Remembering the Goldfather Emanuel Steward

By Teddy B. Blackburn on October 25, 2012
Remembering the Goldfather Emanuel Steward
No one loved boxing, and boxers, more than Emanuel Steward. (Teddy B. Blackburn)

The only thing more ferocious than the 110 degree Kronk heat was the intensity of Kronk sparring matches, and I was mesmerized right away…

I was a troubled teenager when I first met Emanuel Steward at the legendary Kronk Gym on McGraw Street in Detroit in 1977. My older brother Doug, who was studying journalism at the University of Michigan, was then writing for the now defunct Ann Arbor News. I tagged along with him to watch Emanuel train the great Thomas “Hitman” Hearns and a group of future Golden Gloves champions with an equal amount of enthusiasm.

I was used to the excitement of being among 110,000 fans for a University of Michigan Big Ten football game, but it was a little more difficult to get used to the 110 degree heat inside the Kronk. The only thing more ferocious than the Kronk heat was the intensity of Kronk sparring matches, and I was mesmerized right away. The toughness and durability of Kronk boxers made the seemingly rugged football players seem like spoiled frat boys.

Emanuel had a way of sizing people up, and he sized me up pretty quickly. He threw some compliments my way and made me feel like I belonged at the gym. I left the gym that day thinking of Emanuel as a sort of father figure, even though there was not all that much interaction between us. He had a way of making everyone he came in contact with feel like a very lucky person.

He was a great man.

Emanuel would often travel with his young boxers to tournaments, including the Ohio State Fair. One or more always came home with a trophy, and Emanuel always looked as proud as the kid who won the award. He developed future professional champions and contenders like Hearns, Gerald McClellan, Milton and Steve McCrory, Frank Tate, Hilmer Kenty and Ricky Womack from the ground up. As amateurs they wore Kronk red and gold with great pride. Emanuel had devised the color scheme from the United States Marine Corps.

Although Emanuel would go on to have great success as a trainer of professional champions, he never looked happier than when he was working with the amateurs. I don’t believe any single team ever dominated amateur boxing the way the Kronk did in the 1970s and 1980s.

Emanuel’s interests went beyond boxing. He loved to cook, play softball, and serve as a father figure to his many fighters. No one loved boxing, and boxers, more than he did. Hearns, and many others, were often quoted as saying that Emanuel was like the dad they never had.

The Goldfather always took the time to talk to me whenever I would skip school and drive or hitchhike to the Kronk. He offered me great support during my short-lived amateur boxing career, where I lost to future USBA light heavyweight champion Booker Word. When my mother died years later, he called and urged me to come see him in Miami where he was training Lennox Lewis.

I was back in my hometown of Ann Arbor last July 4th, so naturally I sent Emanuel a text. It was not unusual for me to visit him at his home or at the gym or a training camp during my 25 years as a boxing photographer.

“Come over for a BBQ,” he wrote. “The the ribs are cooking.” 

I will keep those words on my phone forever. In my heart and on my office bulletin board, I will always keep the cherished photo of Emanuel and me during that holiday weekend. I will look at it every day for inspiration and joy. There are no words to describe how much I will miss Emanuel. He was my friend, and truly a man of the people and a citizen of the world.

Rest in peace, Emanuel. You will always be my best friend forever in boxing.

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  1. Jerry Moyer 02:09am, 10/27/2012

    I first met Emanuel Steward when he was training my friend Kermit Cintron.  I was making a movie at the time about people who faced adversity and found a way to FIGHT to overcome it.  As a boxing fan, of course I knew about Mr. Steward and his legendary career.  I guess I was a bit nervous about meeting him and seeing if he’d be ok about filming him working with Kerm etc.  Well, upon meeting him, it was like we were lifetime friends.  He took both me and my partner Burke Cherrie in with open arms.  He allowed us to travel to camps and to film everything and anything we wanted.  Simply stated, he was one of the most gracious people I ever met.  What I also wish to share is what a great storyteller he was.  On more than one occasion, I asked him questions about this fighter or that fighter and what ‘could’ have been a 20 second answer by others turned into an hour-long boxing discussion filled with details that only ‘HE’ could provide.  I have to say that while i realize we certainly weren’t close friends, he made me feel like one.  I enjoyed watching his HBO commentary and have to say… I was most saddened to hear the news of his passing.  He was a great man…a great boxing peron…and a man who changed the lives of many.  RIP!

  2. nino spiteri 12:59am, 10/27/2012

    what a great guy i met him several times we had quite a few drinks and had a knack of always making you feel important we talked and talked and talked about boxing and on one occasion he went back to his hotel room got one of his posters and put a message on it to a true boxing man and signed it this i treasure this was the type of person he was he will be greatly missed by everybody R.I.P   Manny

  3. Fred Calhoun 11:33pm, 10/26/2012

    Greatest of the greats. Mr. Steward was not only the greatest boxing trainer. He was a champion of humanity.

  4. NYIrish 05:22am, 10/26/2012

    Tough old school trainer with a heart of gold. Manny helped more kids than we will know. He leaves a void. Thanks for the article Teddy.

  5. Pete The Sneak 04:31am, 10/26/2012

    Never had the ultimate pleasure of meeting and/or speaking to Emanuel Steward, though I had seen him in person at a couple of fights. Nevertheless, reading your post Teddy, I feel like I actually did get to meet and speak with him. Thanks for a truly heartfelt tribute to the great trainer and person, Emanuel Stewart. Rest in Peace sir. Peace.

  6. MIKE SCHMIDT 03:07am, 10/26/2012

    A great tribute to a great man Teddy. My meetings with Emanuel, in retrospect, were brief and few but I would tell you this my friend—my first chance to meet Emanuel face to face was in Vegas for Khan vs Judah—he was on the Casino floor at Mandalay Bay talking to a gent—I interrupted the conversation, in apology, and asked if I could get him, under recording, to give his thoughts on the fight later, the response—” What are you kidding, come on, let’s do it right now” and we proceeded to do it “right now” for fifteen wonderful insightful minutes—Emanuel saw me after that ringside at Cotto vs Margo II and waived me over for a chat after the fight and did the same with myself and our fearless Editor Robert at the weigh in for Pac vs JMM no. 3—a people person and boxing man thru and thru and as good a class act as you could find—so thank you very much for this article my friend.

  7. Darrell 01:25am, 10/26/2012

    What a loss for boxing.

    But what a legacy this man left behind, both professionally, and…as has been outlined here, personally.

  8. Bob 07:13pm, 10/25/2012

    It’s hard to imagine a better trainer or a nicer person than Manny.  He never had a bad word for anyone and relished and appreciated his ability to make a living doing something he loved so much. He touched a lot of lives and left an indelible impression. What a sad day, just a terrible loss. Thanks, Teddy, for sharing such a personal story with us.

  9. peter 05:18pm, 10/25/2012

    I only spoke to Emanuel Steward once, on the phone, to interview him. During our rather long conversation, he came across as genuine, knowedgeable, friendly and mature. After I hung up, I was smiling and I felt like I had made a friend. The man was a good man in an ugly sport.

  10. the thresher 04:48pm, 10/25/2012

    Heartfelt and it comes through that way. Thanks Teddy.

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