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.
Three days before the Stewart fight Newman filed a $25 million suit against Holyfield, Finkel and Dan Duva, Holyfield's promoter, claiming that, among other things, Holyfield's people tried to make Bowe look bad by saying Bowe doesn't want a rematch. "That contract says a rematch within two fights," says Newman, "and we've had two. It's too late for Holyfield."
"Three fights," says Dan Duva, who has never lost a boxing argument in court. "Evander didn't disgrace himself against Stewart. He won easily against a man who did not want to fight."
At the moment Holyfield is a tough sell to the public. He'll need at least one more, and perhaps two more, nontitle bouts to regain the credibility he enjoyed in his pre-Bowe days. That is why Newman has turned his attention to Tommy Morrison, the WBO heavyweight champion, who recently defeated George Foreman. Morrison already has a 50-50 split offer to fight Britain's Lennox Lewis, the WBC champion. But Morrison's manager, Bill Cayton, is in no hurry to make a move.
"When we make a deal, it will be the best possible financial deal for Tommy," says Cayton, who negotiated the contracts that made Tyson a wealthy young man. "Everyone wants to fight Tommy. The one who gets him is the one who offers the most money."
With Holyfield more or less out of the picture, Newman would like to sign Morrison for a Nov. 5 fight with Bowe, who's still putting opponents between himself and Lewis in an attempt to make their much-anticipated showdown as lucrative as possible. "That's all I could think of as I watched Holyfield struggling in the ninth and 10th rounds," Newman says. "It was a song from a movie I just saw. It went, 'Tommy, can you hear me?' "
Lewis has a tentative date to meet Frank Bruno in September, but he would be willing to push that fight back to face Morrison. The 50-50 offer is attractive to Morrison. "There are a lot of other factors to discuss first," says Cayton. "Fifty-fifty can disappear in a hurry if a lot of other things are taken out of the pot first. We'll listen to any offer from Bowe."
Cayton also might wait for a title fight until next February, when the MGM Grand opens in Las Vegas with its 15,000-seat arena. By that time the British may have installed pay-per-view television, which would bring millions more to any Lewis bout. By then, Holyfield might have redeemed his reputation with one or two fights and Newman might be singing, "Evander, can you hear me?"