ATLANTIC CITY -- The cut above the right eye that Mike Tyson suffered in training in August appears to have healed and he professes to be ready to fight Alex Stewart here Saturday night. But Tyson remains troubled by another cut, the unkind one of losing the heavyweight championship on a knockout to Buster Douglas, who promptly went belly up and handed over the title to Evander Holyfield.

Tyson takes pleasure in the manner of Douglas's downfall. Tyson contended that Douglas will be remembered not for what he did to him in Tokyo in February but for what he didn't do against Holyfield in October. It didn't seem possible back in June 1988 when he unleashed his 91 seconds of devastation on Michael Spinks that Tyson would be reduced to fighting a trial horse as a step to regaining the title and beating a dead horse in Douglas.

"You put a little kid in a candy store and he never had candy and he's not used to being in there, having all that, he doesn't know how to act," Tyson said of Douglas after a closed sparring session here. "I mean Leon Spinks {who lost the title as quickly as Douglas} did it the hard way, by getting into trouble, doing this and doing that. {Douglas} did it the easy way -- 'I guess I'll lay down. . . .'

"{Roberto} Duran beat 90 guys; hard, tough fights. The only fight {people} remember is the fight in New Orleans" -- his no mas against Sugar Ray Leonard.

When his career was as fresh as young love and he seemed indestructible, Tyson spoke only of what he, "the baddest man on the planet," could do. He didn't lower himself to bad-mouthing. Tyrell Biggs, for one, had some nasty things to say about Tyson; Tyson merely sliced him up in the ring and left his career in pieces.

Now Tyson seizes the opportunity to put down Douglas -- and George Foreman. Whereas he once put foes down only on the canvas, he now resorts to words. It bothers Tyson that the 42-year-old rotund one will get the first shot at Holyfield's title, in April.

"He's got a chance to make money. Maybe he's got a chance to win. I still think it's a carnival and a circus."

Tyson said this as he stayed in the ring, set up in a hotel conference room, while speaking to a group of reporters standing at the ropes. Many were English and Japanese. Although they had just traveled oceans to see him, he gave them eight minutes. He's been unpredictable in camp, willing to talk one day, shunning the media on others.

He is only 24 years old but in the position of trying to prove that he is not on the downside of his career. His most obvious shortcoming is that he lacks the focus he once had. He reportedly skipped out of training camp last weekend and took off for Manhattan.

Once, he possessed a frightening tunnel-vision that he directed toward his next opponent. There was no doubting him when he'd say: "Watch me."

Talk about Douglas, Tyson had his own candy-store crisis. The youngest heavyweight champion in history, he fell out with the manager and the trainer who kept him straight, had a tempestuous time with Robin Givens, fell in with Don King.

Now he's said to have disagreements with King. Access to his money is thought to be part of it. Nor could King promptly deliver Holyfield.

As a fighter might be, Tyson is restless and bored in camp. But he appears to have lost the discipline to stay put and let go all the pent-up fury on fight night.

Alex Stewart has heart, but he's a notoriously slow-starter who doesn't figure to be around long in Saturday night's scheduled 10-rounder. So Tyson can cut a corner. As one observer said, "Tyson's not what he once was. But he doesn't have to be."

Physically, he says he's in "pretty good" shape. But he used to say he was in "great" shape -- and there was no question.

"Pretty good" is how he looks -- a sculpted frame on first glance, about 220 pounds, but on closer inspection a fighter carrying traces of flab. At least he hasn't had to go on a crash diet.

Since disposing of an outclassed Henry Tillman in the first round in June, Tyson has had plenty of time to prepare (and maybe too much to keep his thinking clear). After disposing of Michael Spinks, Tyson let himself balloon before Frank Bruno, Carl "The Truth" Williams and Douglas.

Unlike Douglas against Holyfield, Tyson at least was grabbing for his mouthpiece when his end came in Tokyo. "If you have to go, go out on your shield," Tyson said.

But had he been devoted to training as he once was, he never would have needed a shield. Perspiring heavily after a workout this week, he spoke of the situation he's put himself in, that of a waiting and impatient challenger.

He might have added, although he won't admit it, that he's defaulted on all the money and favorable publicity that would have continued to flow his way from the commercials and endorsements once arranged by his estranged manager, Bill Cayton. All Tyson has to say is: "I don't want no sympathy from nobody."

Tyson knows what it takes to be a first-rate champion. Under the tutelage of the late Cus D'Amato, Tyson learned to appreciate boxing history. His conversation this week was dotted with references to Jack Dempsey, Harry Greb and Mickey Walker. Tyson has a son he's named D'Amato Kilrain Tyson -- Kilrain for Jake Kilrain, who fought in the last sanctioned bare-knuckle bout, a 75-rounder with John L. Sullivan.

But Tyson, as he has for some time, still appears to be struggling to find the way to live up to D'Amato's teachings. There's no shortcut. If in weak moments Tyson admits to missing the title, the turbulence of his life shakes the resolve he needs to be all that he once hoped.

He's cut himself off from those who cared: from Cayton, whom Tyson perceived as "cold"; from trainer Kevin Rooney, who spoke the truth about Tyson's unraveling; from the widow of Jimmy Jacobs, the man most responsible for keeping Tyson on a narrow course after turning pro in 1985. "We loved Mike like a son," Jacobs's wife said after Jacobs had died and Tyson split with Cayton and Rooney.

Just before the opening bell, Rooney used to kiss Tyson. It wasn't for show, but rather a sign. If ever a fighter was going to war, it was Tyson -- and Rooney cared about the outcome. No one has ever cared about Tyson the way the few around him did in the beginning when the depth of their feeling matched the luster of his promise.