On a Christmas week night in Aspen, Colo., two years ago, Chuck Sturm was comfortably ahead of Anthony Boyle on all three scorecards, needing only to stay out of harm's way for another four minutes to claim the International Boxing Organization Intercontinental title and a passport to significant ring purses.
But in the 11th round, the Baltimore junior welterweight ran into a classic left hook. Suddenly, the fight was over, and Sturm's ring career was put on indefinite hold.
"You learn something new from every fight," he said. "That night Boyle taught me never to drop my right hand coming out of a crouch."
It has taken Sturm, 30, almost 18 months to put his boxing life back in order. Now with a new adviser, Philadelphia-based JTC Harold Moore, and a new trainer, Jerry Boortz of Pasadena, he launches his comeback at Martin's West tonight against Jeff Graffius of Pittsburgh in an eight-round bout.
"I'd thought seriously about quitting," said Sturm (28-4-1), a popular area club fighter the past decade. "But boxing is in my blood, and I couldn't get rid of the itch.
"I've become more spiritual, and I asked God to lead and guide me. I'm going to give boxing all I've got the rest of this year, and I'll know if it's meant to be. My wife, Tracy, is expecting our first child in November. That's given me added incentive."
Still, it will seem odd looking in Sturm's corner and not seeing the familiar faces of Frank Gilbert and Jimmy Hines of the Loch Raven gym, who served respectively as his manager and trainer since he turned pro in 1985 after an outstanding amateur career.
A strain developed between Sturm and Gilbert when the manager got only 10 percent of his $10,000 purse for fighting Boyle due to a disappointing crowd. But they parted without malice, and Sturm says the break had more to do with training.
"Things were getting stale in the gym," he said. "I just didn't think I was learning anything to make me a better fighter," he said.
Boortz, a kick boxer, has emphasized lifting weights and swimming to improve Sturm's endurance.
In the ring, changes also are being made. Sturm, who won most of his past fights on heart and conditioning, now is claiming to punch "straighter and harder."
The commitment is evident. The fighter rises at 1 a.m. to begin his full-time job as a truck driver for a refuse company, with his route stretching from Elkton to the Eastern Shore.
"Most nights, I come home, eat, and I'm in bed by 8 o'clock," he said. "It's far from easy, but I'm used to the grind. And if I'm going to do anything in boxing, it's now or never."