The Return of Mike Stewart!
by Rick Scharmberg
The career of Michael "No Joke" Stewart has come full circle.
After experiencing the high and lows of the sport in his ten-year professional career, Stewart, 28, returns home to Delaware this Thursday night, where he will take on Mexico's Roberto Valenzuela at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino. "It feels really good to be fighting at home, and I'm looking forward to selling it out. I haven't fought since February, and I'm ready to rumble," said Stewart.
Stewart (39-5-2, 23 KOs) will be returning to the scene of the high point of his 46-fight career. Back on March, 21, 2003, Stewart took the vacant USBA Junior Welterweight title with a seventh round knockout over Philadelphia's Charles "Chucky T" Tschorniawsky.
He defended that title twice by knockout against former world champ Terronn Millet and once-formidable Ivan Robinson. More importantly, as holder of the USBA belt, Stewart earned a spot in the IBF - the parent organization of the USBA - top ten. Eventually reaching the top-five, Stewart was looking at some big money fights.
"I always wanted Arturo Gatti," Stewart recalls. "That would have been a great fight. It would be an even better fight now."
Instead, Stewart was offered a fight with Sharmba Mitchell for Mitchell's IBF Interim title at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester, England.
Fighting for the first time outside of the United States, Stewart was game, but lost a lopsided decision.
Six months later, Stewart found himself in the same ring, this time against pound-for-pound entrant Ricky Hatton. Stewart never had a chance to get into the fight, and was stopped for the first time in his career. Hatton, on the other hand, went on to win the IBF Junior Welterweight Championship, as well as the WBA Welterweight crown. "I lost to Ricky Hatton," said Stewart, "But I'm not going to cry over spilled milk. I would fight him again."
Another tough loss, a split decision to Juan Carlos Rubio, in what was a thrilling bout, was sandwiched between two early knockout victories. After stopping Omar Bernal in one at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino on July 15, 2005, Stewart sort of disappeared from the scene. We found out why soon enough.
Mike Stewart was selected to appear on The Contender, a boxing reality show run by Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard, and featured on ESPN. Although his fights were aired in August and September, they actually took place in January and February 2006. Significantly, the bouts took place at a 149-pound weight limit, nearly two weight classes higher than Stewart's 140-pound junior welterweight.
On January 27, Stewart fought Ebo Elder, and won with a spectacular one-punch, come-from-behind knockout. The reaction to that fight, and the human side about how the Elder and Stewart families became close drew the highest ratings on the show's internet polls.
Stewart said, "I gave Ebo a $7,000 necklace. I had two, so I gave him one for his wife and one to my wife. I gave away everything I got from the show, even the watch. The only thing I kept was the necklace with the gloves."
Stewart injured his rotator cuff in his bout with Ebo Elder, and he had to fight eventual Contender champion Grady "Bad Boy" Brewer, who fought nearly all his career at 154 pounds and above. "It's hard to beat Grady in a five-round fight. I'm no five-round fighter. I hurt my shoulder big time against Ebo, but I had to continue. I'm not going to cry about it," he said.
When asked if would do The Contender again, Mike replied, "Yeah, but at 140 pounds, not 149. I couldn't make 149. I couldn't even make 147. I was 142 pounds when I went out there." He added, "You know the trainer Tommy Gallagher? My uncle put him in the Teamsters years ago, it's true. The money has to be right for me to fight at 147 again. I fought Hatton, Mitchell when he was better, so the money has got to be right. This will be my 47th pro fight. I have to get past this fight [with Valenzuela] first," said Stewart.
His opponent on Thursday, Roberto Valenzuela (38-26-2, 34 KOs) is an unknown commodity to Stewart. "I'll find out in the first round. I know he fought Spivey, but if he stands right in front of me and don't move, he's going to sleep."
Dorin Spivey, who took a decision over Valenzuela in his last bout, handed Stewart his first loss, by split decision in 2002 at the Arts Palace in Philadelphia. To that, Stewart commented, "Spivey won a split decision, but two of those judges were way off base. He out-hustled me, but that was then and this is now."
Stewart has been training for this fight for about three months. "I train at Champs Gym in Philadelphia. I don't mess around. I spar with a lot of the younger guys who are fresh and have something to prove, and with Omar Pittman. He can fight. I've been getting my work in at the gym."
Without looking past the fight at hand, Stewart was asked about his future. He replied, "I might fight Aaron Torres at the Spectrum in February. We both fought on The Contender, so that would be a big fight. I would also like to fight Junior Witter, or that guy who just won the WBA title, Souleyman M'Baye. My promoter, Russell Peltz, has something planned for me. Torres and Rubio, I want to get that fight (with Rubio) back."
Stewart will headline Thursday's show with his older brother, Richard. He assessed his brother's career like this, "I wish he wouldn't have started so late. He is fighting at 175, but I wish he could be 160. I saw him go to 147 once." Richard will be fighting an immediate rematch with Ron Boddie, whom he beat by decision. Mike replied, "I wish he wasn't fighting him again. He already beat him once. Rich can make it if he is moved right. He's 30 years old, but he can make some money."
Outside of boxing, Stewart has his own residential construction business, No Joke LLC. "It's doing well," said Stewart of his business. "I just came home from working. We do roofing, drywall, painting, and carpentry, and I have an electrician who is real good."
Stewart lives in New Castle, Delaware, with his wife Lisa and daughters Brittney and Jasmine.