Emanuel Steward, Hall of Fame trainer who became synonymous with boxing in Detroit with his famed Kronk Gym, died on Thursday afternoon following a brief illness. Steward, who died at a hospital in Chicago, was 68 years old.
Diane Steward-Jones, who handled business and public relations for Steward, who was her brother, told the Detroit Free-Press that she and several family members were by his side.
"He was in no pain, and we sang to him, as well as did the doctors present. He had loved ones around him,” she said.
Steward had been hospitalized since September and Steward-Jones said that he had surgery for diverticulitis. She did not give a cause for his death.
Steward trained several world champions including Thomas Hearns, Milton McCrory, Oscar De La Hoya, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and most recently heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.
Noted from his savvy as a ring strategists who could maximized the talents of each boxer he worked with, Steward was one of the last bridges between the great trainers of the mid to late 20th Century and the younger trainers of today.
Steward often took fighters into his home in Detroit and bonded with them, making them more like members of his family than his clients. Most recently he had taken in Irish middleweight Andy Lee, whom he also managed. It was that kind of special relationship that he forged with boxers that separated Steward from other trainers.
"I will miss our time together," said Wladimir Klitschko, who started working with Steward in 2004. "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."
Because of his wealth of boxing knowledge, Steward was hired by HBO as one of its boxing analyst. He fell ill in September, which forced him to miss the middleweight championship match between Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.
"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 President Ken Hershman said. “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, who was born in Bottom Creek, W.Va., on July 7, 1944, moved with his mother to Detroit when he was 12 years old. He was good with his fists and channeled that talent and his short temper into boxing when he joined the Brewster Recreation Center, the same gym that was home to heavyweight Joe Louis. Steward won the 1963 Golden Gloves tournament as a bantamweight and compiled an amateur record of 94-3. But Steward was not cut out for the professional game.
Instead he went to work as an electrical lineman for the City of Detroit to help financially support his family. Soon he gravitated back to boxing as a trainer when he and his half-brother, James, began coaching kids at the Kronk Gym, a hotbed of boxing talent in the basement of the Kronk Recreation Center, in 1971.
In 1977 Steward groomed Thomas Hearns, one of the biggest talents ever to come out of Kronk Gym, from amateurs to the pros. Hearns put Kronk and Steward on the national map.
The City of Detroit closed the original Kronk Gym because of financial hardships in 2006. But Steward relocated the gym into a small building a few blocks away and continued to train both pros and amateurs.
"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," said Stephen Espinoza, VP of Showtime Sports. “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."