New York – Sadly we say goodbye to Emanuel Steward the Hall of Fame boxing trainer who passed away early Thursday at the age of 68. In a sport that has changed, Steward went about his business and did it well as he did so many times with one champion after another.
He kept his illness quiet, a reported stomach ailment that went unnoticed, even with those on the inside at HBO Boxing where Steward became an astute analyst at ringside. He reportedly had complications after surgery last month, and as Steward did so many times over the years, telling his fighters in the gym, or in the ring, he fought to the end.
“A dear, caring person,” said Lee Samuels, the longtime publicist of Top Rank Boxing when informed that Steward passed away. Samuels and Steward developed a great working relationship over the years with Hearns and recently working with Miguel Cotto when boxing returned to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York.
That relationship developed more when Steward took over training responsibilities for three-division world champion Cotto who was with Top Rank at the time. It was a brief tenure for Steward and Cotto, but those three fights, with Steward in the corner, revived Cotto, reverting, his style back to championship form.
There were those who quietly took their shots at Steward. Even Cotto at times, who believed that his other job at HBO caused him to take time away from the training, and that handling two or here fighters at a time, caused a conflict with the training schedule weeks before fight time.
Or, the critics who quietly took their shots at Steward, including yours truly, believing that being in the corner of a fighter, who was also part of an HBO main event, was a conflict of interest.
But that never seemed to be an issue with Steward. He was objective at ringside and told it like it was. Steward was scheduled to be in the corner again November 10th with Wladimir Klitschko for his heavyweight title defense against Mariusz Wach in Hamburg, Germany.
And there were reports that Steward was bankrupt as he continued to save the legendary Kronk Boxing Gym in Detroit Michigan to stay in business. It was a gym where champions were made for decades, including the Hall of Famer Thomas Hearns who had epic fights with Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
Steward continued his efforts to keep the gym afloat and reportedly was giving part of his earnings from HBO and training to keep the gym in operation, which was situated in the inner city of Detroit and gained national recognition.
There were never any negative words said about Seward, with the exception of one or two controversial remarks stated when analyzing a fight at ringside with Jim Lampley or Larry Merchant.
He loved the sport of boxing and the fighters he trained gained more knowledge.
Lampley said, on the passing of his longtime friend and ringside colleague, “He’s going to be most known as one of the greatest trainers in the history of the sport. He is the man who groomed Thomas Hearns and who built an iconic inner city gym in the working class capital of America.”
Besides Hearns and Cotto, Steward also trained former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and he was inducted into the international Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996.
Prior to his induction, he told yours truly, “It is truly deserving, but the fighters who give their time and effort who make the sport as great as it is are more deserving.”
The biggest issue was not giving Steward the acclaim he rightfully deserved. As much as he developed champions, the personal characteristic of becoming a second father, to his fighters was hardly noticed. Time and time again he would go into his pocket and give them some monetary support.
The late boxing historian and author Bert Sugar once said about Steward, “He was as old school as they get but had that new school mentality.”
With Cotto it was matter of getting the welterweight champion to adjust his style. Steward would train Cotto in South Florida and get him the proper sparring to prepare for his fight with Yuri Foreman at Yankee Stadium. It worked as Cotto once again became the prominent champion with the proper punch and foot work.
“He has to get back to using that jab that made him so good,” said Steward as he and yours truly took a walk around the lower seating area at the new Yankee Stadium. It was press conference day for the Cotto fight with Yuri Foreman.
Steward made his rounds with the media, as always accommodating as many as he could. He always gave the proper answer and was never one to shy away from an honest answer.
When critics always questioned how good Klitschko is, or about his champion ducking opponents in a mediocre heavyweight division, Steward said, “He works hard. I guarantee you when Wladimir is done boxing he will be remembered for never ducking an opponent.”
Said Klitschko is a statement, “It is not often that a person in any line of work gets a chance to work with a legend. Well I was privileged enough to work with one for almost a decade.”
Klitschko would lose to Lamont Brewster when Steward took over in 2004. After that Klitschko would make adjustments and he has since become one of the dominant heavyweight champions along with his brother Vitali.
He also trained welterweight champion Oscar de La Hoya. That, too, was a perfect marriage, and in the sport of boxing that is very rare.
“I learned a lot from him and will forever be grateful,” said De La Hoya the President of Golden Boy Boxing.
Yes, the passing of Emanuel Steward will be felt. The impact of his legacy and how he touched many in a sport that has changed are unlimited. They don’t make trainers like “Manny” no more.
They can’t because Emanuel Steward was one of kind. The old school trainer who adapted to the change is no longer with us. But we will remember, and so will the fighters who adjusted so well under his watch.
e-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Watch and listen to Rich, Keep it in the Ring every Thursday evening live 8-10pm EST ,www.inthemxxradio.com.