Emanuel Steward, the dignified legendary boxing trainer in a sport woefully lacking in such character, died Thursday in Chicago. He was 68.
Steward trained more than two dozen world champions, including Evander Holyfield, Thomas Hearns and Oscar de la Hoya, among others. And he did so with an elegant dignity and strength.
He owned the Kronk Gym in Detroit, which symbolized the city’s gritty, blue-collar boxing scene. Steward, who also managed many of the fighters he trained, worked with more than two dozen champions during his decades-long career. A younger generation of boxing fans knew him as an expert analyst on HBO’s boxing telecasts.
Victoria Kirton, Steward’s executive assistant, told the Associated Press that Steward died in a Chicago hospital on Thursday afternoon, from a stomach ailment.
Often called the Godfather of Detroit boxing, Steward was a beloved figure because of his outgoing personality, seemingly endless energy to talk about boxing with anyone who would approach him and dedication to his fighters. As a cornerman, he commanded respect because of his strategic genius and for having the knack to say the right thing at the right time in the corner during the heat of battle.
Fighters also loved him for his generosity and for the father-figure role he often played in their lives. Training fighters was not just a job for Steward. He often took fighters in to live with him in his Detroit home, training them by day and parenting them by night.
Steward was most closely identified with his work with three superstar fighters: multi-divisional world Hearns, who was with Steward from the beginning, former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and reigning heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.
Steward kept his usual busy schedule through the summer, training middleweight contender Andy Lee — who lived with Steward — for his loss to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on June 16 and Klitschko for his title-retaining sixth-round knockout win against Tony Thompson in their July 7 rematch. But he had been hospitalized since September, causing him to miss two HBO broadcasts, and underwent surgery. His sister, Diane Steward-Jones, said the surgery was for the stomach disorder diverticulitis, although many others who knew Steward said it was for advanced cancer.
“There are no adequate words to describe the enormous degree of sadness and loss we feel at HBO Sports with the tragic passing of Manny Steward,” HBO Sports president Ken Hershman said. “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. 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-Jones later confirmed the death of her 68-year-old brother to the Detroit Free Press by phone.
“He has passed – he’s gone home,” she said. “He was in no pain, and we sang to him, as well as did the doctors present. He had loved ones around him.”