Boxing: Stewart's eye on title tilt: Britain's unknown heavyweight boxer has a second chance to impress tomorrow. Ken Jones reports from Atlantic City

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The Independent Online
FOR Lennox Lewis read Alex Stewart. Could have been. Maybe. 'Nobody ever put it to me,' said Stewart, who is thought to be more than just fodder for Evander Holyfield's comeback tomorrow at the Convention Hall here.

Stewart is the 'other' heavyweight, the one who got away. Born in Hammersmith, taken to Jamaica when 14 years old, an Olympian in 1984, and the winner of two New York Golden Gloves championships, he had the credentials Lewis was persuaded to exploit on his way to becoming the first British-born heavyweight this century to hold at least a share of the title.

Not that Stewart, who still holds a British passport, and first took up boxing in London, would have been comfortable with the idea. 'Obviously, it suited Lennox, and things have worked out well for him, but I would have felt a fraud,' he said.

Stewart, a powerful man of 6ft 3in and almost 16st, was sitting in a room overlooking the ocean, and his curiously high-pitched voice bore distinct echoes of west London and the Caribbean. He sounds more British than Lewis, who became a Canadian citizen after leaving West Ham at the age of 12, and is more British than the current domestic champion, Herbie Hide, who was born in Nigeria. When this was put to Stewart, he smiled. 'Sometimes I'm not sure what I am,' he added, 'but I know it wouldn't have suited me to go back and box over there.'

More pertinently, Stewart has never conveyed the impression that he is entirely sure about himself. A professional for almost seven years, he had 23 straight victories inside the distance when matched with Holyfield, who was then building up from cruiserweight, here in November 1989. Tentative in the early rounds, a characteristic that is still held against him, Stewart looked out of his class against the future heavyweight champion until he shook him and began to make a fight of it. From then on it was a war that Stewart lost on a badly cut eye in the eighth round.

Little more than a year later, Stewart found himself in the ring with Mike Tyson, who was attempting to rebuild his reputation after sensationally losing the undisputed title to James 'Buster' Douglas in Tokyo. This time Stewart did not have time to look tentative. He was overwhelmed in the first round, unable to withstand the brutal assault Tyson launched from the opening bell. 'I went into that fight with a lot of doubts,' he said. This did not make Stewart unique among Tyson's opponents, but it reinforced the view that he was too diffident in the ring to realise his potential. 'Now I know that Alex is a British heavyweight,' an American critic said cynically.

Stewart's other two defeats in a total of 36 professional contests came against Michael Moorer and George Foreman, who narrowly outpointed him in Las Vegas 14 months ago. 'That loss turned things around for me,' he claims.

'George hurt me early on and the doubts crept back again. I knew it was all or nothing, so I just piled into him, and I still don't know how he was able to stay on his feet. It's rare to get a second chance in this business, to find yourself in an eliminator for the heavyweight championship after messing things up. But physically and mentally, I'm much better developed.'

For this contest - he is a 2-9 underdog and is getting dollars 400,000 (pounds 272,000) to Holyfield's dollars 3.2m - Stewart trained for seven weeks in the Catskill mountains in upstate New York, where he sparred 110 rounds. 'I don't look back with any serious regrets, but it's one thing thinking you can beat anybody, and another proving it. What I'm looking at here is a title shot.'

Returning things to normal in the heavyweight division, Riddick Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, this week filed a dollars 25m lawsuit against Dan Duva, who holds a 28 per cent promotional interest in the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation champions' next three fights. This was part of the deal Newman agreed with Duva to get Bowe the title fight with Holyfield last November. 'Rock is trying to wangle better terms for a rematch against Holyfield, but his signature is there on the contract,' Duva said. This supposes that Holyfield will account for Stewart.

In the circumstances Stewart ought not to find it amusing, but he does. 'It puts all the pressure on Evander,' he said, an odd conclusion in view of the fact that Holyfield, a God-fearing man, has amassed in excess of dollars 70m and is fighting merely to keep himself amused. 'I'm in a position to mess up all their plans,' Stewart added.

Also he has been persuaded to pay more attention to boxing affairs in his homeland. According to Stewart's manager, Jim Furnell, there was talk last year of a contest against Frank Bruno. 'I don't know whether Mickey Duff was serious, but in any case he wasn't talking our sort of money,' Furnell said. Lewis versus Stewart very much appeals to Furnell. 'You don't chase Santa Claus back up the chimney,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)

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