Manny wrapping Wlad's hands in 2008 before the first Tony Thompson fight. He was sometimes dismayed that this era of heavyweights was thin, because he wanted Wlad to be able to prove his true worth. Manny's worth is not to be debated. He was a good one. (Hogan)
Emanuel Steward is gone, and there is a gaping whole in the world of boxing today, because he was a Hall of Fame trainer, the godfather of the Kronk gym when it was the toughest gym in the nation and probably the world, the ace manager, the stellar commentator and most importantly, a damned good guy.
A more than fair fighter himself, who won a Golden Gloves national crown in 1963 while residing in Detroit, Steward rose to widespread prominence when his fighter Thomas Hearns exploded onto the scene in the late 70s. Hilmer Kenty was Manny's first champ, honed in a charmless basement with a thermostat glued to 95 degrees. They didn't “train” at Kronk, which was named after a former city councilman, John F. Kronk, they fought, as Steward acknowledged this sport for what it was and is: a faceoff between two men where the stakes are the ultimate. The loser could lose his life, worst case scenario, so Steward made sure his guys were battled tested.
In recent years, Steward, who was born in West Virginia, was best known for aiding immensely in the reclamation of Wladimir Klitschko, the Ukrainian who had a reputation for being chinny. After getting his beard busted, Klitschko hooked up with Steward and went on a winning streak which will land him in the Hall of Fame. Steward would grumble on the phone every so often that Wlad didn't truly reach his potential as a badass, because he was so wary about getting clipped. Steward would coerce and cajole the boxer to be the aggressor, take on a little bit more of a Kronk mentality, but ultimately, he knew the boxer would choose his own path to walk. He wanted Wlad to overwhelm his foe, and Wlad wanted to break him down, make sure he was faded, before he truly committed to his offense. The 1996 Hall of Fame inductee will be missed by so many of us fightwriters. I used to call him up, and say, “Manny, it's your friend Mike Woods, from Brooklyn,” and be cheered by his rich chuckle. I'd weigh in on something on I'd seen in a recent fight, like how Wladimir was so clever at using his large paw to shove a foe away a step or two, to get himself out of harm's way, and Steward would congratulate me on picking up on that. His ego was such that he didn't need to correct you, or be the only one dispensing wisdom or insight. That was to his immense credit; he made you feel better about yourself, and that is and was a considerable gift, and a rare one at that.
It helped him bond with boxers, helped them trust him, so that they'd know when he was pushing them in camp, or dispensing technical or strategic advice on fight night, that his was a voice worth listening to. Said one of his prized pupils, ex heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis awhile back, “It's like when you walk into a place, and you meet somebody, and you start speaking to that person, but it's like you've known this person all your life. That's the chemistry between me and Emanuel Steward.” Because his guys knew he cared, he could get away with lighting a public fire underneath him more so than a colder soul could. “I can no longer brag about this great talent,” Steward said in 2000, before Lewis fought Michael Grant, “if it doesn't come out in this fight.” It came out, because Lennox knew that mostly mellow Manny had reached point; he scored a KO2 on Grant, coming out with a Hearnsian intent on mayhem.
Now, let's not airbrush here. The man, a full-time trainer from 1972, had a street side, for sure, and I enjoyed that as well. We'd joke about his pull with the ladies, and effbombs flew just a couple weeks ago, when we chatted about politics. We both are Obama fans, and shared some ranting about how so much of the nation roots for the other guy for the wrong reasons. He gave no hint at that time that he was anything but healthy, for the record. I recall his late 90s beef with Evander Holyfield, who he trained to beat Riddick Bowe in 1993, when he called Holyfield a “liar” in a tussle over payment. Him and Hearns had fallouts a few times. But that was rare territory; most often, you'd hear “the list” when Manny's name was mentioned. All the champs he trained–Kenty, Hearns, Spinks, Pryor, McCrory, Moorer, McCllelan, McCall, Oscar, Chavez, Hamed, Lennox. The 1993 and 1997 Boxing Writer's Association trainer of the year award winner would have won more, if they had had that award up and running before 1989, for sure.
In 1984, he told Sports Illustrated some of what made him an all-time great as a trainer. “There's not as much oxygen in that hot gym and I think it's great for conditioning,” he said. “I believe in a lot of boxing. You can train and work on the speed bag and heavy bag, but when you get in the ring with another fighter, it's a different story. Punches are coming at you, there's physical contact, muscle against muscle. It's like a guy shooting baskets. He can sit in the backyard and shoot baskets and he can be a genius at it, and then he gets in an actual game and guys are coming at him from every direction and now he's got to shoot fast, from every position, and it's a different ball game.”
For me, what will stand out, his top attribute, was that ability to make people feel better about themselves. His fighters, the writers, people around him….There is a hole in the boxing world today, and it will not be filled. We miss you, Emanuel.