A library’s worth of books have been written about heavyweight boxing in the 1970’s, when larger-than-life figures Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier captured the attention of the nation. Proxies in a larger social battle that divided the country, they entered the ring with the weight of the world on their shoulders, both athletes and avatars in a clash between traditional American values and a growing counterculture and civil rights movement that would drag the United States kicking and screaming into the future.
Those concerns didn’t weigh on the legends that followed, lost in the shadows of the icons who preceded them. For Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis, the only movement that mattered was the transfer of millions to their bank accounts. They were prizefighters in the purest sense, collecting lucre and burning through it at astounding speeds with lavish lifestyles that defied boxing’s hard-scrabble roots.
Often dismissed in their own time as lesser than the previous generation’s best, the 1990’s Big Four and their rogues gallery still managed to keep boxing firmly in the mainstream. Mike Tyson, in particular, became a household name, the first boxer of the hip-hop generation and a visceral, violent and notorious symbol of an America on the other side of the tracks. Tyson, soon after losing for the first time in the ring, was then lost, like so many of his peers, in the correctional system, never quite able to escape his past.
His absence made room in the cultural consciousness for Bowe and Holyfield to make themselves the relevant real deals. Their epic battles, however, never quite managed to stop the inevitable question every heavyweight knew would eventually come: “What about Tyson?” Even clear and convincing wins in the ring from Holyfield and Lewis couldn’t destroy the power of the Tyson myth, his name still ringing out in discussions of the all-time greats despite his demonstrable failures to vanquish even the best of his own time.
Jason Langendorf and Jonathan Snowden, a pair of boxing reporters, authors and historians, will join forces to explore this underrated era of heavyweight greatness. We’ll explore it all, weaving together the stories of boxing’s biggest fighters from the era – their battles for fistic supremacy, the behind-the-scenes machinations and the often-surreal surroundings.
From a man flying into the ring in Las Vegas to interrupt a title fight, to Tyson spitting a chunk of Holyfield’s ear to the mat in a startling display of frustration and fear, to an aged legend returning to championship glory while selling both religion and a countertop fryer, boxing in the 1990s was anything but dull.
Fan Man, The Bite and the Brit: Inside the Fearsome and Flawed Heavyweights of the 1990s will be available worldwide in 2022.