ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- The back-room maneuverings between powerful boxing promoters Dan Duva and Rock Newman early yesterday morning created a lot more sizzle and suspense than the preceding fight at packed Convention Hall in which former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield did everything but knock out journeyman Alex Stewart over 12 repetitive rounds.
Billed as being "bigger, bolder and brighter" by his new trainer, Emanuel Steward, Holyfield, seeking to regain the undisputed title he lost to Riddick Bowe, still resembled a pumped-up cruiserweight lacking a heavyweight's punch.
Said former trainer Lou Duva, "Evander looked bad punching a heavy bag."
Try as he might, Holyfield could not finish Stewart, who adopted a survivor's mode in the pay-per-view fight that started just before midnight. By the time it ended at 12:45 a.m., the crowd of 10,000 was either yawning or booing Holyfield for failing to deliver the fury of a Mike Tyson or the power of a fast-improving Bowe.
"I'm human like everyone else," Holyfield said. "When you feel you're doing your best, naturally being booed will affect you, but I can't let the fans dictate how I'm going to fight.
"I wasn't going to fight Stewart toe-to-toe. I did what was necessary to win against a defensive fighter. When I lost to Bowe, everyone applauded me for putting up a great fight. Now I win, and I get booed. But for me, winning is the bottom line."
But it was difficult for ring-siders imagining Holyfield, even with his added bulk (218 pounds), doing as well against Bowe in a rematch. Still, that did not stop the promoters from their usual plotting and posturing.
Duva and Holyfield's manager, Shelly Finkel, insisted that a rematch with Riddick Bowe, who dethroned Holyfield last year is a done deal. "We've got a contract with Bowe," Finkel said. "We expect it to happen in Las Vegas, Nov. 5.
Duva said: "All Evander had to do was win to guarantee a Bowe fight. He didn't have to be spectacular."
But Newman, who handles Bowe's financial affairs, would prefer a match with Tommy Morrison, looking to sign the latest "White Hope" before he agrees to fight World Boxing Council champion Lennox Lewis. Racially hyped fights between top attractions translate into big money at the box office.
Newman's promotional interest in Morrison goes beyond such sordid reasoning. It happens that Morrison is one of the few sellable heavyweight contenders not linked with Duva, who holds a three-fight option on Bowe, worth 28 percent of gross revenue.
"I figure a Bowe-Morrison fight could get a 'buy rate' of 1 million homes," said Newman, talking in the jargon of pay-per-view television.
"After the way Holyfield looked tonight [Saturday], I don't think a rematch could attract 850,000 homes. Truthfully, I admire Holyfield. But Iwould like to see him retire while he still has his health. I did a tape with Muhammad Ali recently, and it was extremely depressing to see a great, old fighter shaking and mumbling."
Newman also refuted Duva's claim that Bowe has a commitment to fight Holyfield, who is listed as the mandatory title challenger by the World Boxing Association and the International Boxing Federation.
"There is no contractual right that says Bowe must fight Holyfield," Newman said. "Just dismiss it. And as far as a mandatory defense is concerned, we'd just ask for an extension."
To maintain firm control of Bowe, Newman may be content with another HBO outing for his fighter against a heavyweight retread of the Michael Dokes or Jesse Ferguson mold.
A showdown with Lewis, who beat Bowe for the gold medal in the 1988 Olympics, is not likely until 1994. Lewis will keep busy by fighting fellow Englishman Frank Bruno in England this fall.
Meanwhile, it's back to the drawing board for Holyfield.
"It's hard for a man who has been boxing 22 years to learn a new style in a few weeks," said Steward, who guided Tommy Hearns to five world titles.
"Evander was entitled to an off-night, fighting a guy just looking to survive. His next fight, believe me, he'll be stronger and better. Just give him time."
Perhaps Stewart summed up the long evening of fighting best. "Sorry folks," he said stifling a yawn. "But it's well past my bedtime."