Stewart profits from loss to Holyfield Tyson challenger gained confidence

December 05, 1990|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Correspondent

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Alex Stewart has knocked out 26 of his 27 professional rivals, but the British-born heavyweight gained the most respect for the one blemish on his record -- an eighth-round technical knockout by champion-to-be Evander Holyfield in November 1989.

"That loss made me a better fighter," said Stewart, who will challenge former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson at the Atlantic City Convention Center Saturday night.

"Before that fight, everyone wondered, 'Who's Alex Stewart?' They called me a washerwoman and accused me of knocking out a bunch of nobodies, even though most of these same guys fought Tyson, too."

In the second round against Holyfield, Stewart broke two knuckles on his left hand. The injury required surgery that kept him out of the ring for six months.

"The pain shot all the way up to my shoulder," Stewart said. "I told my cut man, Al Gavin, 'I think I've hurt my hand.' He told me not to worry, that I still had one good hand to beat him.

"Once I lost my left jab, Holyfield had a big advantage. I couldn't back him up anymore. But one thing about me is that I never quit.

"I fought him one-handed for close to six rounds and with my right eye sliced open. He never knocked me down. If Evander had broken his hand, I would have knocked him out. I hate to lose, and I cried for two days, but I also gained a lot of confidence in myself."

It is this quiet confidence that Stewart will carry into the ring Saturday night against Tyson, who will be trying to erase the public's memory of his shocking loss to James "Buster" Douglas in Tokyo in February.

"I still have a lot of questions to answer about myself," he said. "I want to convince the public I am a legitimate heavyweight contender. But most of all, I want to see how I match up with Mickey Mouse," said Stewart, taking a playful poke at Tyson.

Stewart recalls meeting Tyson on friendlier terms in Las Vegas four years ago when he was making his pro debut on the Michael Spinks-Stefan Tangstad title card.

"Tyson wasn't champion back then, and he acted real friendly," Stewart said. "He wished me luck. I respected him because he started out with nothing and worked hard to get where he is.

"But after making $77 million, buying all those homes and cars, and getting into all that domestic trouble, I see him differently now. Tyson is no longer the invincible champion of the world. He still handles pressure well inside the ring, but he has gained a rotten reputation on the outside.

"Losing to me would be a real shock to his system. Me? I don't think I would change that much myself. I don't want to be Superman. But I would like nice things for my wife, Angella, and my daughter, Tenille."

Tyson learned to fight as a means of survival in Brooklyn; Stewart began brawling in more refined circles.

"I was attending a cricket match with my father in England," said Stewart, who lived in a London suburb his first 14 years. "I started messing with a kid named Steve, who had won some amateur boxing trophies.

"Well, he knocked me down a couple of times. I kept getting up, and finally knocked him down. By that time, everyone forgot about the cricket match and started watching us go at it."

His father soon enlisted Alex in a boxing academy, where he displayed a natural aptitude for the sport. He lost his first amateur bout, then won 11 straight.

The family moved to Jamaica, and Stewart competed for his native country in the 1983 Pan American Games and 1984 Olympics.

His mother came to New York in 1985, and Stewart followed shortly, winning the Golden Gloves in 1985 and 1986.

He was eager to turn professional, but the only encouragement he received was from promoter-manager Butch Lewis, who used him as a sparring partner for then-heavyweight champion Michael Spinks.

Eventually, Stewart attracted the interest of manager Mike Jones, who with Dennis Rappaport, had promoted heavyweight Gerry Cooney into multimillion dollar matches against Larry Holmes, Spinks and George Foreman.

Jones died of cancer last year, but Stewart has received strong spiritual support from new manager Jim Fennell, trainer Edwin Viruet and Bobby Goodman, the director of boxing for Madison Square Garden, which has promoted most of his fights.

Viruet, who can boast of going 25 tough rounds against Roberto Duran when the Panamanian was terrorizing the lightweight division in the 1970s, has seen Stewart mature as a fighter.

Stewart, 6 feet 3 and 218 pounds, said he has no plans to go toe-to-toe with Tyson.

"I know Tyson will be coming in for the kill from the opening bell," he said, "but I'm not going to get in a shootout with him.

"But you don't think about what Tyson will do or you will worry yourself sick. I will just do what I do best. I will stick with boxing fundamentals. After five or six rounds, it will become a battle of wills. And then we will see who wants it more. For me, my honor will be at stake."

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