UFC hopeful Kyle Stewart dedicates his fights to veterans
TEMPE, Ariz. — Some fight for money. Others fight for glory and legacy. Kyle Stewart fights to show veterans across the country that they can accomplish great things and find a purpose after life in the military.
Stewart is an Arizona-based mixed martial artist who has fought as a welterweight in a variety of promotions and organizations throughout the country. The red-haired striker stands just under six feet tall. He grew up in the Valley and went to Mesa Dobson High School. Before he ever walked into the cage, Stewart was a machine-gunner for the United States Marine Corps. He stepped away from the military after eight years and three tours in Afghanistan to pursue fighting full time.
“I started martial arts when I was four or five years old,” Stewart recalled. “I’ve always loved martial arts and think it’s something I’ve always been good at.”
The Arizonan mentioned fighting nearly a dozen times as an amateur while he was still in the Marine Corps. Once those wins started accumulating, Stewart realized that he could compete for a living. His initial inspiration to step into the cage was former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida.
“I did point-fighting karate until I was 18,” Stewart said. “I saw Machida beat Rashad Evans for the championship and noticed his style was really similar to what I had been doing for years.”
Throughout his career, Machida has employed a style that allows him to slip in and out of his opponent’s range. He’s defeated legendary fighters such as Shogun Rua, Dan Henderson and Randy Couture by using feints and deceptive angles.
“Seeing that made me realize that my style could be really successful in mixed martial arts,” Stewart said.
He brought his karate background with him to Arizona Combat Sports in Tempe, current and former home to myriad fighters who have competed in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, including John Moraga, Clifford Starks and Jamie Varner. There, he learned the basics of kickboxing, muay thai, brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling.
That style would work to great effect as Stewart entered the world of professional MMA. Boasting an 8-0 record, the undefeated welterweight combines disciplined striking from his karate background with a penchant for brawling. Like his nickname implies, when Stewart steps foot inside the cage, he walks in with his “Gunz Up.”
“I never wanted to be a role model”
“Guns up is actually a weapons condition,” Stewart said. “It’s the phrase we use to describe a machine gun that has been loaded and is ready to start rocking and rolling.”
Stewart operated an M20 machine gun, Mk 19 grenade launcher and Browning .50 Caliber Machine gun during his time in the Marine Corps.
Despite being out of the military for several years, Stewart doesn’t forget where he came from. He carries his military background with him into every fight via the Marine Corps flag he leaves draped across his shoulders before and after every fight.
“You know, I put that Marine flag on my back, and I get teary-eyed before I walk into the cage, because that’s when I remember I lost a lot of men in combat through multiple deployments, Stewart said. “We’ve lost even more to suicides since I’ve come back.”
“I put that flag on my back and I feel like Superman, because I’m not just fighting for me. I’m fighting for all those guys,” he added.
Suicide is one of the more notorious and pervasive killers of people within the armed forces. According to a study done by the Department of Defense, 275 active service, 203 reserve members and 123 national guardsmen died via suicide in 2016.
A study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs revealed that approximately 20 veterans died via suicide every day between 2001 and 2014. Stewart knows the troubles veterans face once they leave the military, and he has expressed that he wants to be an example in how to find a purpose once you come back home.
The 29-year-old Stewart said he absolutely sees himself as a role model but never intended to become one intentionally.
“I feel like there’s this shadow over the veteran community,” Stewart said. “You talk about PTSD and guys lacking purpose in the veteran community. When you spend so much time in the military, especially as infantry, and you get out and don’t know where to go.”
He added that he wants to help his fellow veterans find a cause for life outside of the military.
“I know what we’ve been through together, but you have to keep pushing and keep fighting,” Stewart said. “When you love the guys next to you as brothers and you’re responsible for keeping them alive, you’ll never have that purpose again.
“You need goals and you need to have something to work toward. The entire time we were in the military we were working toward objectives. A lot of guys miss that constant grind.”
Right now, Stewart knows his next goal. His next goal is to win via highlight-reel knockout and get a call from the UFC.
Stewart fights Friday night in the main event of Legacy Fighting Alliance 33 in Dallas. He’ll face off against fellow undefeated welterweight Jaleel “The Realest” Willis. Stewart knows that a definitive win is necessary if he wants to join the elite fighters in the UFC.
“I gotta highlight reel this guy,” Stewart bluntly stated. “I fight in the welterweight division, the most stacked division in all of mixed martial arts, so if you’re going to make it there you have to be a showstopper.”
“Gunz up” has shown himself to be exactly that so far in his professional career. His striking prowess has secured him 12- and 7-second victories via knockout. Six out of Stewart’s eight victories have been by stoppage. A quick or decisive victory might secure him a spot on UFC’s Glendale card in April.
Willis carries a strong wrestling base and heavy hands. The Memphis native powers his opponents down to the mat, where he typically gets the finish via ground-and-pound.
Stewart is fortunate to have one of the better wrestlers in the country as his coach and training partner. Tyrel Fortune, who just missed making the Team USA Wrestling roster for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, works with Stewart on takedown defense and strategies on how to keep the fight standing.
“We started about five months ago on leg defense, how to sprawl and get away from there,” Fortune said. “Right now we’re working on how to get up from the bottom and how to control a person using their hips.”
Fortune noted that he believes Stewart brings a little bit extra to the table, because of his Marine Corps background.
“He has that heart and that pride,” Fortune said. “It makes him that much more confident knowing he has support from his family and the Marines.”
Most fighters try not to look too far ahead, but Stewart had no qualms about laying out his exact plans over the next two months.
“I feel like I’m suffocating because I have to have this,” Stewart said. “The UFC is coming here in April in my hometown. I’m going to be 9-0 after this fight and I will be on that card.”
Fortune echoed that sentiment.
“I think you’re going to see Kyle win in dominant fashion,” he said.
When asked if he thought Stewart would get a call from the UFC after Friday night’s fight, Fortune didn’t miss a beat.
“Oh, 100 percent,” he said, as if he were answering the world’s most simple question.
Despite being sapped of energy and in the middle of a 25-pound weight cut, Stewart exuded confidence, and promised nothing besides total victory.
“I’m going to knock him out and it’s going to be brutal,” Stewart said. “It’ll be the kind of knockout that goes viral – the kind of knockout where you get 1,000 followers on social media – that’s the kind of knockout I’m looking for.”
LFA 33: Stewart vs. Willis takes place in Dallas on Friday. The main card starts at 7:00 p.m. Arizona time. The card has seven main-card fights and features former Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers standout, Greg Hardy, fighting in his third amateur MMA fight in the undercard.