Mike Tyson And Evander Holyfield Were Separated In Violent Sparring And Had Tense Stand-Off Over Pool Table When Teenage Tyson Tried To Bully His Rival


Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield shared two historic fights in the late 1990s, but the pair first clashed in front of just a handful of people.

In 1984, Tyson was a 17-year-old hoping to qualify for the Olympics later that year. Holyfield was 21 and had the same goal, though at a slightly lower weight than his soon-to-be rival.

As a result, the pair spent a considerable amount of time together at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Tyson and Holyfield got along well on most occasions and even built an early friendship before their historic rivalry began in the pro ranks.

However, before the glamour fights, two famous incidents saw the pair collide, which has since become the stuff of boxing legend.

First was a sparring session, halted in the first round.

As the pair were competing at different weight classes, they had not been sharing rounds with one another up to this point.

Nevertheless, the ferocious young Tyson had been flooring multiple partners and so he was at a shortage.

Holyfield recalled to BoxNation several years later: “Me and Tyson were buddies. Tyson knocked out his sparring partners all the time so he didn’t have no sparring partners.



“I said, ‘Do you wanna spar?’ He said, ‘Hey man, you’re my friend, I don’t wanna hurt you.’

“I was kinda offended because he was 17, I’m 21. I’m a grown man. I said, ‘What are you talking about? You hurting me?'”

The pair clambered up into the ring together, donned their headguards and 16-ounce gloves, and began to go to work.

Holyfield described to the LA Times: “They told him, ‘Use your left hand only.’

“But I said, ‘No way, use both hands.’

“He hit me with one right hand on the arm and near knocked me across the ring, but every time he stopped punching I’d get my combinations off on him.

“I know I threw more punches at him than anybody else who sparred with him.”

The session continued to heat up until it exploded violently and was brought to an abrupt end.

Holyfield told DAZN: “An Olympic coach [Pat Nappi] came in and stopped it. Mike was telling people, ‘Wow, he’s skinny but he’s strong.’

“They stopped it at about a minute and 30 seconds, they said someone was going to get hurt.

“At that time I had him in the corner and he couldn’t get out.

“The Olympic coach stopped it but I knew I wasn’t going to get hurt. There wasn’t anybody hurt but I had him in the corner.”


Holyfield felt he’d proved his point in the ring, though later on an angry Tyson would seek to stand firm in another situation.


When relaxing one evening with other team members, a ‘winner stays on’ pool tournament provoked an intense stand-off between the future heavyweight world champions.

Ron Borges of the Boston Globe was one of very few writers who correctly predicted underdog Holyfield would beat Tyson when they met in 1996.

Unknown to many, he’d witnessed the confrontation 12 years prior.

He later divulged to Ring Magazine: “One of the things I knew, dating back to when Holyfield and Tyson were amateurs, was the pool table incident.

“One night they were all playing pool at the Olympic Training Center in 1984 and it was one of those deals where if you lost, you gave up the table.

“Tyson lost and it was Holyfield’s turn to play. Tyson tried to bully him,” recalling that he refused to give up his spot.

“Holyfield walked up to Tyson, didn’t say a word and took the cue stick from him.

“Tyson left the room and nobody saw him for the rest of the night.

“I always had it in the back of my mind that Tyson knew if there was one guy he couldn’t intimidate, it was Evander Holyfield.”

Author George Willis wrote in his book ‘The Bite Fight: “To this day, Tyson says he has no recollection of their showdown over a pool table.

“‘I don’t know nothing about that,’ he said.


But Holyfield felt he’d scored a huge psychological victory, ‘I’m not scared of him and he knows I’m not scared of him.'”

As for the Olympic trials themselves, Tyson won all five of his bouts, four by knockout. Holyfield won all five by knockout.

Tyson was named ‘Outstanding Boxer’ of the tournament, but was later beaten by Henry Tillman in the Olympic box-off, meaning he did not compete at the 1984 games.

Holyfield on the other hand defeated Ricky Womack and did make it to the Olympics where he won bronze and was unfortunate to miss out on gold.

However, it was the amateur experience at the Olympic trials that put Holyfield in great stead for his fight with Tyson 12 years later.

When preparing for the first fight in 1996, Holyfield was quoted as referring back to that famous spar.

He said: “I whooped his ass. He ain’t ever forgot that and I ain’t ever forgot that.”


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