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The Heavyweight Division, already muddled by too many champions and too few worthy contenders, fell into further disarray last Saturday night and Sunday morning in Atlantic City. Thirty minutes into the 12-round waltz between Evander Holyfield and Alex Stewart at the Convention Center, even the fans in the $600 seats were rushing for the exits.
One spectator who stayed until 12:45 a.m. to see the 30-year-old Holyfield win on a unanimous decision was Rock Newman, the manager of WBA heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe, who had lifted Holyfield's title last November. "What a joke," said Newman. "Holyfield won and eliminated himself. He's got no chance for a title fight now. He should go back into retirement."
In fairness to Holyfield, this was his first fight since his loss to Bowe. He had spent seven months in retirement, trying to figure out what he was going to do with his life and the $80 million or so he had earned during his four-fight term as champion. Rust set in while he had a brief fling at acting school and a somewhat longer sojourn as a fan at one of his son's Little League games.
"I thought I was happy being away from boxing, from all that training," said Holyfield before the Stewart fight. "It had cost me my wife; it kept me away from my kids. My friends told me I had done the right thing. But the more I tried other things, the more I realized this is what I love to do. It's the one thing I do well. But when I told my mother, Annie, she had a sick look on her face."
Working with a new trainer, Emanuel Steward, Holyfield added 10 pounds in seven weeks to his well-sculpted body and weighed in at 218. "He'll hit harder," said Steward, "but he has to stifle that warrior's instinct. He can't go head-to-head with all the big, younger guys. He has to learn when to attack, when to back off."
Against the 29-year-old, 228-pound Stewart, Holyfield did neither: He didn't attack, and he didn't back off. Stewart, a top contender on every alphabet chart, did his part, too, to make the fight a snooze. He went into a defensive shell and remained in it through the bout, a but-toned-up tank without weapons.
Stewart came into the fight with 32 wins, all by knockouts. Against Holyfield, however, he couldn't find a punch that had even a semimean motive. He has always had trouble with world-class fighters. All his wins have been over guys with names like Joey Christjohn, Paul Poirier and Dan Wofford. His losses—this was his fifth—have been against people named Holyfield (twice), Mike Tyson, George Foreman and Michael Moorer. He knocks out tomato cans; he turns into one against the stars.
Against Holyfield last week there was blood but no knockdowns. Holyfield opened a cut under Stewart's left eyebrow in the second round, and he chopped a slice over Stewart's right eye in the 11th. But all the blood couldn't turn it into a fistfight.
"They were both awful," says Lou Duva, a former trainer of Holyfield's who now works with Moorer, the No. 1 contender of the WBA and the IBF. "Moorer would knock out both of them. I have to be fair to Evander—Stewart fought like a dog. At least Evander tried. But what were they doing in Evander's corner? Sometimes you have to wake him up. If you yell at him enough, he'll go out and hit somebody."
Holyfield's next fight will probably be in court. His manager, Shelly Finkel, says Holyfield has an ironclad contract to meet Bowe next. According to Finkel, before Bowe signed to fight Holyfield for the title, he had signed a contract agreeing to have no more than three title defenses before he had a rematch with Holyfield. Bowe has defended his title twice. "And those two defenses wipe out the contract," says Newman.