Emanuel Steward, who trained Thomas Hearns, Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko and other boxing champions as he built Detroit’s Kronk Gym into one of the most influential centers in the sport, has died at the age of 68.
The death was announced last night by HBO Sports, where Steward worked as a boxing analyst for 11 years.
Steward had an undisclosed illness for several months and his sister, Diane Steward-Jones, was quoted by the Detroit Free Press on Oct. 25 as saying he recently had surgery for diverticulitis, which affects the large intestine. She told the newspaper that he died yesterday with family members at his side.
Steward was one of the most successful and influential trainers in boxing, earning induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996. He’s also a member of the World Boxing Hall of Fame and had worked since 2001 as a boxing commentator for Time Warner Inc.’s HBO.
“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,” HBO Sports Ken Hershman said in a statement. “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.”
Steward was born in Bottom Creek, West Virginia, on July 7, 1944, and moved to Detroit with his mother when his parents separated. In an effort to avoid the gangs in Detroit, Steward began training at the Brewster Recreation Center -- the former sports home of Joe Louis and Eddie Futch -- at age 12 after receiving a pair of boxing gloves as a gift.
Steward had an amateur record of 94 wins and three losses, and at the age of 18 won a 1963 National Golden Gloves title in the bantamweight division (115-118 pounds).
Steward considered turning professional before taking a job with a Detroit electrical company after failing to find what he considered to be an honest manager, according to the Kronk Gym Foundation’s website. He remained close to the sport and in 1971 accepted a part-time position as coach of the boxing program at the Kronk Recreation Center.
Steward’s young boxers dominated the Detroit Golden Gloves competition that year, winning seven championships, and in 1972 he left his job as an electrician to become a full-time trainer and manager at Kronk. Steward built Kronk Gym into a national power by the mid-70s and two of his charges, Hearns and Hilmer Kenty, turned professional in 1977 as he served as both trainer and manager.
Kenty became Steward’s first world champion in 1980 when he captured the WBA lightweight crown. Hearns, a fellow Hall of Famer nicknamed “The Hitman,” won championship belts in five weight classes, the most accomplished of the more than 30 world champions under Steward’s tutelage.
Steward-Jones was quoted by the Free Press as saying that her brother, who had been in a Chicago hospital, still tried to recruit male nurses and other medical staff to box in his final days.
“They loved him,” Steward-Jones said, according to the newspaper. “He’d tell them to lose some weight and fight for him.”
Steward also worked with champions such as Evander Holyfield, Julio Cesar Chavez and Oscar De La Hoya, according to his International Boxing Hall of Fame profile.
While Detroit’s original Kronk Gym was closed by the city in 2006 because of financial problems, Steward opened a new facility under the same name in nearby Oakland County, Michigan, in 2009, helping provide recreational facilities as well as mentoring and tutoring for youth in Metro Detroit.
Steward had worked most recently with Klitschko, a 36-year- old Ukranian who holds the World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Organization and International Boxing Organization heavyweight titles.
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