“The Kronk,” which Steward made famous, symbolized his classroom. The gym was run out of the basement of the oldest recreation center of the hardscrabble Michigan city.
There, Steward was the professor in a refuge for wayward inner-city youth and spawned such boxing champions as Hilmer Kenty, Thomas Hearns, Milton McCrory and Jimmy Paul, among others. Kenty became The Kronk’s first world champion in 1980, after which Hearns, McCrory, Paul and Duane Thomas followed.
“He took kids out of their backyards at 13 and 14 years old and made them world champions. All of the other great trainers were hand-fed. Emanuel raised all of his kids,” said Steward’s former assistant, Prentiss Byrd, who worked alongside Steward from 1978-through-2001.
“And then he took the bar higher with fighters who turned to him to recapture their glory. Think of Tiger Woods in golf or Michael Jordan in basketball and Emanuel’s contribution to boxing compared to theirs’ in their sport is 10 times greater. He is the best that ever did it.”
One of those “kids” was Hearns, a 54-year-old titlewinner in the welterweight, junior middleweight, middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and cruiserweight divisions.
At the Kronk, Steward saved a lot of lives, and he did so by instructing his fighters in educated violence.
Hearns spoke exclusively with RingTV.com, his first interview after having learned of Steward’s passing.
RingTV.com: What did Emanuel Steward mean to you?
Thomas Hearns: “Emanuel Steward was like the father I never had. To me, that’s what he was, because my father was never there for me. He never spent any time with me.
“I never really knew my father, but I knew Emanuel. I first met Emanuel probably when I was 13. He was someone who was very, very dear to me, when you’re talking about Emanuel.
“Emanuel Steward to me, he was a man that changed my life. He helped me to become the man that I’ve become today.”
RingTV.com: Can you elaborate?
TH: “He taught me right from wrong, and he taught me about living. So with Emanuel Steward, our relationship wasn’t just about boxing to me.
“Emanuel was there for a long, long time, and he was there to do a lot of different things for me. He helped me out in life, you know?”
RingTV.com: How many lives do you believe that he saved?
TH: Oh, so many lives. Emanuel was just a wonderful person, and he definitely has saved tons of lives. People knew when they saw you at the Kronk, what he meant to you.
RingTV.com: What does it say about him that he was able to work with so many fighters with varying styles and to achieve so much success doing it?
TH: I think that, in my opinion, Emanuel Steward was the best trainer that ever lived. There is no other trainer who made so many fighters into champions.
“Emanuel had the ability to take a fighter and to change him, and to not only make them better, but to make them better men than they were before they came to him.
“So, Emanuel has done a lot of things to make other fighters better men, just like he did for me. All that I want people to know is that Emanuel was very, very special, not just to me, but to a lot of other men.
“Emanuel changed a lot of peoples’ lives, so I have nothing but a great deal of love and respect for Emanuel Steward.”
Photo / Chris Cozzone, Fightwireimages.com and Ronald C. Modra-Getty Images
Lem Satterfield can be reached at [email protected]