One of the most famous boxing events of the 1990s wasn't even about the boxing event itself, but about the interruption that caused a heavyweight title fight to stop in its tracks. 20 years ago today, "Fan Man" crashed the party at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
On November 6, 1993, a week shy of one year after their first fight, Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield squared off in a big-time heavyweight championship rematch. The unbeaten Bowe had dethroned Holyfield in their first encounter, and after easy title defenses against Michael Dokes and Jesse Ferguson, the 25-year-old champion signed up for the rematch against the 31-year-old Holyfield.
That night in Vegas, Holyfield got revenge and prevented the Bowe repeat, beating "Big Daddy" by scores of 115-113, 115-114, and 114-114. It was hardly the most inspiring victory. For all the fond memories that have clouded over time and become rose-colored, Holyfield was hardly a champion that excited the media. Too close to the memory of the exhilarating Mike Tyson, Holyfield was just not The Guy.
Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times wrote after the fight:
So, the title's back in the hands of the 9-to-5 guy. Holyfield was never very funny. He never wears funny hats or puts cayenne pepper in the camp Cokes or goes around saying, "Did you hear the one about...?'' Holyfield simply stands there and out-hits you. He lets you do the one-liners.
Holyfield was never very humorous. Or interesting, either. He is in need of a charisma transplant.
Now that he has the title back, it will go back to gathering dust. Holyfield always treated the title as if it were brain surgery, not ho-ho-ho.
He never lost any fights. But he never looked good winning any. He had no flair. He made his fight like a guy laying carpet. Or doing windows. He wasn't a great boxer. He wasn't a great puncher. He simply went 12 rounds.
When he went 12 rounds with 43-year-old George Foreman and 40-year-old Larry Holmes and won but hardly marked them in the process, the public wrote him off as Robo-champ, a guy who went through the motions but who had dials instead of instincts. He was about as exciting to watch as bread pudding, so nearly unknown that guys would hand him their parking tickets at banquets. But he just wins, baby.
So Holyfield didn't excite everyone, and his wins, while certainly admirable in that he beat good fighters, didn't make for compelling copy too often. But Bowe-Holyfield II isn't remembered for the fight itself.
In the seventh round, after circling Caesars Palace for about ten minutes overhead, someone on a powered paraglider suddenly crashed into the ring. "Fan Man" was born.
"Fan Man" was a parachutist named James Miller. The lines of his paraglider became entangled in the stadium's overhead lights, leading to the bad landing. He later claimed that landing in the ring was accidental, though ESPN blimp footage does not make that seem believable, to say the least. The fight was delayed 21 minutes while Miller was first beaten unconscious by security and others at ringside, then rushed to the hospital.
The fight was restarted, but "Fan Man" had stolen the show, for better or worse (decidedly worse, to be honest).
Miller would later replicate the stunt by flying into a Raiders-Broncos game in Los Angeles, and then a Bolton Wanderers-Arsenal Premier League match in England. He was banned from the United Kingdom after a 1994 landing on top of Buckingham Palace, where he removed his pants.
Sadly, Miller was reported missing in September 2002, and his decomposing body was found in March 2003 in a remote section of the Alaskan wilderness, where authorities said it was very possible that it might never have been found. He had committed suicide after falling deeply in debt due to medical bills resulting from a heart condition.
Strange as it may be, James Miller left his mark on one of 1993's biggest sporting events, and 20 years later, if you say "Fan Man" in boxing circles, everyone immediately knows what you're talking about. That's not a good or a bad thing. It's just one of those things that can only happen, it seems, in boxing. Or in Miller's case, boxing, football, or American football, or on top of Buckingham Palace.