Q&A with Mixed Martial Arts Fighter Mike Stewart

Mixed martial arts champ and Westchester Fight Club instructor Mike Stewart hopes to make it into the Ultimate fighting championship and that, by then, pro MMA will be legal (again) in New York.



Photo by John Rizzo

What are your stats and record?
I’m thirty-two. I fight at two hundred five pounds. If I’m standing on my toes, I’m six feet. My pro record is eight and three—five submissions and three knockouts.

You went from Harrison High School wrestling champ to pro jujitsu fighter. What made you switch to mixed martial arts [MMA]?
MMA was mostly underground and I wasn’t interested; it was basically a bar fight, and I could do that at Rory Dolan’s for free. But after the government stepped in and regulated everything with rules and weight classes, it became more interesting. Meanwhile, jujitsu got boring, especially when I knew that, with MMA, I could punch people, too. It was like, ‘This is cool, but that’s cooler!’

Have the rules and regulations made MMA better, or taken the fun out of it?
It’s for the best. I’m very proud of what I do and consider it a sport. When I tell people that I’m an MMA fighter—which I try not to—there’s this look on their face like, ‘You’re an animal.’ But you’re just trying to make a living. You’re not trying to hurt your opponent. Stuff does happen—it’s violence. But, when it’s at its highest levels, it’s an amazing chess match. When you see it all culminate and come together, it’s incredible.

Wrestling is your strength. What is your weakness?
My stand-up. As a wrestler, it’s a whole different world. It took a lot of time and money for me to get it. It’s baby steps. And, to do it all under the bright lights...

So, the celebrity aspect of it has been hard to deal with?
It’s the awkward moments, like shopping in the grocery store with my wife and someone notices me. Today, I was running and this guy pulled across Yonkers Avenue with his pick-up and yelled, ‘You’re an MMA fighter! Stop!’ And I’m like, ‘I’m in the middle of a workout. I can’t stop!’

What are your fan encounters like?
Fighting is one of the most primal and basic things—almost everyone has been in a fight. The problem with that is everyone has an opinion on fighting. When I was on The Ultimate Fighter, everyone seemed to tune in to the episode I lost on. I had a million people come up to me afterward. Some were polite, but most were Monday-morning quarterbacking, saying, ‘You know what you should have done?’ I’ve never shown up at anyone else’s job and told them, ‘You’re doing a good job, but I’d slice that meat a little differently…’ Police and professional athletes are the two most Monday-morning quarterbacked jobs in the world.

How does your wife handle your career?
You have to give her a lot of props. I was a union steelworker. It’s not the easiest thing to hear that your fiancé wants to give up a good job on a gamble, and take a shot at becoming a pro fighter. I’ve had numerous injuries. The fights that go on to the later rounds really wear on her—she looks like she’s about to lose it. I try to finish my fights early just so she doesn’t freak.

Do you have a favorite move?
I’ve got a bunch of wins with my north-south choke, which is a cheesy little choke from the front. The move isn’t flashy, but it breaks their will and it gets the job done.

You’re currently the light-heavyweight champ in the Reality Fighting league. What is your ultimate goal—to get into the UFC?
Yeah, that’s the big show. I’m chipping away at it. I’ve put a lot of effort into my boxing and Muay Thai boxing. It’s tough, though—my body is killing me. But I love what I do, so it’s never work to me.