ATLANTIC CITY -- Shrugging his shoulders, like it was one of those things that happens every so often -- no big deal -- Alex Stewart explained how it was that Mike Tyson crumpled him up like scrap paper in 2 minutes 27 seconds. Bang. Zoom.
"I just got caught," Stewart said.
First, on Tyson's fourth punch of the fight, an overhand right.
"He caught me early," Stewart said.
Then twice more before the end of the first round, another right and a left hook. All megaton bombs.
Gamely, Stewart kept getting up, though on the third time it didn't matter, because of the three-knockdown rule that automatically ended the bout. If there was a six-knockdown rule, Stewart might have gotten up a few more times.
Stewart's resilience didn't astound Tyson. "I knew he was a tough fighter," Tyson said. "But I also knew he wasn't gonna keep getting up for long."
More often than not, when Tyson hits you, you stay hit.
"I just got caught, that's all," Stewart said.
Yeah, and dragged, tagged and bagged.
In his second comeback fight since Buster Douglas left him squatting on all fours, searching for his mouthpiece, Tyson was as furious as he'd ever been. Acting like he hadn't been fed since Columbus Day, Tyson charged across the ring at Stewart, heaving enraged haymakers. The first two, a combination, missed. Then, he connected on a jab -- his first and last of the bout. Less than 10 seconds into the fight, Tyson sat Stewart down with the big right.
Having imposed his strength and pace on his opponent, Tyson swung wildly in search of a knockout. Once, he threw an errant roundhouse right with such force that he literally spun himself onto the canvas -- like something out of a "Popeye" cartoon; ringsiders half expected him to crash through the ring floor and leave behind a cutout of himself.
After the second knockdown, Tyson had more than half the round remaining to close Stewart out, and he deliberately stalked him, clubbing away. When Stewart inevitably buckled, it felt as if a tornado had torn through the Convention Center; you wouldn't seek the ring doctor as much as a forest ranger to check for storm damage. (Trump update: The Donald ambled in with a serious blond bimbette -- just a good friend, no doubt -- who was wearing a plunging neckline, exposed shoulders, hot cha-cha plum party dress, which, considering The Donald's financial stress, may have been a rental.)
The many who had insisted Stewart had no chance were proven correct. They'd scoffed at the bout because Stewart is notorious for starting slow and allowing himself to get hit, a suicidal parlay against Tyson. "The only way I can see Tyson winning is to knock me out," Stewart said beforehand, which shows you how prescient a boxer can be. "If I'd made it through the first round, I most probably would have gone all the way," Stewart said afterward, which shows you how dopey a boxer can be after a few bricks to the noggin.
This was Tyson's 19th first-round knockout, an almost inconceivable total in 40 fights. It was also the third first-round KO of the four feature bouts on the Don King Mismatch-Maker card. King would match an Airedale against Molly Ringwald if he thought he could sell six tickets. The fights were so brief we got to see only one almost dressed ring-card girl. Preposterously, Simon Brown was sent against Ozzie O'Neil, who'd drawn once, and been knocked out four times in his last five fights. Fortunately, the referee stopped the bout after 1:57, and brought a stool into the middle of the ring for O'Neil to sit on. Seriously, how often do you hear sportswriters yelling "Stop it!" from ringside? Razor Ruddock, the No. 2 heavyweight who is next in line for Tyson, went 2:37 with the pacific Mike Rouse, initially disorienting Rouse with a blow to the shoulder -- hey, forget about headgear, let's equip boxers with shoulder pads -- then banging him out with an uppercut Robo Cop II would not have weathered. Unbeaten welterweight (73-0) Julio Cesar Chavez toiled the longest, nearly three rounds, before Kyung Duk Ahn spit out his mouthpiece and said the Korean equivalent of "No mas."
You might think people paying hundreds of dollars a ticket would get peeved at another first-round Tyson KO, but they don't. Indeed it's his sudden, brutal power they come to see -- to be awed and slightly terrified by him, like the sense of danger that attracts people to the shore during a hurricane. Watching Tyson on TV you miss how palpably ferocious he can be, how exciting, how electric his presence is in the ring. There's nobody like him in boxing.
Invariably, the buzz before a Tyson fight concentrates solely on Tyson, and disregards his opponent under the principle that a hale, healthy, focused Tyson can beat anyone alive, including Steven Segall. Against Stewart, the concerns, however mild, centered on Tyson's rustiness -- since losing to Douglas in February Tyson had boxed but one round, against deer-in-the-headlights Henry Tillman -- and Tyson's allegedly flickering desire to regain his title.
Everybody busies himself looking for clues into Tyson's psyche. Is he happy with King? Is he happy without Robin Givens? Is he going to be a key grip with Spike Lee? Can he do "The Bartman?" Revisionism about Tyson holds that he must have been distracted for the Douglas bout, because after Douglas's irredeemable non-effort against Evander Holyfield, how else can you explain Iron Mike losing to such a weenie?
Post-Douglas, King christened the Tillman fight, "The Road Back." It lasted only 2:47. King probably felt he hadn't gotten his money's worth on the concept, so he dubbed the Stewart fight, "The Hard Road Back." How hard could it have been at 2:27? Against Razor Ruddock we might look for "The Smooth, Clean, Close Road Back," as King again recycles. But regardless which road he's on, Tyson is back.