Alex Stewart, a frightened lighter, was hammered to the floor for the second time in the second round. He sat dazed and forlorn on the seat of his shiny purple trunks as the referee counted over him. At seven, a different man—an angry man—arose, his numbing fear replaced by a warrior's pride. As George Foreman lumbered forward for the expected kill, Stewart smacked him in the face with a baseball bat.
It was that kind of fight last Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Arena in Las Vegas, a bloody and brutal 10-round trial won by Foreman on a majority decision, but not until he had paid a dreadful price. Stewart's slashing lists pounded the 43-year-old former heavyweight champion until he was nearly unrecognizable. When the fight was over, Foreman peered at his defeated tormentor through slits in a badly swollen and torn face. Blood leaked from a dark lump under his damaged right eye; more spilled from his mangled nose and ripped mouth.
"At the end, I didn't care how the judges scored it," said Foreman from behind sunglasses while holding a bloody towel to his mouth. "I was just glad it was over. This guy hurt me. It was like getting hit with a brick. Such pain. I never want to feel that again."
This was supposed to be a Cakewalk for Foreman, a $5 million payday against a used-up heavyweight to fill time while waiting for another shot at Evander Holyfield's title. Foreman, the 259-pound preacher and folk hero, had said he wanted to face the winner of the June 19 Holy-field-Larry Holmes fight, but if not that, then he would take highly rated contender Riddick Bowe. "If I am going to fight again," Foreman said, "then it might as well be for a large bucket of money."
Once a top heavyweight contender with 24 straight knockouts and no losses, the 27-year-old Stewart had slipped badly since being knocked out in the eighth round by Holyfield in November 1989. Mike Tyson stopped him in the first round in December 1990. Eight months later Michael Moorer KO'd him in four. Things became so dark for Stewart that he had to travel to Katowice, Poland, last February to earn $25,000 against tomato can Joey Christjohn, whom he stopped in three rounds.
Against Foreman, for which he was paid $250,000, the London-born Stewart was a 6-to-1 underdog. The real betting in Las Vegas was that the fight would not go five rounds. Stewart's backers, however, argued that the bookies were wrong; they thought their man would at least make it to the sixth round. In his comeback, which started four years ago, Foreman had knocked out 24 of his 26 opponents, all but three of them before the sixth round.
On Saturday night Stewart approached the 18-foot ring with the look of a condemned man on his way to the firing squad. Standing apart from his cornermen, the underdog stared at the floor. As Foreman entered the ring, his face divided by a wide smile, Stewart seemed to shrink inside his black hooded robe.
"He's a big puncher, but I think he is going to try and box me," Foreman said of Stewart a few days earlier. "He's tied up with those Madison Square Garden people, and they have thinking fighters. I wish he would come out and fight me, but I don't think he will. I have trained for a thinking fight."
Stewart may have been thinking too much. Foreman quickly introduced him to his hard jab, which he delivers with enough force to drive a spike into a telephone pole. Stewart's movements were stiff and uncertain. A right hand dropped him early in the second round. When he rose at nine, Foreman showed his irritation by throwing a low hook, which drew a warning from referee Richard Steele. Later in the round, two jabs and a right hand dumped Stewart in his own corner.
When he got up, the light started. Stewart hit Foreman with a smashing overhand right. Shaking his head, Foreman pressed forward, an avalanche intent on sweeping aside anything in its path. Stewart caught him with two more solid rights before the bell.
As he came out for the third round, Foreman looked less like a preacher and more like Wyatt Earp striding toward the O.K. Corral. But Stewart had discovered that there is safety in attacking, and as the rounds passed, Foreman's face began to take on new and ugly dimensions. In the fourth a mouse appeared under his right eye. Once, in annoyance, he put his hands on his hips, turned toward the ringside seats from where his publicist Bill Caplan was loudly urging Foreman to use his left jab, and said: "Be quiet Bill. You're telling him what I'm going to do." When Foreman turned back to his opponent, Stewart banged him with a hard jab.
As Stewart grew more confident, Foreman's inflated face became more grotesque. In the fifth his right cheek began to swell greatly, often the sign of a broken jaw. By the sixth both eyes were swollen nearly shut. Stewart was not unscathed: He was cut over the right eye in the sixth, and his mouth was cut early, forcing him to swallow blood for nearly 30 minutes.
By the seventh Stewart had taken command. At one point, all motion in the ring ceased as Foreman took a deep breath and gathered his strength. Stewart paused in front of him. It was like looking at a photograph. Loading up a left hook, Foreman hesitated for a moment, then pulled the trigger. The punch sailed wide of Stewart's head. Prodded into action, Stewart banged Foreman live times in the head before the bell.
During the minute's" rest, Foreman collected himself. When Round 8 began, he reasserted control by jolting Stewart with a short right to the head. Hurt, Stewart spit out his mouthpiece, which gave him a breather while Steele retrieved it and had it washed and reinserted by Stewart's cornermen.
During the last two rounds, as both men flagged badly, Steele's blue shirt became spattered with blood, most of it Foreman's. With each punch bringing a small explosion of blood, the two fighters took turns pounding each other through the final three minutes. A right hand staggered Foreman, but he slowed Stewart with another low hook, which finally cost him a point. During the last 20 seconds, Foreman kept looking to his corner, where trainer Angelo Dundee was Hashing the number of seconds remaining. Finally, there were none.
Judge Patricia Jarman called it a draw. Both of the other two judges, Art Lurie and Dalby Shirley, had it for Foreman, 94-93. Flip Homansky, the ring physician, inspected Foreman in the dressing room and pronounced the swollen jaw unbroken. "I can eat," said Foreman at the press conference. "I already had something to eat in the dressing room, and I'm on my way to the buffet right now."
Instead, Foreman ate four sandwiches in his hotel suite. Stewart went off to the hospital for 12 stitches. Both men will fight again. But not against each other. "That's a rematch that will never happen," said Foreman, who is not only old, but old and wise.