The fight was less than a minute old when lightweight Tony Ruthledge unleashed a straight left hand that caught Chuck Sturm squarely in the right eye.
The same eye that forced the popular Millersville native out of the ring for 19 months. The same eye that had him seeing double -- and the possible end to his once-promising boxing career.
But as the punch landed, Sturm didn't flinch. He refused to let the eye, and its vulnerability, be a factor.
"Once the bell rang," he said, "that went right out of my mind."
And Sturm went about his business, living up to his nickname of "Pit Bull" by going toe-to-toe with Ruthledge and pounding out a unanimous decision in the eight-round main event of the Round One Promotions card at Michael's Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie Thursday night.
Sturm, 27, who was greeted with a standing ovation and chants of "Chuckie, Chuckie" by the partisan crowd, improved to 24-3-1. RTC Ruthledge, of Columbus, Ohio, either is 8-26, 12-26, or 8-36, depending on whom you ask. But he fought much more valiantly than his records would indicate.
"Records don't mean a thing," Sturm said afterward, and his face backed his words. There was swelling around his left eye and a small abrasion on the bridge of his nose. He landed the most telling blows of the fight, but also caught a few along the way.
"This was a good fight to come back with," he said. "It showed me where I stood. I've got to work on my timing, my lateral movement and getting my punches off better.
"I could have been busier inside, but that comes with inactivity."
There was nothing inactive about the reception that waited for him as he left the ring. He was mobbed by his supporters as he climbed down the steps below his corner, practically upstaging former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, who sat nearby signing autographs and shaking hands.
"It felt great to be back in Glen Burnie," said Sturm. "It brought back a lot of memories."
He would like to bring back memories of the Sturm of a few years earlier, when a higher rate of his punches landed and he could slip those of his opponent with better head movement.
"He looked a little rusty," said Sturm's manager, Frank Gilbert. "I was concerned about how he placed his head. I was concerned about him getting cut, the way Ruthledge was coming in with his head. And he wasn't getting the right hand off like he should. But that's timing."
If Gilbert has his way, Sturm's next test will come against Cleveland's Tommy Hanks, who once fought former lightweight champion Hector "Macho" Camacho. Hanks would be "a step up from Ruthledge," Gilbert said, and a better indicator of how far Sturm has to go before seriously challenging for a title.
Just as important to his local following is the question of how far Sturm will go on the next stage of his comeback.
"We will probably have to take it on the road," Gilbert said. "We're interested in decent opponents, but we're also interested in decent purses."
Ruthledge has seen a few of those in his day, though he's paid a heavy price. He's been knocked out by former champions Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini (first round) and Jimmy Paul (sixth), but at least he went against the norm of a losing fighter Thursday by not arguing the decision.
"I've been in with some of the best, and I took a few of them on short notice, but this guy was pretty good -- no excuses," Ruthledge said. "After the first round, I knew he was in shape. He had a good plan together, and it was just his night tonight."
On the undercard, which featured four other bouts that went the distance, Rockville welterweight Horace Waterson (5-3-1) took a split decision over Baltimore's Robert Taylor (3-2-1) in a six-rounder. Two judges gave Waterson the nod by 58-56 and 58-57 scores, while another favored Taylor, 58-57.
In four-round bouts, super middleweight Sam Berry of Hillcrest Heights won his professional debut with a majority decision over Willie Hugley (0-2) of Columbus, middleweight Greg Harper (3-1-1) of Columbus used his superior hand speed to outscore George Greenhow (3-2-1) of Washington and take a unanimous decision, and heavyweight Paul Ford (3-4) of Columbus also won by unanimous decision over John Keys (7-11) of Baltimore.
Keys, who was a late addition to the card, clearly was the better-conditioned of the two fighters, but his inactivity once inside the ring proved his downfall.