The term legend is often used loosely, particularly in sport. It gets thrown around carelessly without a full appreciation of what it actually takes to become a sporting legend. Furthermore, boxing is a sport which seems to immerse itself more and more in both controversy and corruption. Emanuel Steward was a fine example of a silver lining. He was a true shining light and most definitely a legend.
Manny Steward started his career in the sport as a hugely successful amateur boxer, winning 94 of his 97 fights plus the national Golden Gloves tournament as a bantamweight. Rather than turn professional he accepted a part-time position as the boxing head coach at the Kronk Recreation Centre in Detroit.
He forged his reputation at Kronk. During his career he looked after, in some capacity, a record 40 plus, world champions commencing in 1980 with Hilmer Kenty. During the same year, one of Steward’s most famous disciples, Tommy ‘The Hitman’ Hearns, lifted the WBA welterweight title aloft ensuring that all three of boxer, trainer and gym made it firmly onto the map.
Although Hearns and Steward enjoyed a lot of success together, the setbacks they encountered were some of the most memorable moments in the sport. In 1981 an undefeated Hearns took on Sugar Ray Leonard, losing his title via a 14th round stoppage in what was voted fight of the year by The Ring magazine. Four years later, Hearns lost his second career bout, this time against Marvellous Marvin Hagler in a brutal three-round all out brawl often acknowledged as one of the greatest fights in boxing history.
Lennox Lewis, who dominated the heavyweight ranks for a decade starting in the mid 1990s, joined forces with Steward following his shock defeat to Oliver McCall in 1994. Lewis often spoke that as an amateur, everyone was afraid of the Kronk fighters and whenever a fighter donning the famous red and gold trunks was sighted, they immediately commanded respect. Lewis and Steward’s partnership yielded famous wins over Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson and Vitali Klitschko. On his official website Lewis posted, “Today we’ve (the boxing world) lost one its crown jewels. Manny was giving, compassionate, selfless and stern. I’m proud to have had him in my corner for so many years. I’ll miss his smile, his no-holds-bared truthfulness and our discussions on boxing and life.”
When Lewis retired Steward’s services were snapped up (also following a defeat) by current heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. Only in July, the Ukrainian led 22,000 fans in singing Happy Birthday to Steward. “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 said. “I will miss our time together. The long talks about boxing, the world, and life itself. Most of all I will miss our friendship.”
Probably the most powerful tribute was from Steward’s colleagues at HBO where he also worked as a ringside analyst for a number of years. “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.”
RIP Emanuel ‘Manny’ Steward (1994 – 2012)