With a twinkle in his eyes, a smile on his face and a soothing voice, Steward developed unique bonds in and out of the ring with a long line of champions that included Thomas Hearns, Lennox Lewis, Oscar De La Hoya and Wladimir Klitschko.
Steward, owner of the Kronk Gym in Detroit and an International Boxing Hall of Fame trainer, died Thursday. He was 68. His executive assistant, Victoria Kirton, said Steward died Thursday at a Chicago hospital. She didn’t disclose the cause of death.
“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 Thursday. “I will miss our time together. The long talks about boxing, the world, and life itself. Most of all I will miss our friendship.”
Steward, whose father was a coal miner and mother was a seamstress, was born in West Virginia. He got boxing gloves as a Christmas present at the age of 8, the start of what would become a long career in the sweet science.
He moved to the Motor City just before becoming a teenager and trained as an amateur boxer at Brewster Recreation Center, which once was the home gym of Joe Louis.
Steward, at the age of 18, won the national Golden Gloves tournament as a bantamweight. Instead of trying to make it as a professional boxer, he went to work for the Detroit Edison Co. and in 1971 accepted a part-time position as head coach – for $35 per week – of the boxing program at the Kronk Recreation Center.
A dynasty was born.
The Kronk’s first professional champion was Hilmer Kenty, a lightweight from Columbus, Ohio, who started training there in 1978 and won the WBA title two years later.
But It was Hearns who really put Kronk – and the trainer known as Manny – on the map. The boxer known as Hitman was the first man to win titles in four divisions – he won five overall – and topped his 155-8 amateur record by going 61-5-1 with 48 knockouts as a pro.
Even though Steward had a lot of success with Hearns, some of his setbacks from his corner were among the most memorable in the sport. Hearns was knocked out in the 14th round by Sugar Ray Leonard in 1981 – Steward said that was the most painful experience of his life – and Hearns was on the short end of a three-round fight with Marvin Hagler in 1985 that is considered one of the best bouts in boxing history.
Hearns wasn’t alone.
Steward trained, helped train or managed some of the greatest fighters – and some kids who just needed to get off the streets – of the past 40 years out of Kronk and in other facilities across the globe, putting fighters from many countries in red and gold trunks.