ATLANTIC CITY,N.J. — ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- For 37 fights, Mike Tyson carried an aura of indestructibility into the ring. No one doubted his brute strength or killer instinct.
His only vulnerability seemed to be his penchant for finding trouble and provoking fights and lawsuits outside the ring.
But the former undisputed heavyweight champion, who battles British-born Alex Stewart in the Atlantic City Convention Center tonight, proved he was all too mortal in losing his crown to James "Buster" Douglas, a 40-1 underdog, in Tokyo last February.
Tyson was left groveling on the canvas in the 10th round, searching for his mouthpiece. His defeat became even more shocking when Douglas meekly surrendered to Evander Holyfield in the first defense of his title.
Now, veteran fighters, trainers and promoters are all but lining up to take potshots at Tyson, who needed less than a round to dispose of journeyman Henry Tillman in his first comeback fight in June.
"He's just not the same Mike Tyson," said promoter Butch Lewis, who watched his protege, Michael Spinks, destroyed by Tyson in less than a round 30 months ago.
"He no longer feels within himself that he is the baddest man on the planet. He has questions about himself. There is no more fire in his belly.
"I can't say he's finished," Lewis added. "But now he seems more into street life than training. I think he's lost the desire to be heavyweight champion."
Six-time world champion Sugar Ray Leonard, who was a ringside analyst for HBO at a number of Tyson's title fights, said: "Before Douglas, Tyson won the fight before he stepped through the ropes. He just intimidated everyone. Now, guys have a lot more confidence. They know he's only human."
Sizing up the Stewart fight, Angelo Dundee, who trained Muhammad Ali and Leonard, said: "It boils down to which Mike Tyson gets out of bed.
"He's no longer viewed as 'Tyson, the destroyer.' You can't pooh-pooh what Douglas did to him. Tyson was a street tough who got the chip knocked off his shoulder. It really had to damage his psyche.
"Right now, I believe there are a lot of good heavyweights capable of beating Tyson. He had too much, too soon, and all those problems with his ex-wife [Robin Givens], his former manager [Bill Cayton] and ex-trainer [Kevin Rooney] add up to giving him a lot of mental anguish."
Dundee said Tyson is punishing sparring partners and talking tough to cover up his insecurities.
"You don't go beating up sparring partners," Dundee said. "That is just a way of venting your frustrations. What Tyson misses most is the guidance of a Cus D'Amato [his late manager]."
D'Amato and his successor as Tyson's manager, the late Jimmy Jacobs, believed in keeping the fighter busy in order to maintain his competitive edge and to minimize his extracurricular affairs.
But his fallout with Cayton, a broken marriage, suicide threats and a canceled fight with Razor Ruddock last fall have limited Tyson to just four ring appearances since he knocked out Spinks in June 1988.
The Stewart fight, originally scheduled Sept. 22, was postponed after Tyson suffered a 40-stitch gash over his brow in late August as the result of a head butt by sparring partner Greg Page.
The waiting has made Tyson angry and restless. "I'm going crazy being stuck in this room," he said last week from his Atlantic City condominium.
He said he is eager to get in and out of the ring as quickly as possible against the heavy-punching Stewart, a 14-1 underdog whose only loss in 27 bouts was a knockout by Holyfield last November.
"It's nothing personal, but I'm going to kill this guy," said Tyson. "I can't wait to do the right things. I'm not an old guy just fighting for the money. My boxing life is starting over. I've still got a lot of life and enthusiasm.
Who: Mike Tyson (38-1, 34 knockouts), Catskill, N.Y., vs. Alex Stewart (26-1, 26 KOs), Brooklyn, N.Y.
What: 10-round heavyweight bout.
Where: Atlantic City Convention Center.
Promoters: Donald Trump and Don King.
TV: HBO, 9 p.m.
Purses: Tyson, $2.5 million; Stewart, $600,000.
Semifinal: Julio Cesar Chavez (71-0, 58 KOs), Mexico, vs. Ahn Kyun-Duk (29-1, 13 KOs), South Korea, 12 rounds, for Chavez's IBF and WBC junior welterweight titles.