Alex Stewart was one of boxing’s true good guys
Professional boxers beat people up for a living. But some of them are among the nicest people you’ll ever meet.
Alex Stewart, who died on November 16 at the much-too-young age of 52, was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
Stewart was born in England on June 28, 1964. The son of Jamaican immigrants, he grew up in London and was athletically gifted as a child.
“I started boxing to please people,” Stewart told me years ago. “It made me feel good to have someone come over to me after I won and say, ‘Nice fight, congratulations.’ Then I saw Sugar Ray Leonard at the Olympics in Montreal. From that day on, I wanted to be an Olympic fighter. I told my mum, and she laughed at me. She said, ‘You’re 12 years old and you’re not going to any Olympics in boxing.’ But when I was 15, my parents moved back to Jamaica and that made me more determined than ever to reach my goal.”
Representing Jamaica, Stewart won a bronze medal in the 1983 Pan Am Games. Then, fighting under the Jamaican flag at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, he fulfilled his dream, scoring a second-round knockout in his first bout before losing by decision to a more-experienced foe.
Two years later, Stewart turned pro under the guidance of co-managers Jim Fennell and Mike Jones. He won his first 24 fights by knockout over the usual suspects. But he was slow, even for a heavyweight. That was painfully clear on November 4, 1989, when he stepped up the level of competition and was stopped by another undefeated fighter – Evander Holyfield – in the eighth round.
The first four losses in Stewart’s career were against Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Michael Moorer and George Foreman. He is the only man to have fought all four of them. His final ring record was 43-10 (40 knockouts); he was stopped seven times. He never won the big fight. But he came close.
On April 11, 1992, Stewart fought Foreman at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
“George is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” Alex said before the bout. “But fighting and eating hamburgers are two different things.”
Foreman dropped Stewart twice in the second round and looked to be en route to an easy triumph. But Stewart fought back behind a punishing jab and beat Foreman’s face into a disfigured bloody mess. The decision could have gone either way. Big George prevailed by a razor-thin 94-93, 94-93, 94-94 margin.
“This guy hurt me,” Foreman acknowledged at the post-fight press conference. “When he hit me, it was like a brick going up against my bones. Such pain. I never want to go through that again as long as I live.”
This from a man who’d fought Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Evander Holyfield and Gerry Cooney before fighting Stewart.
Bill Caplan, who was Foreman’s publicist at that time and has been his friend for years, recalls George looking at his face in the mirror after fighting Stewart and saying, “I can’t go home to my wife looking like this.”
Stewart had a ready smile and almost musical voice.
“As far as hurting my opponent is concerned,” he told me long ago, “that’s not what boxing is about to me at all. I just want to win. I don’t need anger or hate or the other things some fighters use to motivate themselves. In the ring, I take care of business; that’s all. Some fighters, when they knock an opponent down and see him struggling to get up, they want him to make it so they can hit him again. I’m not like that. I want the guy to stay down so I can win. Hey, if I wanted him standing up, I wouldn’t have knocked him down to begin with.”
There was sadness in the boxing community when Stewart died. “He was a sweet guy,” longtime boxing writer Ron Borges said. “If ever anyone was miscast as a fighter, Alex Stewart was the guy.” Jerry Izenberg, the dean of American sportswriters, was in accord, noting, ”Alex was a pretty good fighter and a great great guy.”
And what of the man whose face Stewart beat into a swollen bloody mess? On the day I heard that Alex had died, I reached out to George Foreman.
“Meeting Alex Stewart the first time was special for me, both of us being Olympians,” George said. “Our first meeting was in Houston while I was in retirement [in the mid-1980s]. It was all joy. The next time we met, it was to announce we’d be fighting. We fought, and it was a brutal night for me. I had Alex down twice. Thinking the fight was over, I eased up a bit. Alex let me know he truly was fit. It was all I could do to keep him off me. When the match was over, you’d never tell who the winner was by our faces. Alex had me looking like the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz. I’ll never forget his will and desire to compete. Yet I will always remember him and our first meeting; just a cheerful boy who wanted to make a name for himself and his family. Going to miss him.”
Alex Stewart is part of boxing history. May he be respectfully and fondly remembered.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at [email protected] His most recent book – “A Hard World: An inside Look at Another Year in Boxing” – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.