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The Mike Tyson Chronicles: Alex “The Destroyer” Stewart

By Geno McGahee

“The only thing that I really see is me beating Mike Tyson.” – Alex Stewart

On February 11, 1990, the unthinkable happened. Mike Tyson, a 42-1 favorite, the Undisputed and Undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the world, was knocked out by the unlikely challenger, James “Buster” Douglas. At the time, Tyson was seen as unbeatable, with the only worthy challenger being the “blown up cruiserweight” Evander Holyfield, and even he was viewed as not having the physical capabilities of holding off this ferocious force. Buster Douglas, a man that was stopped by Tony Tucker, and never really seemed to have the necessary focus on the game, shocked the world and now Iron Mike was on the comeback trail.

The first victim was Henry Tillman, a man that was just put in there to rebuild the confidence and the aura of invincibility, and we got what we were expecting. In 2 minutes and 47 seconds, a right hand sent Tillman into dreamland, after he had sprinted around the ring for the majority of the bout. Larry Merchant sarcastically screaming “surprise” when Tillman was disposed of summed of the overall thought of this mismatch. There was no way that Tillman could compete with Tyson, but the next opponent raised some eyebrows. That man was Alex “The Destroyer” Stewart, 26-1, 26 KO’s.

The 100% knockout ratio in his victories was not as impressive as it sounds. For the most part, Alex Stewart was a protected fighter. The collective record of his opponents before he lost his first bout was 180 wins, 162 losses, and 14 draws. He was feasting on D level opposition, but he was active and he was gaining confidence. He brought a 24-0, 24 KO’s, record into a 1989 WBC Continental America’s Heavyweight Title bout against the undefeated former Cruiserweight Champion and consensus #1 contender for the heavyweight title, Evander Holyfield. The thought was that despite the record of Stewart, this would be a walk in the park for “The Real Deal” en route to an eventual meeting with Tyson. Holyfield and the fans got more than they bargained for.

For seven rounds, Stewart traded with Holyfield. He was incredibly active and was able to land on Evander quite often. A cut would stop this fight from continuing and Evander was awarded the TKO win, but Stewart was a winner too. The public had seen him on the Showtime network and he didn’t really lose. He wasn’t knocked out or dominated. He was more of a victim of an unfortunate event and many empathized with him. His record may have been padded but he could fight and he held his own with the number two big guy at the time and the only supposed threat to Tyson’s reign. Stewart would follow up with two unremarkable wins over Mark Young and Jamie Howe before agreeing to face Tyson on September 22, 1990. Two weeks before the fight, however, Tyson would postpone due to a cut in sparring, and the bout would be pushed up to December 8th. It gave Tyson more time to prepare and a well prepared Stewart to now become discouraged.

HBO didn’t do any favors for Stewart either, asking their viewers to pray for him in one of their promos. They were selling the monster and the sensitive “Destroyer” was beginning to unravel. His manager and close friend, Mike Jones, died of cancer just before the bout, and Iron Mike was beginning to use his psychological warfare that had worked so well in the past, and it worked again. He said in an interview that Alex Stewart should “get his will ready,” and that “it was going to be a long, long night for him.” Stewart tried to match Tyson by calling him a “little guy,” but you could see just how nervous he was and how the nerves grew as the fight got closer.

The IBF and the WBA both had Stewart ranked at #4 in the world and he was never knocked out before, and also came back from some shaky moments with Evander Holyfield to rebound and perform well. This was a necessary ability if you were going to be able to defeat Tyson, because no matter what, there would be some shaky moments.

Mike Tyson was going through his own personal problems at this time. The ordeal over the heavyweight championship had passed, and the WBC had finally relented and gave the title belt over to Evander Holyfield, who in October of 1990, destroyed a flabby Buster Douglas in three rounds to capture what he believed to be the Undisputed Championship. The IBF and WBA automatically recognized him as the Champion, but the WBC, which have been rumored to be in Don King’s pocket, demanded that Holyfield defend against Tyson immediately or they would strip him of the title. The Holyfield camp elected to face “Big” George Foreman instead for “Big” money and the WBC began planning a vacant title fight between Donovan Razor Ruddock and Iron Mike. The Duvas protested, the situation went into arbitration, but before a decision could be made the WBC folded and Mike Tyson was completely out of the championship loop…at least for the time being.

The pressure from that situation, the thought of Holyfield easily destroying his conqueror, and the mental exhaustion from protesting the defeat to Buster Douglas in Tokyo all weighed on Tyson. He wanted his position in the game back and he also wanted to show Holyfield that he was still “The Baddest Man on the Planet” by destroying Alex Stewart, a man that Evander couldn’t knock down.

The Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was buzzing with excitement. There was nothing like a Mike Tyson fight, and the Convention Hall was no stranger to Iron Mike. He had knocked out Tyrell Biggs, Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks, and Carl Williams there. This was a place that he was accustomed to, where he was comfortable, and where he had done a lot of damage to some very good fighters. He intended to do the same to a man that had won 26 of 27 fights, all of them by knock out, and was able to hang tough with the Heavyweight Champion of the World. As much as this was a Tyson event, there were people who saw the potential in an active and tough fighter like Alex Stewart winning and going on to rematch Holyfield for all of the marbles.

As Alex Stewart approached the ring, you could see the worry in his eyes. You could almost imagine somebody saying: “Dead man walking,” which may have been something that was going off in Stewart’s head. The arena was packed with over sixteen thousand people, all waiting for another horror movie. They wanted to see a massacre and Steward knew it. All of Tyson’s verbal bullying seemed to end this fight before Stewart even stepped into the ring, and his corner sensed it. As Stewart threw jabs and kept warm, one of his corner men launched his clinched fist into the air and screamed “yeah” to pump up his fighter, who he probably felt was letting the moment get to him.

Mike Tyson, 38-1, 34 KO’s, entered the ring surrounded by a mob of corner men and supporters, the ripped towel thrown over his head, and the menacing stare on his face. Tyson knew when his opponents let fear get the best of them and he sensed it here. One of the things that Cus D’Amato honed in Tyson was his ability to read people, especially fighters, and when he began talking doomsday in regards to Stewart, he got the reaction he wanted. The hard part was done…now he had to try to get rid of his opponent before he built up any confidence.

Referee Frank Cappuccino brought the men to the center of the ring and gave a brief recap of the instructions that he had given them in the dressing rooms. Tyson stared directly at his opponent, who looked terrified. Stewart also being a slow starter was not a good thing to combine with his fear of Tyson and his lack of defense. When the bell rang to start the first round, we were treated to a Tyson show…and the audience got their monster.

Tyson charged across the ring and threw a jab and a right cross/hook that rattled Stewart. Another right cross/hook hybrid would place Stewart on the canvas in the first ten seconds of the fight. George Foreman once said that larger fighters underestimate the size and reach of the little guys that crouch and think that they are out of range when they are not, which may have been the case here. Stewart was down, but quickly got back to his feet, but had the expression on his face that said that he would rather be somewhere else at this time.

Tyson charged and followed up with the same combination, but Stewart got away from it this time. He knew where it was coming from and was prepared for it, at least for the time being. Stewart began trying to work the jab and create distance but Tyson wouldn’t allow it, barreling in and working the body, desperately looking for another shot at the head of his groggy opponent.

Stewart opened up, but his punches didn’t do the intended damage. On top of Tyson’s great chin, Stewart wasn’t a big puncher. He was an accumulation puncher and he wasn’t going to get rid of Kid Dynamite with one on the chin. Tyson was basically throwing caution to the wind as he recklessly attacked Stewart and even found himself on the canvas after a wild swing. He jumped back up, and went after Stewart once again, hurting him with a left uppercut and right hook and then chasing him into the ropes and dropping him again with a right hook/cross. Stewart barely made it to his feet at the count of nine.

Tyson ran in, looping right hooks and trying to end it and his opponent was on extremely rubbery legs at this point. An unimpressive left hook was enough to end the fight, although Cappuccino began to count, not realizing that the three knockdown rule was in effect. It was an honest mistake, considering that Tyson had held the championship for so long and with the packed house, it felt like a title fight. Stewart, slightly dazed, remained on the floor and allowed the count to reach ten. Had he gotten up and the fight continued, it probably would have been stopped in between rounds due to the fact that there were three knockdowns and there was no reason for him to take another punch. He lost and lost badly.

The bout was called at 2:27 of the very first round and Tyson had sent a message to Holyfield. The man that traded leather with him for eight rounds had just been humiliated by Iron Mike, and the vast majority of the boxing fans were back on the bandwagon. Tyson only lost to Douglas because he was ill prepared and now he is going to take his title back from that pretender, Evander Holyfield.

After the bout, Tyson refused to speak with Larry Merchant. For the longest time, Merchant’s honest and blunt remarks about Don King and Mike Tyson have bothered the duo, and the ultimatum was given to HBO: Get rid of Larry Merchant or you lose Mike Tyson. HBO stood by Merchant, making the Alex Stewart bout his last on the network, and giving Showtime the opportunity to bring the biggest attraction in boxing onto their growing network.

Tyson commented that he knew that Stewart was dangerous when he got warmed up, which was why he came out looking for a quick KO so feverishly and then stated that Razor Ruddock was most likely next. Stewart was visibly upset and said that he “just got caught,” but he was realistically caught prior to entering the ring. He suffered the same fate as many Tyson victims have: public and media ridicule and constant linkage to their one bad moment in the game.

Tyson did go on to face off against Razor Ruddock in 1991, and then faced him again in a rematch before being convicted of rape and incarcerated. Alex Stewart would try to immediately rebound when he took on the former Light Heavyweight Champion and heavyweight hopeful, Michael Moorer, in another HBO showcase fight. Stewart did well and landed a good right hand on Moorer, but would succumb to the power and vicious uppercuts that would land and end the fight in four rounds.

Stewart would be hand selected by George Foreman as a comeback opponent, who figured that Stewart’s lack of mental toughness was the weakness that he needed to score a quick KO, but it didn’t turn out that way. An underprepared Foreman took a vicious beating from Stewart, but got away with a win due to the early points lead by “Big” George. The majority decision loss proved just how much courage Stewart really had and put him into a position to once again land a big fight…perhaps even a title fight. To many, he clearly beat George Foreman.

Stewart would string together some decent wins before getting another big payday against Evander Holyfield, who was on the comeback trail. The fight would go the distance and Stewart would be on the losing end of the decision. He would fight on, but the long road as a would be contender had come to an end. Oleg Maskaev, Jorge Luis Gonzalez, and Lance Whitaker would stop him and he would hang up the gloves permanently, possibly due to a rumored medical condition.

Tyson-Stewart was not as big of a mismatch as many contend. It was just the right style of fight and the right personality for Mike to look great against, and although it only lasted 2 minutes and 27 seconds, it was still an exciting and memorable moment from Iron Mike’s career, and an example of the controlled ferocity that made Tyson the most popular fighter of his generation.

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