For the past 19 months, Baltimore junior welterweight Chuck Sturm wondered what it would be like to climb back in the ring, land a combination, feel the sting of a solid punch, hear the roar of the crowd and, he hoped, have his hand raised in victory by the referee.
Sturm, 27, will get a chance to experience all of the above tonight when he meets journeyman Tony Rutledge of Columbus, Ohio, in the 10-round main event on the dinner boxing card at Michael's in Glen Burnie.
Once ranked as high as 12th by the U.S. Boxing Association, Sturm has not fought since losing a disputed decision to Vinny Burghese in Atlantic City, N.J., in November 1990.
That time away was caused, he says, by an optic nerve injury to his right eye -- an injury sustained in a freakish camping accident in Western Maryland. He tripped over a log and hit his head on a rock. An ophthalmologist confirmed the damage to his eye.
Sturm, who had established a reputation in the area as an aggressive, crowd-pleasing club fighter, began experiencing blurred vision.
A boxer since he began accumulating championship trophies in Glen Burnie as an 8-year-old, 60-pound tyro, Sturm hungered for a chance to fight again and "become a contender."
"Boxing has always been in my blood," he said. "Sure, I can use the extra money, but I really missed the competition, the training, the sparring, the roadwork, just getting back in the swing of things."
Three months ago, Sturm said the double vision suddenly disappeared, and he began his comeback plans. But during his time off, he had ballooned to 155 pounds.
"My wife, Stacey, put me on a strict no-fat diet, and now I'm down to 137, feeling stronger and sharper than ever," he said.
Frank Gilbert, Sturm's longtime trainer-manager, is not taking any unnecessary risks. Rutledge has a professional record of 8-35, dating back to 1982, but several of his losses came against the likes of Ray Mancini, Jimmy Paul, Calvin Grove and Kenny Baysmore.
Matchmaker Josh Hall describes Rutledge as "a durable fighter" who has been overmatched most of his career.
"After being off 19 months, I'm not crazy enough to put Chuck in with a tiger," said Gilbert. "But if he comes out of this OK, and wins a few more fights, we'll be looking to fight a ranking fighter."
The Maryland Athletic Commission has approved Sturm to fight again, relying on his examination by ophthalmologist Thomas O'Rourk Jr.
"We won't put Chuck through another extensive eye exam," said commission secretary Dennis Gring. "He'll only have the usual neurological examination all fighters get."
The six-bout card will start at 8:15 p.m. Tickets are $35, $30 and $20 (boxing only).
NOTES: Cruiserweight Lou Benson will have a commission hearing today on his appeal of a "quick count" in being stopped in the ninth round by Jason Waller, of Virginia, at the Pikesville Armory, April 15. Benson contends referee Karl Milligan never counted to 10. Milligan says he stopped the match, not bothering to finish the count, although it was Benson's first trip to the canvas. . . . Baltimore's Percy Harris, the IBF's Intercontinental middleweight champion, is pondering a July match against super-middleweight contender Merqui Sosa.