|Alex “The Destroyer” Stewart: “I’m a champion in my heart”
INTERVIEW By Sean Newman (Dec 6, 2006)
He is perhaps one of the most underappreciated and underrated heavyweight contenders of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, however, he did leave an impression, even if it was on the face of George Foreman. You see, on April 11, 1992, Alex Stewart, after being knocked down twice in the second round, got up to pound Foreman’s face into an unrecognizable mess. Still, he lost a narrow decision and would never again seriously contend for a heavyweight title.
Stewart, a member of the 1984 Jamaican Olympic team, ran off a series of wins by knockout, earning himself the moniker “The Destroyer,” before losing on a cut in a spirited effort against future heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. Following that, Stewart would lose to Mike Tyson in Tyson’s second fight following the loss to Buster Douglas and then lose another war against Michael Moorer.
Today, Stewart is a beneficiary of the F.I.S.T. organization which was spearheaded by Gerry Cooney. Here, he shares his thoughts on his career, how things might have been, and his involvement with F.I.S.T.
SN: Hi Alex, what have you been up to lately?
I’ve been living life, trying to enjoy my family and getting on with my life.
SN: No plans for a comeback, eh?
Never. You know why? I don’t see myself winning the world title or doing something spectacular.
SN: How old are you now, Alex?
SN: Well, you know, Evander Holyfield, a guy you fought twice, is still out there fighting at 44, how do you feel about that?
To each his own, if he wants to do it, let him do it. If you paid me a million dollars a fight, I may consider it. (laughs)
SN: You began your career with 24 straight wins, all by knockout, hence your nickname “The Destroyer.” You had an eight round war with Evander Holyfield in your 25th fight. Recall your memories of that fight for our readers.
I remember that he was very lucky, and I was lucky too. I got hurt in the second round with a good shot and I came back. I got caught, I’d never been caught like that in a major fight before so it distracted me.
SN: You were Mike Tyson’s second opponent on his comeback after his loss to Buster Douglas. You were stopped in the first round. Was that a result of nerves or was Tyson just that good?
He just caught me with a good shot, that was it, on the top of the head. I just couldn’t recover. I got up and I was ready to fight, I just got knocked down. Of course I was nervous. Anyone would be nervous. You’re going to fight Mike Tyson, this was a major fight, not an everyday fight. People come to you and tell you all kinds of stuff and you get put on the spot. Even if you’re not nervous, the people around you can make you feel nervous. They tell you stuff…Mike Tyson’s this, Mike Tyson’s that, that’s what you hear. You constantly see Mike Tyson in the news, what he does, what he doesn’t do, that kind of stuff.
SN: You had another war with Michael Moorer in which you had him rocked on a few occasions. Please tell us what happened in that fight and whether you would have done anything differently if you had it to do over again.
I hate fighting southpaws. That’s my first thing, I wouldn’t want to fight southpaws. I told my manager I’m not a good southpaw fighter. He did a good job. Michael Moorer surprised me. I didn’t think he had that much power, I didn’t think he was big enough to take punishment, but he did, and he came out victorious. Looking back, I could have used more right hands. He was perfect for the right hand. In the beginning, he just got off before I could and he had that southpaw style that gave me difficulty. But now, looking back, I figure fighting southpaws is easier because I know what to do.
SN: In 1992, you fought George Foreman. Although you were knocked down twice, you got back into the fight and lost a controversial decision. That is a memorable fight for fans because your punches totally disfigured the face of Foreman. What were your thoughts about the decision?
I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t happy at all. I figured that I did my best and I didn’t leave anything behind. Everyone had me counted out before we got into the ring. They thought I would be knocked out in the first or second round, this was a warm-up for a world title fight. They thought, okay, he lost to Michael Moorer, he’s damaged goods. They underestimated me and tried to tell me what I could and could not do.
SN: You were very humble in the post fight interview with Larry Merchant. Why weren’t you more outspoken?
If you ever see or have a fight, and you get dropped, and the referee starts counting, you have to get up. You can’t complain and say “that wasn’t a knockdown!” He doesn’t care. Nobody is going to do anything about it. You have to
get back in the fight and carry on with the fight. When I fought Foreman, let’s be real. If it wasn’t George Foreman and it was somebody else, they would have stopped the fight or I would have won a decision, and my life would be different today.
SN: That was actually the next question I was going to ask you. How do you think your career and your life might have changed had you gotten the nod in that fight?
My life would have been a lot different. My next couple of fights would have set me for life. I wouldn’t have to worry about money or anything else for the rest of my life. But hey, that’s life. That’s the way it goes, it’s a journey with ups and downs.
SN: Despite beating some good opponents and having only lost to the best, you never received a title shot. Why was this, and how did you feel about being passed over for less deserving challengers?
To me, I did what was best for me at the time. People don’t realize that it’s easy to say ‘wait for a title shot, fight for a title.’ But when you agree to do that, you have to sit on the shelf for six to twelve months, and for me, I was a poor person who needed to provide for my family and pay my bills. If I had a job on the side, I could have sat down for six months. I needed to fight to make a living. I had to look at it from a business standpoint. I had to work, so I fought often. If I didn’t have to do that, I could have taken a shot. I had to fight, or I had nothing.
SN: Do you still follow boxing, and if so, what is your assessment of the current heavyweight division?
I follow boxing a lot, especially today when I look at these Russian champions. I think it’s matured into a decent era, but I think a lot of people are lucky, because the knowledge isn’t there as it used to be. We had a lot better teachers, like Georgie Benton and Eddie Futch who was the best ever. A lot of these trainers had the type of techniques and styles that would give these big fighters trouble today. A 6’6” guy can’t fight inside. At that height, you need room to punch. Now, don’t get me wrong, they’re going to hit you hard, once they get room. You have to be able to take a punch. But still, if you get inside, they can’t fight. People are always going for the head. Whatever happened to “kill the body, and the head will fall?” I don’t hear that anymore. I don’t see any fighters punching at their height anymore. Everyone’s going for the head, why not go for the chest, punch at your level. Punch at your range, not his range. People are getting hit with shots wound up from yesterday. Wait a minute, talk about telegraphing your punches! Fighters now, look at their condition, some are good, but some are poor.
Shannon Briggs, for example, he was losing the fight and his condition was terrible but one big punch ended it. That tells you that it’s not as promising as it was before back in the days of a Riddick Bowe or Evander Holyfield. If you hurt Evander Holyfield in the 12th round, he still comes back. These guys, you hurt them in the first round, they have no conditioning. I see the natural growth in the division with the stronger punches, but I don’t see the development and technique. I watched Klitschko fight Calvin Brock, and Brock did not know how to fight the guy. He just got outjabbed, and you can’t let a guy like that, that tall, outjab you. You got to stay close, you can’t give a guy like that distance. Knowledge-wise, I’ve been trained by the best, I’ve seen different styles, I’ve been trained by the best, so when I watch a boxing match, I think to myself, “this guy, if he had more time, if he had a better training system, he’d be a much better fighter.”
SN: You speak a lot about education of fighters. Have you ever thought about becoming a trainer yourself?
It’s hard. (laughs) It’s hard to become a trainer unless you’re involved in a system. If I’ve involved in a system where I have fighters on a regular basis, then it would be okay. But I need money to survive.
SN: Let’s talk about your life after boxing. You are one of the success stories of F.I.S.T., the organization created by Gerry Cooney to support fighters after retirement. Tell us about your journey after boxing, how it led you to F.I.S.T. and what that organization has done for you.
I heard about F.I.S.T. through other fighters, and I wondered what they did. I found out that they helped ex-fighters to rehabilitate and come back to society. They were the only ones I knew about, I didn’t know about all the ones now. I thought, sounds good, I need help, and I’m a retired fighter and I need to do something after boxing. I called them up, and I met Mike Smith. Of course, I already knew Gerry Cooney because we had the same manager. I met some guys at a ShoBox card in Manhattan and they told me what they were about, and it sounded good to me. What can you do for me? They asked ‘what would you like to do?’ I said I’d like to build a career doing something else, and they suggested driving school. That sounded like a good challenge so I went to driving school and got my license and started driving trucks. I did that for awhile, and things were going fine. Then I had a person commit suicide right in front of me, and then I got off the road for awhile and came back.
I was in Florida at the time, and then some hurricanes came so I went back to New York. I’ve been up here and hooked up with F.I.S.T. and giving advice about things that concern fighters today. I go to the meetings and seminars, and it’s helped me.
SN: Is there any advice you would give to young boxers coming up today, either for training or planning for life after boxing?
(laughs) Start early. Even if they never need to work after boxing, they should put something aside just in case. When they’re fighting they don’t have a chance to do anything else. They need to have a plan, that always helps. See if they can do something, not only to boost their careers, but to help other fighters along the way too. Just be careful with management. Have a good lawyer. Have a good team; have a good trainer, a good manager before you go into anything. When you get there and you don’t have a good manager, a good trainer, or a good system, that will let you down in the big fights. Look for the best team you can get, someone who knows about boxing and can move them into the top ten.
SN: How would you like to be remembered by fans?
I’d like to be remembered as someone who did their best. Someone who fought and gave all they had. That’s how I’d like to be remembered. Basically, I feel like I’m a champion in my heart because I did all I could do. I fought the best, I didn’t run from anybody. I fought whoever was out there, so I did my best. I want people to know that and not that I just fought to make two pennies. I have no regrets. It was what it was. It would have been nice to get a title, but I did my best. I fought Holyfield for 20 rounds, Foreman for 10, I fought Moorer and Tyson, and did all I could do. When I fought Moorer, I was sick, I had problems, but…that’s neither here nor there. You can’t make excuses after the fight. You lost, and that’s it.
SN: Thanks so much for your time, Alex, great talking with you.
Writer’s note: I would like to thank Mr. Mike Smith of the F.I.S.T. organization for his assistance in arranging this interview. We at DoghouseBoxing.com encourage all of our readers to visit the F.I.S.T. website and make any contributions you can at www.helpboxers.org.
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