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Detroit Kronk Boxing Icon and Legend Emanuel Steward Dies at 68
Emanuel Steward, the godfather of Detroit boxing and driving force behind the world-famous Kronk Gym, died Thursday, October 25, 2012 surrounded by his family. Steward died in Zion, Ill., where he had been treated at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
Steward, 68, the man who discovered and mentored the great Thomas Hearns, had fought for several weeks against a foe thought by many to be colon cancer — although his sister, Diane Steward-Jones, publicly described the ailment as diverticulitis.
“He has passed — he has gone home,” Steward-Jones told the Free Press by phone less than half an hour after Steward’s death. “He was in no pain, and we sang to him, as well as did the doctors present. He had loved ones around him.”
One of the greatest trainers in the history of boxing, Steward underwent surgery in the Chicago area in September and had not returned to his Rosedale Park home. He died peacefully at 2:46 p.m. Thursday, said Steward-Jones, who handled business matters and public relations for her brother. The body of the boxing icon was returned to Detroit.
Steward-Jones said that, toward the end, her brother still was trying to recruit male nurses and other medical staff at the hospital to box for him.
“They loved him,” Steward-Jones said. “He’d tell them to lose some weight and fight for him.”
As she spoke to the Free Press, Steward-Jones said she was trying to stay busy tidying up Steward’s hospital room.
“He gave it his all,” she said. “But he’s been called away now.”
Steward’s sister, Diane Steward-Jones, told the Free Press today that a memorial service tentatively has been set for the Hall of Fame fight trainer on Nov. 13 at Greater Grace Temple (23500 W. 7 Mile Road in Detroit). There will be visitation with family and friends at 11 a.m. on Nov. 13 at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit followed by a noon memorial service at the church. Manny was survived by his wife, Marie; daughters, Sylvia Steward-Williams and Sylvette Steward; and sisters, Diane-Steward Jones and Lavern Hestler
Steward, who lived in Rosedale Park, was training world heavyweight champ Wladamir Klitschko prior to falling ill several months ago.
Born in Bottom Creek, W.Va., Steward moved at age 12 with his mother to Detroit, where he became a street-smart kid with a short fuse and quick fists.
In a life-changing move away from street gangs, Steward joined the Brewster Recreation Center and began an amateur boxing career, where in 1963, 18-year old Emanuel Steward, fighting as a bantamweight, won the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions.
He looked forward to a career as a professional, but after failing to find what he considered to be honest management and with his family needing his financial support, Steward became a lineman with the city before he and his half brother, James Steward, began coaching at the Kronk, a hotbed for young amateur fighters on McGraw in Detroit. But he never wandered too far from the fight game.
In 1971 Steward accepted a part-time position as head coach of the boxing program at the Kronk Recreation Center. When his young team won the Detroit Golden Gloves team title that same year, the Kronk Dynasty was born. Steward took the Kronk to dizzying heights in the 1970s and ’80s, transforming a skinny neighborhood kid named Thomas Hearns into one of the most devastating punchers in the history of the ring.
In March 1972, Steward left Detroit Edison to become a full-time trainer/manager. Five years later, with the newly formed ESCOT (Emanuel Steward’s Champions of Tomorrow) Boxing Enterprises, Inc., he ventured into the world of professional boxing with an 18-year old slugger named Tommy Hearns. Hearns went on to win world titles in five different weight classes on his way to boxing immortality.
Steward’s reputation as a trainer grew by leaps and bounds after that, and with it grew the number of champions under his tutelage. In addition to the 50 plus world champions he has managed, he also developed six gold medal winners for the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team, including Pernell Whitaker, Mark Breland, Terrell Biggs, Jerry Page, Frank Tate and Steve McCrory. He mentored a gallery of supporting champs over the years, including Hilmer Kenty, Jimmy Paul, Duane Thomas, Dennis Andries, Steve McCrory, Milton McCrory, Michael Moorer, Lennox Lewis and present-day heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko, whom Steward was training until he recently fell ill.
Klitschko, in a statement, said: “It is not often that a person in any line of work gets a chance to work with a legend. … I was privileged enough to work with one for almost a decade. I will miss our time together.”
Steward continued to work with the young fighters at the Kronk Boxing Gym, in which he has found a new home in Oakland County opening in 2009′ He is a welcome addition as expert commentator to HBO’s World Championship Boxing and HBO Pay-Per-View coverage.
Joni Mitchell was partially correct: We (sometimes) don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone. This has been true with regrettable frequency this year with the deaths of multiple fighters and notable figures in boxing. In many cases we mourn people whose names might not have passed through our lips in quite some time, as befitting the nature of a sport in which those no longer in the spotlight are left to fade away quietly.
That does not mean their losses mean less.
We paid just tribute to Corrie Sanders, for example, whose imprint had been left on us following his brief ascent toward the top of the sport when he had summarily dispatched of Wladimir Klitschko in less than two rounds, and whose battles with Vitali Klitschko and Hasim Rahman had been valiant even though he was not victorious.
And we gave due respect to Angelo Dundee, the famed trainer who had been in the corner of two of the United States’ most acclaimed boxers in Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, who had worked with several others, and who had long been established as a piece of living history.
There was no mental separation with Emanuel Steward, however. He was here, and now he is gone. His death hits particularly hard. It’s not just because of how quickly he passed away, but also because we knew what we had with him — because of how long he had held such a strong and positive influence on the sport.
It is a big loss for boxing. He is being justly eulogized and canonized with every story, every recollection, every reflection.
It is only natural for many of these memories to be of the personal variety. That is the frame of reference that helps give a life full context. Steward’s 68 years on this earth did not just bring about his individual accomplishments. In that time he also left his mark on so many who knew him, be it for a moment or for decades, and be they boxers, his colleagues or the many in the media with whom he had corresponded.
There were the world champions. Taking a boxer to a title belt seems less of a feat in this era of four major sanctioning bodies. Take into consideration, then, his longevity and consistency. Steward brought his first contender to the top in 1980 with lightweight Hilmer Kenty and continued to do so for three decades, guiding Cornelius Bundrage to a claim of the junior middleweight division in 2010.
“In all, Steward managed over 50 world champions. “In that regard, Steward is the most decorated trainer in history; Freddie Roach has guided 25 titlists while [Eddie] Futch and Ray Arcel seconded 22 and 19, respectively, during their much more restrictive eras.” said boxing historian Lee Groves last week on RingTV.com.
He didn’t just groom talent, but attracted it, too, with boxers turning to Steward to make them better. His was an expert eye, a trusted voice, a guru who they believed could rebuild those who had been destroyed and who could cap off those who were nearly complete.
Boxing is a business. And so many of the tributes to Steward have noted how he became a “hired gun” for some boxers. Where he truly stood out, however, is in the men he groomed, both in the Kronk Gym that became synonymous with his name and in the relationships he forged with those fighters.
Andy Lee had lived with Steward since 2006, the middleweight told Dan Rafael of ESPN.com last week.
“He likes to keep an eye on his fighters,” Lee said. “I was going into a home environment at the house.”
For once, boxing wasn’t just about money or fame, but about men who became family. Thomas Hearns described Steward as “the father he never had,” while speaking last week to Lem Satterfield of RingTV.com.
“He helped me to become the man that I’ve become today,” Hearns said. “He taught me right from wrong, and he taught me about living. So with Emanuel Steward, our relationship wasn’t just about boxing to me.”
The truly great in this world earn such stature not just with the big things, but with the little things as well. Roy Jones Jr. spoke on HBO this past weekend of how he had turned down an offer to work with Steward when he first turned pro and opted instead to work with his father. Yet the fact that Steward had approached him left an imprint on the young Olympian. Now nearly 25 years into his pro career, Jones said he still carries a Kronk Gym bag with him.
Several journalists wrote last week of their relationships with Steward, of his responsibility in returning calls, of his generosity in the time he would give them, of the stories he would tell them. These were traits that writers do not take for granted.
These all were traits, professional and personal, that will leave a lasting legacy: He made Hall of Fame fighters. He had a Hall of Fame career. He seemed to personify an honor that is rare in what can be a brutal sport and a cutthroat business.
It pains everyone who knew him and loved him to have to speak or write the words that pay tribute to him. He deserves them all, but he didn’t deserve to die so soon.
The first public inkling of his declining health came in September, when the HBO commentator — another role in which he earned respect — missed two straight broadcasts due to an undisclosed illness. No one publicly disclosed just how serious Steward’s situation was. But the word began to spread about the grim diagnosis.
Less than two months later, he’s gone.
We knew what Emanuel Steward brought to this world. We know just how much we’ll be missing now that he has passed. It’s often said that you make your mark by what you leave behind.
Emanuel Steward left behind more than many — and that is why we are left with such sorrow in our hearts. His loss is truly our loss.
Here are some remembrances of Steward:
Thomas Hearns, a world champion in six weight classes, and his son, Ronald Hearns, were shattered by the news that Steward had died.
“Emanuel was like a daddy to me,” the older Hearns said. “The man literally changed my life. I loved him and respected him so much.”
Ronald Hearns, also a fighter, grew up around Steward and his father at Kronk Gym.
“It’s crushing,” the younger Hearns said. “Emanuel always made me feel like one of the family. Emanuel loved me. He always told me that God has a plan for you. I’m feeling so sad right now.”
Business Manager and friend Abdul-Jalil said “You were, are and always will be the BEST EVER!!! Even Ali will give you his title the “GOAT” Greatest of All Times! My heartfelt love to Marie, Sylvia, Sylvette, Anita, Diane and Lavern. I am truly honored to have had you all in my life with Manny!”
“Boxing has suffered a tremendous loss with the passing of Emanuel Steward. Vitali and I, along with the entire Team Klitschko, send our deepest and most heartfelt condolences to Emanuel’s family and friends.
It is not often that a person in any line of work gets a chance to work with a legend, well I was privileged enough to work with one for almost a decade. I will miss our time together. The long talks about boxing, the world, and life itself. Most of all I will miss our friendship.
My team and I will carry on with the goals we had set while Emanuel was with us because that is exactly what Emanuel would have wanted. I know he will be with us in spirit along the way and we will accomplish these goals in his honor.
Rest in peace Emanuel. You will be greatly missed. Until we meet again my friend.”
“It brings me great grief and sadness to hear of the passing of one of the best and most respected trainers of this era, Emanuel Steward. I learned a lot from him during our professional relationship and I will be forever grateful for his help during that time. We were also friends and I know I am going to miss him as so many others will too. He was an important part of our boxing community.”
– Oscar De La Hoya
“I’m completely devastated by the passing of my long time friend, mentor and trainer Emanuel “Manny” Steward. Manny has helped me get through some of the biggest fights in my career and I only regret that I couldn’t return the favor and see him through his biggest fight.
We’ve maintained a close relationship and the last time we spoke he seemed his usual upbeat self so it was very disturbing to hear about his illness and rapid decline. It is with a heavy heart that realization of what I hoped were just rumors are now in fact true. Manny always told me I was the best, but the truth is, HE was the best and I’m grateful, privileged and honored to be counted among his many historic successes.
This has been a very tragic year for the boxing world, but today we’ve truly lost one of it’s crown jewels. Manny was giving, selfless, compassionate and stern. He always gave back to the community and never forgot where he came from. He was an institution unto himself and I’m proud to have had him in my corner for so many years.
I’m extremely grateful for the time that I was given with him and he will be severely missed by all who knew and loved him. I’ll miss his smile, his frank no holds barred truthfulness and our discussions on boxing and life. My prayers and condolences go out to his family at this very difficult time.
One of Steward’s longtime friends, is heartbroken by his passing. “Twenty-four hours have gone by since the passing of Emanuel Steward. It has been and remains an emotionally painful time dealing with this loss,” Buffer said. “I am still unable to actually speak without choking up. The comments and statements of admiration and respect, honoring and memorializing his life, legacy and career have been honest, beautiful and deserving. He was and shall always be true boxing royalty. But to those of us blessed to have been closer he was so very much more. As a fan and colleague, I mourn the loss of a legend, an icon. As a friend, I have lost a loved one and my heart is broken.”
-Ring announcer Michael Buffer
“There are no adequate words to describe the enormous degree of sadness and loss we feel at HBO Sports with the tragic passing of Manny Steward. For more than a decade, Manny was a respected colleague who taught us so much not only about the sweet science but also about friendship and loyalty. His energy, enthusiasm and bright smile were a constant presence. Ten bells do not seem enough to mourn his passing. His contributions to the sport and to HBO will never be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.” -Ken Hershman, President, HBO Sports
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the legendary Emanuel Steward today. Not only was Emanuel one of the most esteemed and accomplished boxing trainers in the history of the sport, he was also an incredibly generous and warm-hearted human being. In addition to his many professional pursuits, Emanuel served as a life coach to countless young men and women, particularly in his beloved adopted hometown of Detroit, and through them his legacy will live on. Those who were fortunate enough to have known Emanuel will remember him for his infectious enthusiasm, ever-present smile and seemingly limitless generosity. We extend our deepest condolences to the Steward family during this difficult time. He will be missed by everyone his spirit touched.”
– Stephen Espinoza, Showtime
“Steward and many of his Kronk protégé were fixtures in the infancy of SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING in the late 1980’s. Over the years, we became close personal friends. He will be missed by all of us in the sport. Moreover, the sport will miss what he embodied in boxing–everything that is good and right about this business. It’s a terrible shame that his life was cut short. Men like Emanuel Steward are irreplaceable.”
-David Dinkins, Jr., Showtime TV
Emanuel Steward passing today is biggest loss to boxing in long time. he’ll be greatly missed. my thoughts prayers are w his family
– Freddie Roach, Legendary Boxing Trainer
Now that his sister has confirmed it we can say that Manny Steward has passed away. I am numb as are so many others who call him friend.
-Al Bernstein, Boxing Announcer