Gamache: Steward's Understudy, A True Teacher

BY Robert Mladinich ON August 11, 2007
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Not long ago, while IBF heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko was preparing for a fight, he asked his trainer, Emanuel Steward, who the new guy in the gym was.

Although the new guy was well-compacted at 5’6” tall, he looked nothing like a fighter. His boyishly handsome face was relatively unmarked, and his manner was way too mellow for Klitschko to think he was a boxer, much less a former champion.

Klitschko was shocked to learn that the man was 41-year-old Joey Gamache, a native of Lewiston, Maine, who compiled a record of 55-4 (38 KOS) during a career that lasted from 1987 to 2000.

Along the way, Gamache won the vacant WBA lightweight title with a ninth round stoppage of Chil-Sung Chun in Portland, Maine, in June 1992.

He also tangled with the likes of such championship caliber fighters as Julio Cesar Chavez, Tony “The Tiger” Lopez, Orzubek Nazarov, and Arturo Gatti.

He is currently embroiled in litigation against Gatti and the New York State Athletic Commission in Manhattan Federal Court. The suit claims that Gamache suffered brain damage against Gatti, who Gamache alleges weighed close to 160 pounds for a fight in which both participants were contracted to be 141 pounds eight hours prior to the Madison Square Garden match.

For legal reasons Gamache cannot talk about the case, but newspaper reports have indicated that he suffers from migraine headaches after being stopped by Gatti in the second round in February 2000. He spent two days in the hospital and never fought again.

For the past few months he has served as a training assistant for the legendary Emanuel Steward’s ever-growing stable. Gamache, who is as intelligent as he is talented and enthusiastic, couldn’t be happier about his good fortune and the prospect of a future doing what he knows and loves best.

“I observe Emanuel as much as I can,” said the seemingly eternally youthful Gamache. “There is no better teacher out there. He trains in both a spiritual and physical manner. He brings the best out in everyone he works with. I am in awe just watching him work. He is probably the greatest all around trainer of all time.”

What makes Gamache believe that is the fact, unlike so many other notable trainers, Steward developed many renowned future professional champions from the ground up.

Back in the late seventies and into the eighties, Steward, a National Golden Gloves bantamweight champion in 1963, churned out world champions at Detroit’s fabled Kronk Gym in much the same manner that the Motor City produced automobiles.

“Fighters like Hilmer Kenty, Tommy Hearns, Jimmy Paul and Milt McCrory, they were great champions,” said Gamache. “Emanuel had them from the first day they ever entered a gym. Very few trainers, if any, can say that.”

Gamache calls Steward “a teacher, not a trainer,” which is surprisingly exactly what former TSS contributor Zach Levin calls Gamache. While working with Levin for well over a year at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, New York, Gamache made Levin into a good enough practitioner of the sweet science to look like a real fighter during a genuine sparring session with former super middleweight boxing champion Jeff Lacy for a men’s magazine and web site.

If one didn’t know better, they’d have sworn that Levin was a fledgling young pro. “When I worked with Joey, he was with me during every minute of our training,” said Levin. “Unlike a lot of trainers, he doesn’t work with four or five guys at the same time. He’s a teacher, not a trainer, so you get real individualized attention from him. You can’t help but learn a lot from him.”

The inimitable Johnny Bos, who made many of Gamache’s matches during his career, called him one of the most loyal people he ever met. He has always maintained that Gamache would be a good trainer…er, treacher…because he has a genuine love for the sport and is as honest as the day is long.

No one can ever accuse Gamache of being ego driven, especially when he is so eager to give credit where he thinks it is due during this formative period of his second career.

“Emanuel takes nothing for granted,” said Gamache. “Watch him in the corner. There is never any confusion. He has great composure and confidence, and he transfers that to his fighters. As far as I am concerned, when it comes to trainers there is Emanuel and then there is everyone else.”

Gamache has watched the steady progress of middleweight Andy Lee, cruiserweight  Johnathan Banks and welterweight titlist Kermit Cintron. In the short time he’s been working with Steward, he has seen those already accomplished fighters grow in leaps and bounds.

He has spent time in Austria and Germany with Klitschko and Cintron, and is now in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. However, as much as he loves training, he does say that being away from his wife Sissy so often has been difficult.

Sissy, a Costa Rican native, is an actress who came to New York to follow her dreams. That is why she so understands her husband’s desire to follow his own dreams, even though they are now taking him around the world, very often on relatively short notice.

“My wife is a very talented actress who just needs an open door to show what she can do,” said her beaming husband. “She just needs an element of luck, like I got with Emanuel. Before that I was working solo, and the way I work there was not much out there. I focus on the fundamentals. Too many people who call themselves trainers don’t really focus on anything, but they get a lot of work. It was frustrating.”

Steward feels as lucky to be associated with Gamache as the other way around. “Unlike a lot of trainers, Joey is very low key,” said Steward, “He wants to work hard and learn and he doesn’t have his own agenda.

“It didn’t take a long time for the fighters to warm up to him, even though they didn’t realize he had been a world champion. If you don’t ask him, he won’t tell you. I’ve never heard him toot his own horn, not even once.”

Gamache was originally recommended to Steward by the well-traveled, longtime New York-based cut man Jimmy Glenn. As a joke Steward kept playing stupid, as if he didn’t know who Gamache was. All the while, however, he was planning on bringing Gamache onto his team.

Steward laments the fact that too many fighters listen to too many people with differing opinions these days. “There are all these promoters, advisers, nutritional experts, strength trainers, weight lifting coaches, and hangers-on and they’re all telling the fighters something different,” he explained.

“That’s all bull,” he added. “Someone like Joey will develop into a real teacher. He was a great fighter and he’s a great learner. But I’ve never heard him once say how great, or even how good, he was. If he’s in the gym three hours, he’s working every minute. I have a lot of faith and trust in him. He deserves it.”

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