Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield, billed as Finally, was a professional boxing match fought between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson for the World Boxing Association heavyweight championship on November 9, 1996 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Paradise, Nevada. The bout was Tyson’s first defense of the WBA title that he had won from Bruce Seldon on September 7 of that year.
The referee officiating the fight was Mitch Halpern. The fight was promoted by Don King Productions and carried on pay-per-view by Showtime.
The bout was the first fight pitting the two boxers against each other and it would be followed up with a controversial rematch.
Tyson came out fast and sent Holyfield reeling with his first solid punch. Holyfield, who had studied Tyson’s style intensively, later explained that Tyson dipped to his left, from which position he usually loaded up a left hook, but on this occasion surprised Holyfield by firing a right cross. Holyfield tied Tyson up and revealed the first surprise of the fight, his superior strength, as he pushed Tyson backwards. Tyson would never seriously hurt Holyfield for the remainder of the fight. Holyfield defended effectively for the rest of round one and hammered Tyson with several counterpunches. After the end of the round, Tyson threw a punch after the bell; an unintimidated Holyfield retaliated. In the second, Holyfield drove Tyson into the ropes and stung him with a hard combination, and his strategy for the match became clear. As Tyson mainly threw one punch at a time, Holyfield blocked the first attack, then used his strength to clinch, and shove Tyson backwards. Keeping Tyson on the back foot minimized his power and affected his balance, and gave Holyfield the opportunity to come forward and score with combinations to the head.
As the rounds passed, Tyson was unable to adjust, and found himself being thoroughly outboxed. In the fifth round, Tyson landed a fierce combination, his best of the match, and Holyfield did not stagger. In the sixth, a headbutt from Holyfield (judged accidental by Halpern) opened a cut over Tyson’s left eye, and Tyson also suffered a knockdown, as Holyfield caught him with a left hook to the chest as Tyson rushed in. Holyfield continued parrying Tyson’s charges and catching him with punches to the head. With 15 seconds left in the seventh round, Tyson lunged at Holyfield as Holyfield came forward, resulting in a hard clash of heads. Tyson cried out in pain and his knees buckled, but again the referee judged the headbutt to be unintentional. Tyson was examined by the ring doctor, and tied Holyfield up for the rest of the round. During the next two rounds, Tyson continued missing wild punches and absorbing counterpunches from Holyfield. At the end of the tenth round, a punch from Holyfield sent Tyson staggering across the ring. Holyfield chased him into the ropes and landed a series of devastating blows. By the sound of the bell, Tyson was out on his feet and defenseless, but his corner allowed him out for the eleventh. Holyfield quickly landed another brutal extended combination, sending Tyson back into the ropes.
Halpern had seen enough, and he stopped the fight, giving Holyfield one of the most famous upset victories in the history of boxing. Holyfield also became the first person since Muhammad Ali to win a heavyweight championship belt three times, although, unlike Ali, Holyfield’s third championship win had not been for the lineal heavyweight title, which was at that time held by George Foreman. At the post-fight press conference, Tyson addressed Holyfield: “Thank you very much. I have the greatest respect for you.”