Emanuel Steward: 1944-2012

Lou Eisen / October 30, 2012 - 3:07pm

The boxing world lost a true giant last Thursday with the death of Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward, one of the most beloved trainers and broadcasters in the history of boxing. Steward had been hospitalized in July, undergoing surgery for diverticulosis, a rare and painful stomach disease. The operation was apparently done successfully in a Chicago hospital. It was while performing the surgery doctors found out that Steward had inoperable colon cancer, which had already spread to his stomach.

Steward’s executive assistant, Victoria Kirton, said the trainer died Thursday at an undisclosed Chicago hospital. Steward’s family has not officially disclosed the cause of Steward’s death. The Steward family has been very tightlipped about releasing any information regarding Steward’s death.

It is fair to say that the world of boxing was truly shocked to hear of Steward’s passing as most everyone thought he was recovering well from his original surgery. Steward, as was his nature, valiantly battled to the very end, always smiling and comforting those around him.

The death of Steward less than a year after the death of fellow Hall of Fame trainer Angelo Dundee, is an irreparable loss for the world of boxing but more so for the many talented fighters they guided to world titles. Unofficially, Steward trained 41 world-boxing champions, more than anyone else in the history of the sport.

Steward was known the world over for his upbeat disposition and his tremendous sense of humor. It just doesn’t seem plausible that such a force of nature as Steward could be gone at just 68 years of age. His accomplishments and his self-effacing nature will live on far into the future.

Canadian boxing icon and award winning broadcaster, Chuck “Spider” Jones is also from Detroit and knew Steward very well.  He had this to say about the passing of a boxing icon, “Manny grew up on the mean streets of Detroit and survived them during a time when Detroit was the homicide capital of the world. I remember fighting on the same amateur card as him on a couple occasions at Cobo Hall (huge boxing arena) in Detroit. He was an excellent featherweight fighter, very smart and slick in the ring. He never turned pro. That’s because he was more interested in training fighters. He was a great trainer, truly one of the best ever. He was a really good guy and a fabulous commentator with tons of insight. We got along real good. I will always remember him with great fondness.”

Emanuel Steward was born in Welch, West Virginia on July 7th, 1944. His father was a coal miner, one of the very few jobs open to African Americans at that time. At the tender young age of 8, he was given a pair of boxing gloves, which launched him on his way to an outstanding amateur career. When he was a teenager, his parents divorced and he moved with his mother to Detroit. It was this move that sent him on his way to a life of fame and fortune. Steward was an extraordinarily successful amateur boxer, with a record of 94 wins against only 3 defeats. In 1963 Steward won the Detroit Golden Gloves title, the most prestigious award in amateur boxing.

Steward decided against turning pro because of the financial insecurity of boxing. He opted instead for regular work as an electrician. Steward’s rise in the boxing world began in the very early 1970’s at the Kronk gym. Steward’s half-brother James had arrived in town and wanted to learn how to box.

Steward’s half-brother James was the very first fighter that Steward began to train. Many others would soon follow. The Kronk hired Steward as a part-time trainer in 1971. Steward’s impact and influence on the fighters was immediate. Within a very short period of time, he led a Kronk amateur team to individual and team Detroit’s Golden Gloves title.

The list of fighters Steward has guided to the top of the sport is long and glorious. It includes word champions Hilmer Kenty (his first world champ), Thomas Hearns, Milton McCrory, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Wladimir Klitschko, Naseem Hamed, Oliver McCall and Oscar De La Hoya, just to name a few.

It was Steward who convinced Lennox Lewis to “think less and hit more,” and in the process, made Lewis one of the most feared knockout artists in heavyweight history. Lewis was a straight counter puncher who openly disdained toe-to-toe slugfests in favor of trying to wear his man down and win on points.

However, during Lewis’s fight with Tyson, it was Steward who recognized early that Tyson was out of shape, exhausted and begging to quit. He screamed at Lewis in between rounds, exhorting his fighter to finish the job; “He’s done! He’s exhausted. He wants to quit now! He has nothing left. Look at him! He’s a beaten man! Finish him off. Destroy him! Knock him out now and end this damn thing!” Lewis walked out for the 8th round and mercilessly punished Tyson before ending matters once and for all.

Tributes for Steward flowed in from everywhere, “Emanuel Steward was more than just my trainer. He was in a very real sense my father and I loved him. We loved each other,” said his first superstar and multiple world-boxing champion Thomas “Hitman” Hearns. Hearns continued, “He was there for me through every situation, the good times, the difficult times, he was there for me. Emanuel Steward is the man who taught me how to adapt, how to deal with all the different situations I have encountered in my life both in the ring and out. Losing him from my life, I’m very hurt today. I am devastated”

The game plans and training regimens designed by Steward for his fighters were famous in the sport.

Steward’s most famous plan was the one he designed for himself. He described it as a “168-hours-a-week” training program, which found him sleeping in the same rooms and sharing meals with his fighters, then training, watching film and engaging his boxers in “talking, talking, talking,” about every possible situation which might arise in the ring during a fight according to his close friend and HBO co-worker Jim Lampley.

Current world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko had this to say about the passing of his beloved trainer, “It is not often that a person in any line of work gets a chance to work with a legend. I was privileged enough to work with one for almost a decade,” Klitschko said. “I will miss our time together.”

HBO’s Lampley had this to say of his dear friend and broadcast partner, “It was Emanuel’s wisdom and common touch that made him truly special. He was the most loyal, generous, positive spirited, broadly accepting man I’ve ever known,” Lampley said. “He had a positive impact on everyone he encountered.” Perhaps HBO president Ken Hershman put it best when he said, “Ten bells simply do not seem enough to mourn his passing.”

On a personal note, two years ago, in June 2010, I spoke with Steward and I asked him a question regarding George Chuvalo, who had trained in Detroit during the early part of his career. I said to Steward, “I understand that you first met George Chuvalo when you were just sixteen years old in Detroit. You used to bring him a cup of tea after he finished his workouts.”

Now, the first thing you would notice about Steward when you spoke to him was you always had his undivided attention. He always looked you right in the eyes. After I finished my comment he immediately said, “You’re wrong!  I was fifteen!”  We both laughed out loud. That was Emanuel Steward in a nutshell. He always knew how to put a smile on your face. Hershman was right. Ten bells to mourn Steward is just not enough.