King has always taken a lot of credit for that victory, noting that he had "de-chemicalized" McCall and roused him with spirited renditions of Yankee Doodle Dandy. But the real work had been done in Detroit and in Mexico, where Steward had trained Chávez and McCall at the same time.
"I took Oliver with me," Steward says, recalling the highly complicated dual training regime. "I'd work with Julio, about a two-hour drive up a mountain road, come back down, train Oliver, then cook dinner for him—he didn't like the Mexican food. I had my own pots and pans at the time. Cook him his roast beef and mashed potatoes, and by the time I was done washing dishes it was 9:30. But the commitment paid off."
Chávez tore Meldrick Taylor apart (Chávez and Steward later split), and McCall upended Lewis. (King's men stepped in immediately after that. "Jealousy," says Steward. "They ruined everything.") Neither fighter has been much good since, with McCall getting arrested for possession of drugs, going in and out of rehab, and breaking down in the ring in the Lewis rematch (with Steward helpless in Lewis's corner). "What was going on in McCall's life was beyond what was going on in the ring," says Steward. "All he needs is some love."
Still, Steward doesn't think McCall was his greatest achievement as a gun for hire. That would have been Holyfield's 12-round decision over Bowe in their second fight, an impossible scenario for Holyfield. "Bowe, who'd beaten him already," says Steward, "was bigger, stronger and a better boxer. I didn't think there was much Evander could do. Nobody did, really. In fact, one of the things Evander's mother said before we left for training was not to let him get hurt."
But Steward always thinks he can find a way. Having been around Holyfield since his amateur days, he remembered that Holyfield liked to dance and was pretty good at it too. "That's what we'll do," he told the fighter, "we'll dance." They worked on rhythm and balance. "We beat Bowe on rhythm," he says.
That was the fight to which Steward first brought his cookware because one other thing he noticed about Holyfield was that he loses weight the week before a bout. Turned out that Holyfield hates the hotel food. So Steward, who fancies himself a cook (his American-fare restaurant in Detroit features a lot of his recipes), prepared a lot of Southern-style meals for Holyfield. It was kind of a joke at Caesars Palace. The casino honchos would find a reason to visit the Holyfield suite, same time every afternoon, to check on the smells from Steward's hot plates.
Helping somebody win a fight seems to be small work for Steward. Sticking around for the rematch is the hard part. But being a contract man, he tends to get aced out after he performs his work and his property is suddenly enhanced in value. In Holyfield's case, the fighter split with him over money. Steward says he made just $170,000 for Bowe-Holyfield II. ("The money wasn't important," he says. "We just wanted to get the championship back because nobody thought it could be done.") For Holyfield's next fight Steward wanted $300,000—not anywhere close to the normal 10% fee. He says he was offered $200,000, declined and left, although he and Holyfield remained friends.
Steward has no illusions about the sport and understands that the days when he could travel with his boys like a coach with an AAU team, laughing and joking and cooking, are over. Still, over the summer, he brought two 13-year-old Detroit kids to Big Bear for a kind of junior Olympic camp, sneaking them onto De La Hoya's canvas while the boxer got his hands wrapped or working them with pads before Lewis got to the gym. His contract fighters, wealthy celebrities of uncertain purposes, tend to come and go these days. He loves them, but he has learned that he'll just get disappointed in the end.
"But these kids," he says, thinking of all the things he might teach them, "they could go all the way." He seems pleased by the idea. Or maybe that mountain air is getting to him.