Senior Boxing Journalist @JamesDielhenn
How Mike Tyson shut down Las Vegas amid a riot, a mangled ear and some unlucky gamblers
Boxing survived that desperate time and will survive this latest challenge too, writes James Dielhenn
Last Updated: 18/03/20 9:17am
'Iron' Mike Tyson had already barged police offers to the ground when a false report of gunfire sent the crazed crowd that had flocked to watch him into a stampeding despair.
Blackjack tables were overturned, drinks were spilled and pandemonium flowed around the casinos of Las Vegas, started by the shocking events of the boxing ring where the startled punters had congregated.
It was 1997 and Mike Tyson had bitten off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear - he insisted through a blood-stained mouth that it was justice for his rival headbutting him. A world heavyweight championship fight that had attracted celebrities like Madonna to ringside ended in disqualification (and farce) in just the third round. People were not happy.
The ensuing melee is now part of folklore. Tyson had an altercation with police officers inside the ring, dispersed boxing fans vented their rage as they left the arena and the casino outside became a warzone. The MGM Grand closed its doors to keep unruly people at bay - it was the first time the famous venue had done so since opening in 1993 and, until this week, has never been repeated.
In 1997 the doors were closed for two sombre hours. This week MGM Resorts International have suspended operations at all of their Vegas properties due to the coronavirus pandemic, and who knows how long it will last.
Somebody thought they had heard a gunshot, and that's what sent the 1997 riot after Tyson's fight into overdrive.
"There was no gunfire," MGM executive Jack Leone said in the aftermath.
"We can't prove any shots were fired," police captain Ray Flynn said. "There was a fight. People started running because of the fight."
Tyson, at this point, attracted a vociferous fan-base. He was on probation after a jail sentence for rape but his fame, and the anarchy that came with it, was sky-high. Paying customers were not happy to see his latest fight end early and unsatisfactorily.
Restaurants inside the MGM boarded up their doors to keep the fracas out, the theme park inside the building was shut altogether. Restless fight fans spilled into the street where they brought parts of the Las Vegas Boulevard to a standstill and forced police to shut it down completely.
The result was that gaming tables inside the casino were closed for two hours on one of the busiest nights of the year with several high-rollers in town eager to flash their cash. It was unprecedented.
Less than a year earlier at the same venue, rapper Tupac Shakur was shot dead after attending Tyson's fight against Bruce Seldon.
Now for the first time since 1997 the roulette tables will be off limits again. It will be a catastrophic blow to the finances of the strange desert paradise that was founded by the mob.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission has voted to suspend all combat sport events until at least March 25. And all MGM properties, including the Bellagio, MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay, are not taking bookings.
Naoya Inoue, the power-punching world bantamweight champion from Japan, has seen his unification fight with Jon Riel Casimero postponed as a result.
Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez's expected fight with Billy Joe Saunders, slated for May 2, is up in the air. On this side of the pond the British Boxing Board of Control have cancelled all events under their jurisdiction including The Golden Contract tournament set for Friday.
Boxing took a knee in the dark two hours following the Tyson fight 23 years ago. But it came through, and it will eventually come through this latest challenge too.