Boxing comment: The recent death of Emanuel Steward at 68 has spawned a welter of eulogies and obituaries that have spared no superlative in praising his record as a trainer of world champions stretching back over three decades.
Based on this record it is no less than he deserves, with his place as one of the sport’s all-time great trainers most definitely assured.
Not only did Manny Steward train multiple world champions, but unlike most of the venerated trainers of the present era he built a few from the bottom up, developing them from novices as kids to the champions they became. The most famous in this category was, of course, Tommy Hearns.
Both names together — Hearns and Steward — recall one of boxing’s greatest eras, when a world champion really could consider himself the best in the world. This stands in contrast to the sport today, with a plethora of sanctioning bodies and belts responsible for diminishing the word champion almost out of all recognition.
Hearns arrived at the famed Kronk Gym in Detroit in the mid-1970s. A tall, skinny teenager, he bore little if any evidence of the future greatness he was to enjoy in the ring throughout the 1980s.
That he did is something he has always credited to the influence of Steward, who proceeded to turn him from an amateur who threw feather-dusters to one of the most devastating punchers and successful welterweights and light-welterweights of all time.
Even at the height of his powers boxing commentators were at a loss to explain how such an unlikely physical specimen as Hearns, standing 6’2” while weighing around 160 lbs, supported by legs that looked liked two threads hanging from his shorts, could generate such blistering power to take out opponent after opponent.
The secret was in Steward’s ability to utilise the superior range of Hearns to make sure he gained full extension in his shots to emphasis his natural handspeed.
The increase in that all-important snap at the end of his punches as a result of this adjustment in technique is key to understanding where Hearns’s power came from. Add to this the way he started each punch from the balls of his feet to get his full weight behind the shot and you understand the role that Steward played in his success.
As Hearns said upon hearing the news of his old trainer’s death, “The man changed my life. He made me a different person. I owe him a great deal.”
Another world champion who benefited from Steward’s tutelage was Lennox Lewis, arguably the greatest heavyweight of the modern era. Ironically, Steward trained Oliver McCall, one of the few heavyweights to defeat Lewis in their first of two fights in 1994.
Lewis employed the services of Steward after this loss, a decision that was to prove among the best the ex-Olympic champion would ever make in a long and successful ring career.
Prior to teaming up with Steward, Lewis had relied on his right hand to best his opponents. His jab on the other hand was well nigh non existent. He would hold his left hand low and away from his face, content to paw with it as he teed up the right. This left him vulnerable to a right hand coming back, a vulnerability Steward had spotted while training McCall to fight him in 1994.
Steward worked on developing Lewis’s jab, as well as on his balance, with the result that over the next few years he was known for possessing one of the most destructive jabs in the sport. He and Steward remained together until Lewis retired in 2004. The deep respect he retained for his former trainer is reflected in the statement the former heavyweight champion released on hearing of his death.
“I’m completely devastated by the passing of my long time friend, mentor and trainer Emanuel ‘Manny’ Steward. Manny has helped me get through some of the biggest fights in my career and I only regret that I couldn’t return the favour and see him through his biggest fight.”
It is unlikely that boxing will ever see such a knowledgeable trainer grace the sport again. A record of more than 40 world champions says it all. More importantly the veneration in which the likes of Hearns and Lewis held Steward up to the day he died is testament to the man’s human qualities. This is an accolade which in the world of boxing is about as rare as hen’s teeth.
Emanuel “Manny” Steward was a true legend.
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