In pro boxing, being on the road for a fight is usually not a good sign.
On May 19, in Dover, Del., few in the crowd cheered for Salt Lake City welterweight Chris "Kid Kayo" Fernandez. The star was Michael "No Joke" Stewart, Delaware favorite with a glitzy record (48-7-3), former TV star on "The Contender." That night, everything was in place for Stewart to win the World Boxing Union welterweight championship.
There was just one cog in the wheel, though. His opponent, out-of-towner "Kid Kayo" Fernandez, was preparing from a different script. Before a stunned crowd, Fernandez easily defeated Stewart, winning a unanimous decision and the world championship.
"Man the feeling is surreal! God is good. I wanted to be a world champion. Not a state, regional or international champion but a world champion and He will give you what your heart desires," said Fernandez, (20-15-1) recalling the title fight.
"It was nothing new to me fighting in someone's cave or backyard. It wasn't the first time so there was no pressure on me at all. I was prepared to die in the ring that night because there was no way I was going to lose. Just do what I do best. Fight!"
"We were just ready for the fight," says Eddie "Flash" Newman, a local martial arts expert who trains Fernandez. "Chris hit him with a hard right hand early in the fight" and from that point dominated, he added.
The win over Stewart, along with the title, is the culmination of a dream Fernandez has had for almost 30 years.
Fernandez, 36, first entered the gym at age 7. Like many kids of that era, his heroes included famed boxers Archie Moore, Roberto Duran, Joe Louis and Marvin Hagler. As an amateur, he was 99-9, with seven national tournament appearances. He started his career with a 14-3 record but the past five years, as he's moved into out-of-town fights against world-class competition, wins have been scarcer. Prior to the win over Stewart, Fernandez had lost eight of his previous 10 fights. The losses, however, were all against world-class boxers.
To get a proper idea of the ferocious competition that "Kid Kayo" has faced in his career, one only has to look at the combined records of the fighters who have handed Fernandez his past 10 losses. It is 164 wins and only eight losses.
It was the quality of Fernandez' opposition, and his reputation as one of the toughest journeyman fighters today, that earned him the chance to meet -- and defeat Stewart.
Greg Hughes, a member of the Utah State Legislature who has advised Chris in the past in his boxing career, was thrilled to see Fernandez gain a world title.
"What an incredible achievement for Chris! Former WBU champs include Tommy Hearns, Micky Ward, Ricky Hatton, George Foreman, and James Toney. Unlike these legendary fighters, Chris took the path least travelled," says Hughes.
A new world champion, Fernandez is mulling his options. There's been talk of a rematch with Stewart, perhaps in Utah. Fernandez has fought often in the Top of Utah, including Ogden. Another option is a trip east to face Pittsburgh's Paul Spadafora, who has an impressive 45-0-1 record. Newman, who says his phone is ringing off the hook with offers for Chris's next fight, wants to have his first defense of the WBU belt in Utah in a few months.
Whatever happens, Fernandez is enjoying being a champion.
"My advice for young fighters is to be a sponge and soak up as much knowledge as possible to get better. I don't care who you are and your background. You have to get better if you want to be successful in this sport," advises Fernandez. He recalls a long ago visit with the late boxing great Joe Frazier, who described boxing as "the truth sport."
Adds Fernandez, "He (Frazier) said if you cut corners then it can be a painful lesson to learn. This is a gladiator sport so you have to be 100 percent prepared every time you step in the ring."
On May 19, Fernandez was 100 percent prepared, and it earned him a title that can never be erased from record books.