By Mike Brudenell
Detroit Free Press Sports Writer
Emanuel Steward, the Godfather of Detroit boxing, is dead at 68, according to friends and heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko, whom Steward trained.
Steward’s family has yet to confirm his death. A representative of the family also has told WXYZ-TV (Channel 7)that Steward is alive.
Steward nurtured and guided the likes of Thomas Hearns, Hilmer Kenty and Milton McCrory to world titles in the 1980s at the Kronk Gym on McGraw in Detroit. He was hospitalized in September and underwent surgery for what his sister called diverticulitis, a stomach disorder.
A prayer vigil was held Sept. 23 in Walled Lake, leading those concerned to believe the illness may be more serious.
Klitschko said in a statement today: “Boxing has suffered a tremendous loss with the passing of Emanuel Steward.”
Palace fight promoter Joseph Donofrio said: “The boxing world has lost one of its most valuable and honorable assets with the loss of Emanuel Steward. He was not only my mentor in the world of promotions but also to thousands of others here in Detroit and his extended reach throughout the world.”
Jackie Kallen, former Kronk PR person, manager of James Toney and inspiration for the movie “Against the Ropes,” commented: “I will never get over losing Emanuel Steward. I can’t tell you how much he meant to a Jewish girl like me. I’d be nothing in my life and in the world of boxing without Emanuel. My heart is broken.”
Born in Bottom Creek, W. Va., Steward moved at age 12 with his mother to Detroit, where he became a street-smart kid with a short fuse and quick fists.
In a life-changing move away from the gangs, Steward joined the Brewster Recreation Center and began an amateur boxing career, winning the 1963 Golden Gloves tournament in the bantamweight division.
With his family needing his financial support, Steward became a lineman with the city before he and his half-brother James began coaching at the Kronk, a hotbed for young amateur fighters.
Steward took the Kronk and its fighters to dizzying heights, transforming a skinny Hearns into one of the most devastating punchers in the history of the ring and mentoring a gallery of supporting champs over the years, including Jimmy Paul, Duane Thomas, Dennis Andries, Steve McCrory, Michael Moorer, Lennox Lewis and present-day heavyweight king Klitschko.
Although the original Kronk Gym, which was housed in the basement of the Kronk Recreation Center, was closed in 2006 by the city of Detroit because of financial hardship, Steward was able to relocate the heart and soul of Kronk to a small building on East Warren, a few blocks west of Southfield Road, where champions and street kids still train shoulder-to-shoulder.
Steward, who worked for years as an HBO color boxing commentator, was relentless in his charity work around Detroit, establishing the Kronk Gym Foundation to help endangered young boys and girls get an education and shot at a normal life.
He never turned a boxer or someone in need of a meal or a chat away from his home in Rosedale Park nor from his Kronk Gym.
“Emanuel was Mr. Boxing in Detroit,” said Frank Garza, a leading Michigan fight referee and close friend of Steward’s. “He was like Gordie Howe is to Detroit hockey and Al Kaline to Detroit baseball.
“He loved to live, and he loved to give. He was a down-to-earth guy when you were with him. As a trainer, he was a brilliant strategist. If you ever wanted to win a fight, you just listened to his advice.”