ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Mike Tyson rekindled his fury last night, flooring Alex Stewart with his first punch, then dropping him twice more for a spectacular knockout at 2 minutes, 27 seconds of the first round.
While Tyson paraded around the ring, his hands raised in victory, promoter Don King shouted to the crowd of 17,211 at the Convention Center: "We're back!"
Indeed. This was the Tyson who electrified fight fans on his way to becoming the youngest heavyweight champion in history and then unifying the title.
He had threatened "to kill" Stewart, and only the automatic three- knockdown rule saved Stewart from being knocked cold.
The fight crowd had dismissed Tyson's first-round KO of Henry Tillman last June as a hollow victory over a shopworn cruiserweight. He needed a more impressive performance to convince the public that his upset by James "Buster" Douglas in Tokyo in February was an aberration.
This demolition job over a worthy opponent went a long way toward doing just that.
Early in his career, Tyson made a habit of getting in and getting out of the ring as quickly as possible, going more than two rounds only twice in his first 16 professional bouts.
The almost demonic way he attacked and disposed of Stewart sent a clear message to present heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield that his reign might be a brief one.
King had tried to persuade the three major world boxing associations to strip Holyfield of his title for bypassing Tyson in his first defense in favor of George Foreman. The International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Association would not accede to his wishes and the courts have put a restraining order on the World Boxing Council, a strong ally of King's.
But Tyson, 24, seems more willing to settle matters in the ring.
"A title is a state of mind," he said. "And in my mind, I'm a champion."
Stewart had said on the eve of the fight, "Mike can knock me down, but I'll take care of business."
Stewart twice got off the floor but, in the end, could not stand up to Tyson's power.
"I never lost my confidence," said Tyson, "not even after Tokyo. People wanted to think I did. They thought that this black kid had all that money and lost his drive. When Buster beat me, they thought he was the better man. Well, I'm the best."
Stewart would not dispute the point.
"Today, I just lost to someone who is better than me," he said. "I got caught early. I didn't want to run away. I didn't want to miss anything."
Asked to assess a possible Holyfield-Tyson showdown, Stewart said: "I don't know. It depends on who catches who first."
Stewart was the first to enter the ring, dressed in black and gold with "The Destroyer" emblazoned across his back. He was greeted with polite applause.
The crowd was much more enthusiastic in support of Tyson, who, as is his custom, wore no robe and had a white towel draped over his shoulders. He wore plain black trunks and no socks.
Tyson, weighing 217, appeared in superior shape. Stewart looked considerably softer at 218.
Stewart barely had a chance to get off his stool before Tyson floored him with a thunderous right.
The way the Englishman dropped was reminiscent of Tyson's first-round demolition of Michael Spinks in this same ring two years ago.
Stewart regained his feet, but was badly shaken. He staggered as Tyson charged after him.
Eager to finish the job, Tyson floored himself by missing a wild right. Referee Frank Cappucino signaled that it was not a knockdown.
That was only a momentary reprieve for Stewart. After going to the ropes, he was caught high on the forehead by a crunching right and slowly dropped to the canvas.
Again, he beat the count, but looked bleary-eyed as the referee asked if he was fit to continue. Stewart nodded affirmatively, but it was an act of mistaken valor. Another savage combination by Tyson dropped Stewart for a third time, resulting in an automatic KO.
Tyson, who earned close to $3 million for the brief workout, raised his record to 39-1 with 35 knockouts. Stewart slipped to 26-2, 26 KOs. His only previous loss was a knockout by Holyfield, the man now squarely in Tyson's sights.