The sport of boxing has often been associated with the greed of promoters to the adversity that its combatants endure only to fall into the abyss of its slimy mitts.
However, there is one figure in sports that personified everything that is good about a sport whose American and foreign subjects offer a glimpse into a forgotten society. He is Emanuel Steward.
Steward was born on July 7, 1944 in Bottom Creek, West Virginia, and at the age of 12, he moved with his mother to Detroit, Michigan. He attended the Brewster Recreation Center, where the famous boxers Joe Louis and Eddie Futch trained.
Steward began his amateur boxing career at the Brewster Recreation Center. His amateur record included; 94 wins and 3 losses. He also won the 1963 national Golden Gloves tournament in the bantamweight division.
He wanted to become a trainer for amateur boxers however due to the needs of his family, he needed steady income so he became an electrician. He went on to train several amateur boxers at the nearby Kronk Gym.
Steward was always most comfortable in a steamy Detroit recreation center, training Blacks, not to excel in the sport that ultimately brought them fame and fortune, but to merely keep them alive.
They were young men who had no options, so like the father figure he became to them, he nurtured them in a sport that engulfed his life until he died at the age of 68 near Chicago, a distance, from the now iconic Kronk Gym.
The cause of his death was not reported although it was learned during his final weeks that he was battling colon cancer.
His death came as a tremendous shock to the boxing community because most didn’t even know that he was ill.
He died on Oct. 25th and with so much going on in America with the heated Presidential election and the Detroit baseball team contending for a World Series title, to most it was an afterthought.
Only a raging storm named Sandy could put a halt to the campaigns and the San Francisco Giants sweep of the hometown Tigers brought those title aspirations to a screeching halt.
The campaigns will resume and there will always be next season for the Tigers, but when Emanuel Steward died so too did the heart, passion, voice of boxing’s best ambassador.
Some of you might just remember him from his analytical work on the HBO telecast, always the voice of reason and the one who could only speak from the perspective of both fighter and trainer.
Stewart produced 40 world champions from the Kronk Gym, most notably Thomas ‘Hit Man’ Hearns who won multiple championships during the 1980s and considered him as a father.
He also managed most of the fighters he developed much to the chagrin of money- grubbing promoters who ultimately afforded Steward the utmost respect.
Several years ago, I remember being in Mexico City with Steward where a purse bid for his heavyweight Lennox Lewis was being conducted for a fight with Tony Tucker.
Steward spent most of his time cooking up some of the most delicious barbeque and delivered some to promoter Don King who could never refuse a good meal.
I am sure that King would have much rather that Steward deliver Lewis to his promotional stable, but Stewart was much too loyal a man for that regardless of the temptations.
There are many trainers and managers in the sport who sell out their fighters to their own selfish benefit, but not the man who affectionately became known to his HBO family as Manny.
A member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame as a trainer and a man of great integrity he was never really comfortable in the limelight and was humbled by all of the accolades bestowed upon him.
Only Manny could take an Oliver McCall and knockout Lewis in two rounds for the heavyweight title and then switch corners to train Lewis to destroy McCall in the rematch.
Emanuel Steward will return to Detroit this week for the final time. A memorial will be held in his honor on Nov. 13th at Greater Grace Temple.
Steward meant as much to Detroit as the General Motors and its assembly lines, but in a sport that is as maligned as boxing, he meant everything. Almost too good to be true.
A sign on the recreation center that identified it as Kronk was removed when Stewart died, obviously realizing that without Emanuel Stewart there can be no Kronk Gym, and for the sport of boxing, its chef who created the ingredients for greatness is also gone…