfield had been diagnosed with: the question was not whether Tyson would win – how could he not – but whether Holyfield would survive.
Afterwards there was a press conference in the media tent that the promoter, Don King, had erected behind the MGM Grand Hotel. King was glowing. If there was one thing he loved more than a big fight it was the chance to promote another, and Holyfield’s upset win had handed him the rematch on a plate. With the exhausted fighters sat either side of him, King called for the first question. An English journalist, who shall remain nameless, stood up and said something like: “Evander, don’t you think that after overcoming your health problems and regaining the heavyweight championship, you should retire… and Mike, now that you’ve lost again, do you think that you will retire too?”
The look on Don King’s face was priceless. At the time, I was with him on that. Who would not want more of what we’d just had: the action… the drama… the eyes of the world on those 12 square feet of ring. But I’ve thought about it often since, and I see it now as a question with a different meaning. It’s not a question about drama or money or what the spectators want. Instead, it’s about what is best for the people involved. They are sportsmen but they are also human beings and the needs of one do not always serve the needs of the other.