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Legendary Tyson charges back with a vengeance


ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- The boulder-size chip is back on Mike Tyson's shoulder, and that pretty much wraps it up for the heavyweight division until, or if, it falls off again.

When Tyson is mad at the world, the guy in the ring with him usually pays for it. This time it was Alex Stewart, who didn't get it, even after he got it. "I just get caught," Stewart said afterward in explanation. "I just get caught."

Richard Nixon got caught. Michael Milken got caught. Stewart, who suggested that his short stay in the ring Saturday night was some sort of aberration, got clobbered. He didn't get hit with one lucky punch. He got hammered with one unluckily fierce punch after another, getting knocked down three times in the first round to end the fight. If there hadn't been a three-knockdown rule, Tyson might have killed him, which is what he had predicted he'd do. See -- the old Tyson.

The action was so ferocious that Tyson actually knocked himself down when one huge right hand missed the mark. The force of the punch pulled Tyson downward -- as if he were caught in a whirlpool -- and it looked for all the world as if he might screw himself right into the ring, where they'd have to excavate him. All you could think of was Popeye -- I yam who I yam.

This was the Tyson of legend, a force of such frightening malevolence that it seemed nothing could contain it, until Buster Douglas knocked Tyson out. Then he was suddenly human. Too human. He had been spoiled by the good, good life, by the rich life, by the dozens of cars and the big houses and too much booze and too many women. He looked as if he had tossed it all away, leaving him with nothing but the cars, the houses, the women and about $100 million.

But he wanted more. He wanted to be Mike Tyson again. He especially wanted it after Douglas' embarrassing performance against Evander Holyfield made Tyson's loss to Douglas even more humiliating. People were now laughing at Tyson.

And so, after a not-so-impressive first-round knockout of Henry Tillman, Tyson stepped into the ring against Stewart, a legitimate opponent who was 26-1 with 26 knockouts and his only loss coming in a hard-fought match against Evander Holyfield. The first clue as to what might happen -- aside from quotes suggesting that, though he had nothing against Stewart personally, Tyson planned to kill him -- came from the referee just before the opening bell. "Stay in your corner, Mike," the ref warned to a Tyson ready to charge.

Tyson wanted at Stewart, and the start was Indy-like: Gentlemen, start your fists. It took Tyson four punches, and maybe 10 seconds, to knock Stewart straight to the mat. It was that quick -- one huge punch to the side of the head. "I just got caught," Stewart kept insisting.

It had been Stewart's strategy to stand toe to toe with Tyson, but it was more often heel to toe. Stewart's toes, for most of the brief affair, were pointing straight up. Tyson is not the kind of fighter who works with a plan, who jabs here to set up the hook there, who throws the inside fastball to strike a guy out with the curve on the corner. He just muscles up and fires. The punches that missed set off gale-force winds. Tyson knocked Stewart down twice with wild right hands and, finally, with a left that seemed to start somewhere in Brooklyn, which it actually did.

For all his millions, Tyson has been able to convince himself that he's the poor street kid battling the world, one fighter at a time. After the fight, he explained his motivation, especially to those who said he'd lost the fire in the belly.

"I never lost my confidence," he said. "Not even after Tokyo. I never lost my confidence. I never lost my confidence."

The words were almost a whisper that gathered into what might as well have been a roar.

"A lot of people would have loved that to happen," he said. "A young black kid with all that cockiness, all that arrogance. They wanted me to say I lost to a better man. That's [a familiar two-syllable expletive]. I'm the best."

This Mike Tyson is the best. This Mike Tyson takes Evander Holyfield apart. If Holyfield loses to George Foreman, then Foreman finally finds out there's no free lunch. Tyson can't miss Foreman, the world's largest moving target. Tyson would hit Foreman's body until it exploded into a great mass of cheeseburgers.

Of course, Tyson could self-destruct all over again before he gets another championship fight. The violence within that makes him such a dangerous fighter is the same violence that makes his life dangerous, too. But the suspicion is that he'll keep it together. The suspicion is that, despite all that he has, Tyson finally figured out what it is that he lost -- and that he desperately wants it back.

He says he'll fight anyone. That's the old Tyson, too. He'll fight anyone and everyone. He'll fight them one by one or, if they prefer, all at once, until there is no one left. He started with Alex lTC Stewart. The pre-fight ads, in their usual attempt at understatement, said we should pray for Stewart. Ten seconds in, you knew they were right.

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