‘Fan Man’ Crashing World Title Fight Was Boxing’s Craziest Ever Moment
"It was a heavyweight fight - and I was the only guy who got knocked out," joked James 'Fan Man' Miller after the most outrageous stunt ever seen in boxing.
Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield were midway through their 1993 world title rematch when, as Holyfield put it: "I heard this weird sound from somewhere up above, like a vacuum cleaner or something."
Clearly Evander owns a seriously powerful hoover, because it was actually the noise of a grown man attached to a gigantic office fan, paragliding into the outdoor ring at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas.
Miller - soon known worldwide as Fan Man - was seen circling the skies for several minutes before swooping down to shockingly interrupt the seventh round. As his parachute collided with the TV lights, Miller crashed into the ring ropes opposite astonished boxers.
"I thought it was a UFO," said Holyfield's ex-trainer, Lou Duva, sat in the second row. Rock Newman, Bowe's manager, didn't go straight for the 'It's aliens!' take, but did fear a terrorist attack.
Ringside, HBO's TV crew struggled to take it in. "Somebody... in a parachute, has just landed on the edge of the ring," said commentator Jim Lampley, sounding as if he didn't really believe what he was saying himself.
"It's not only a parachute! He's got some motorised thing on there," added George Foreman, the heavyweight great doing a nice line aeronautic analysis.
Fan Man's undignified landing, his legs tangled in the ropes as he struggled to get a foot inside the ring, soon got a lot worse. Perhaps if he'd landed near the God-fearing Holyfield's corner, he might have fared a little better. But boxing entourages usually contain several characters you shouldn't mess with - and Miller had landed right in Bowe's corner.
Bowe's team quickly pulled him from the ropes and began clobbering him with their brick-like 1990s mobile phones until he was unconscious.
"I had my walkie-talkie in my hand anyway and I guess it became my hammer," recalled one of Bowe's security personnel. "I didn't figure I would hurt the guy too bad, but I thought I would at least put him to sleep."
Fan Man was soon snoozing, but around him it was chaos. Judy Bowe, the defending world's champ's pregnant wife, fainted when she heard what she believed were ringside gunshots. In fact, it was the TV lights popping above her after the collision with Miller's glider
She left in an ambulance, while Bowe's trainer, the 82-year-old Eddie Futch, was later taken to hospital after suffering from heart palpitations (both made a full recovery).
Thankfully, boxing's own James Bond was on hand to restore order. MC Michael Buffer seized the microphone and, instead of whipping his audience into a frenzy with a trademark "Let's get ready to rumble!" (not appropriate) he kept 14,000 shocked fans informed.
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"All the mess needed clearing up and the crowd needed to be kept calm," he said. "We didn't know if it was a potential terrorist attack. So I went into the ring and used my microphone to reassure people."
Buffer also reminded the trainers to wrap their boxers in towels to stay warm in the cold night air. After Fan Man's paraglider was cut down and the debris cleared - including the daredevil himself on a stretcher - the round resumed after a whopping 21-minute delay.
Remarkably, although the fight itself was now an afterthought, the incident may have changed boxing history. The three ringside judges had to score the seventh round and - understandably baffled by the huge gap in action - their tallies were all over the place: one scored it for Bowe, one for Holyfield, while judge Morse Jarman had it even.
If Jarman had scored that round for Bowe (who had made a strong start before Fan Man's arrival) the end result would have been a draw and Bowe would have kept his titles. As it was, Holyfield nicked a majority decision. Bowe would win the decider of their action-packed trilogy two years later, but he'd never regain his undisputed heavyweight crown.
Fan Man had an even more eventful future. Miller was released on a $200 bail after the fight and shed little light on the reasons behind his actions. "Basically what I want to state is that I'm Fan Man - and that's about my only comment for the evening," he told waiting TV reporters.
The "success" of the incident fuelled his desire for further stunts. A few months later, Miller was spotted above a Denver Broncos vs LA Raiders game.
Apparently having gate-crashed a boxing ring and survived, Miller now wanted to land on a pitch containing two full teams of pissed-off NFL monsters. Fortunately, Miller eventually wound up in the stadium car park and was arrested.
Next, Miller turned his attention to England and the FA Cup. He briefly interrupted Arsenal's trip to Bolton in the fourth round by buzzing the stadium (a familiar feeling for keeper David Seaman, at least, who was used to things flying over his head).
His final caper on UK shores was the most controversial of all. After paragliding down The Mall in February 1994, he landed atop Buckingham Palace - and removed his trousers to reveal he'd painted his lower half bright green.
Thankfully, the Queen was not in residence to witness Miller's arrest, after which he was given a £200 fine and a lifetime ban from Britain. He was, however, later immortalised in The Simpsons' episode 'The Homer They Fall'. So win some, lose some.
Miller's motives for these self-publicising stunts remained a mystery and his life came to a tragic end eight years later. In 2002, suffering from ill-health, Miller hung himself in the Alaskan wilderness.
A sad end for a troubled figure who, nonetheless, did achieve one goal he set out for when he crashed into that boxing ring 27 years ago. That the name of Fan Man would never be forgotten.
Image credit: HBO/PA Images
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