Home / Featured / Close Encounters With Emanuel Steward

Close Encounters With Emanuel Steward

By Scoop Malinowski

Boxing world figures remember the great trainer, manager, TV analyst and Hall of Famer Emanuel Steward, who trained 41 world champions including Lennox Lewis, Thomas Hearns, Wladimir Klitschko, Evander Holyfield, Hilmer Kenty, and Julio Cesar Chavez…

Steward passed away on October 25, 2012 at the age of 68.

Thomas Hearns:  “I know if it wasn’t for Emanuel Steward it would be very hard, very difficult for me to be the man I am today. Because I had Emanuel Steward in my life to help guide me, to help me become who I became. Emanuel Steward was so much more in my life, he wasn’t just a trainer he was like a dad to me. He taught me boxing and life things too. He was a very special man. Besides my father, when he was in my life, nobody ever taught me things or showed me things. Right after I met Emanuel I seen my life change very quickly. I owe it all to Emanuel.”
“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. 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?”
“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.”
Lennox Lewis:  “Manny always told me I was the best, but the truth is, he was the best and I’m grateful, privileged and honoured to be counted among his many historic successes. Manny was giving, selfless, compassionate and stern, I’m proud to have had him in my corner for so many years.”
Iran Barkley:  “I was just so glad, so proud that I knew Emanuel Steward. The day we fought Tommy and everything went down the way it did, Emanuel came to me, he said, Iran, you’re the great warrior I always thought but I want to say thanks to you that you fought a great man like Tommy and I trained a great man like him. And God bless you Emanuel.”
Tom Loeffler:  “Emanuel was a very special person. He’s one of those people that have been involved in boxing for so long and experienced so many things and yet he had that unique quality to make you feel very close to him or that he was able to relate those stories. I had the very rare experience of having the very same birthday as he did. And when Wladimir fought a couple of times in Germany it happened to be on our birthdays. So we had celebrated a couple of birthdays together. He was just a special person that really made you feel welcome even though he was a legend in the sport of boxing and had some many championship experiences. He made somebody that approached him feel welcome and was always very hospitable. The job that he did that I can talk about was the job that he did with Wladimir.”
“He started out kind of slow but once he was able to get Wladimir to the point – it was never physical with Wladimir but as far as confidence in the ring, I think just in general being a mentor for Wladimir, both inside and outside the ring, just once Wladimir had the self-confidence, he’s just at the level where he’s unbeatable. He’s building on all the experiences. And the knowledge that he learned from Emanuel, he’s taking that and building on that. It was a very strange situation. When Emanuel was sick and he wasn’t able to be at the training camp for Mariusz Wach. And his presence and fingerprints were everywhere on the team that he assembled around Wladimir to help with the training camp. The lead figure wasn’t there but he was definitely felt in the ring. Everyone was inspired by that, unfortunately he passed away right before the fight during the training camp.”
Question: Which fight do you believe it all came together for Wladimir under the guidance of Emanuel?
Tom Loeffler:  “I think it was one of the riskiest fights that Wladimir had ever been in was the Sam Peter fight. It wasn’t a world title fight, it was an eliminator fight for the mandatory to challenge Chris Byrd. And the fortitude that Wladimir showed in the ring that night – he had a couple of knockdowns – but to come back and be able to hurt Peter in the 12th round and have him wobbly and then some of the big shots that Peter was throwing – and yet he clearly won the fight. That, I think, was clearly the turning point. After that Wladimir had the confidence from being in a tough fight like that and being able to beat a top guy like Peter, and just building from there. Ever since that fight he dominated Chris Byrd. He unified with Sultan Ibragimov, everyone he’s fought he beat – David Haye very clearly. He’s at the point he’s putting everything together that he learned from Emanuel Steward.”
John Scully:  I grew up watching boxing in the 70’s and 80’s and Emanuel’s boxers were a big part of that time period. Leonard-Hearns in 1981 was a huge fight from my childhood and I still have a magazine from the week of the fight that had a feature on Manny. I grew up knowing about him and Eddie Futch and Angelo Dundee as the premier trainers in the world so eventually meeting Emmanuel Steward was pretty big for me. My greatest personal memory of him came twenty eight years after Leonard-Hearns 1. I was in a camp down in Florida in 2009 with one of my boxers who was sparring with Wladimir Klitschko and one day I offered to spar with one of Emanuel’s super middleweights because he didnt have anyone to work with that week. I was way past my boxing days but I keep in good enough shape to spar and between rounds that day Manny would work my corner and give me advice for the next round. I ended up having a pretty good session that particular day but the highlight for me was realizing that it was the same trainer Hearns had in 1981 that was giving me water and advice that day, talking to me like I was still an active fighter, praising my work that day. For a kid who grew up on the big fights of the 80’s it was pretty surreal and special to have him work with me that day. 

Danny Flexen (Ex-editor Boxing News UK):  “My relationship with Manny was one conducted predominantly over a transatlantic telephone line, but such was the warmth he emanated, it feels like I knew him far better than I did. I first consulted Manny for a feature article on Andy Lee back in 2008 but over the years I would quiz him on Wladimir Klitschko, Miguel Cotto and others. In one of our last conversations – I asked him about his peers for the Power List, Fighting Fit’s run-down of the top 5 boxing trainers in the world as voted for by other trainers. I think it is worth recounting not only what he believed were his greatest achievements but also what some of his fellow coaches thought of him:

Greatest achievement(s):Taking people from the beginning all the way, like Hearns from a little kid to being inducted into the Hall of Fame as an all-time great. Also being a hired gun and rebuilding guys, like with Chavez and Wladimir. The top two were probably training a minimum talent Oliver McCall to beat Lennox Lewis and taking Holyfield after a bad beating by Riddick Bowe to beat the same man.
Peer review:“You go back to the ‘80s and early ‘90s, to still be around 30 years later and still training great fighters like Wladimir Klitschko, he’s obviously doing something right.”  Robert Garcia.
“A great organizer. Very successful. One of his strengths is that he’s very tactically aware, and uses this to prepare his fighters.” – Fritz Sdunek.
“I think technically Emmanuel Steward is excellent, particularly in the heavyweight division. He masterminded the career of Lennox Lewis.” – Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain.
Claude Abrams (Ex-editor Boxing News UK): “It’s been ten years since Emanuel Steward, the legendary boxing trainer from Detroit, passed away. I don’t follow boxing closely anymore, but am pretty sure the sport misses his presence and contributions. He offered me – when I was a journalist – some priceless opportunities. Despite the demand for his services, he was always generous with me. That I have never forgotten and it’s a lesson for us all.  Thomas Hearns and Emanuel Steward – both men had a tremendous influence on my life. Hearns was my childhood hero. Two of my other big favorites were Marvin Hagler, who certainly played a big part in nourishing my interest in the sport, and Sugar Ray Leonard. Both were bitter rivals to Hearns and each other. Suffice to say it was an unforgettable time to be a boxing fan. Hearns’ fight and defeat by Hagler in 1985 remains the most exhilarating contest I have watched, live or otherwise.”

“When I look back on some of the experiences I’ve had in boxing and life, many could be categorized as ‘never would have believed it possible.’ This reflection has helped me realize that anything really IS possible and motivates me, at 55, to still go after what excites and interests me. One particular story underlines that notion. Many years after their epic contest, Hagler and Hearns visited London for the opening of a gym near Camden. Later that evening, during the grand opening party, Steward, who I had grown to know reasonably well, pulled me to one side and invited me for dinner. We ended up heading across London to Mayfair and a posh restaurant. And joining us was…Hagler and Hearns. The stuff of dreams. They say to never meet your heroes, probably because you’ll often be disappointed. But I wasn’t.”

Scott Hirsch: I remember I was doing a phone interview with a young boxing reporter, Troy Ondrizek six or seven years ago when we were negotiating a fight between Vladimir Klitschko and Shannon Briggs. Shelly Finkel and Cedric Kushner told me 100% the fight was done but don’t tell anyone just yet. A minute in to the call Emanuel Steward called and I clicked over. He was calling as a friend to ask how my training and weight loss was going at the time. I explained I had a young reporter on the other line and just let me give him a no comment on Klitschko and Briggs and I’ll click right back over. Emanuel surprised me when he said connect me in and I’ll talk to him. I said, What are you going to tell him? Emanuel said, “the truth of course” and that’s what separated him from the rest. Whether it was in the gym, in the fighters corner or on any occasion, Emanuel Steward told it the way it was.”

Robert Larsen:  “I have to write this. It is so sad to hear about the death of this great man, person, trainer and friend.. First as a boxer, and a boxing fan, I always admired Emanuel Steward for his training abilities. He trained ALL of the best boxers for ages.. Boxers like Thomas Hearns, Evander Holyfield, Oscar De La Hoya, Lennox Lewis, Cotto, Prince Naseem and Wladimir Klitschko just to name a few.. Then as …a trainer, you listen more the the wise words he says from the corner.. Last, I had the great pleasure and honor to be invited to join in the training camp in Austria for the Wladimir Klitschko-David Haye fight. In camp were other great guys.. Like James Ali Bashir, Ola Afolabi, Steve Cunningham and many more, and all so nice. I got to experience first hand, how great a trainer he was. His calm ways and easy talking. We were there as sparring partners, but he still had the class to come over and offer advice and more. I will never forget one morning, passing by before breakfast, he called me over and said have a sit.. I sat down and for more than two hours I had the greatest time.. Going through history. So cool. It was like I had known him forever. I will never forget the day I had breakfast with the greatest trainer Emanuel Steward.”

Donny Lalonde, Boxing Champion: “I knew Emanuel very well. We had a very strong relationship. I am soo soo soo sorry to hear of his passing. Emanuel was special to me because he was there in 1981 when I boxed Tommy Hearns in an exhibition to help raise money for Ralph Racine when he was put in a coma. I had one fight, Tommy was 26-0 25 KO’s. After the exhibition Emanuel encouraged me to take boxing seriously and gave me the confidence to quit my job and box full-time. I did that the next day and never looked back. He was always so supportive and positive and his support contributed to the confidence I gained helping me believe in myself as a person as well as as a fighter. His support and encouragement changed my life. I know I am one of so many he did this for. He is a very special man who’s legacy will endure forever and his impact will be felt forever.”
Michael Onello, Trainer: “What I remember was at the Poconos training camp for Lennox Lewis in 2002, I brought my boxer Kenny Blair (14 at that time and a Junior Olympic champ from Florida) to spar with his featherweight Rey Beltran. We got there early, Emanuel Steward wasn’t there yet. I was sitting in a chair, by myself, Kenny was looking around the gym which had the ring and all the equipment. All the sudden, the doors swing open and Lennox Lewis and Emanuel Steward walk in. Emanuel walked directly across the room – he didn’t make eye contact with anyone else – he came straight, directly to me and put out his hand and shook my hand. To me, it was electrifying, inspiring. He’s one of the all-time greatest trainers – and he’s coming over to me to shake my hand. That gave me a shot of electricity, like, I do belong here. He’s as high as it gets in boxing. That moment I remember and when Kenny was sparring Beltran. At the onset, Emanuel wasn’t vocal, he was on the outside of the ring. As the sparring progressed, he got inside the ring and started to give instructions to Beltran. I don’t think he expected Kenny Blair to unleash like he did. I sensed some concern. All this is going through my mind – my kid is in the ring facing Emanuel Steward’s pro fighter. These two memories were very uplifting and motivational, to help me get to where I am today. It’s very sad that he passed away. He was a great man. When I think back on that day, he was nothing but kind to us.”
Renaldo Snipes, World Heavyweight Title Challenger: “I loved the man. We have known each other since we were in the amateurs together, he was with Tommy Hearns. We were both at the nationals for the Golden Gloves. We remained close because he said I was going to be great and I told him Tommy was going to be great. We stayed close every since. Very close.”
Bobby Czyz, Former World Champion:  “When I was fifteen years old,  I fought in the National Junior. Olympic Tournament, in Wisconsin. I fought odne of Emanuel’s fighters an he beat me, by decision. After the fight, Emanuel came over to me and said that his fighter was going to win the championship because he just beat the best talent in that division, meaning me. He went on to say that his fighter wasn’t the better fighter but had WAY TOO MUCH EXPERIENCE for me to compete with. He was completely complimentary of me and my abilities and couldn’t believe that I only had 20 some odd fights, at that time. He was ALWAYS A GENTLEMAN and my friend. I will miss him.”  
Jackie Kallen, Hall of Fame boxing manager:  “The year was 1978 and I was one of the first female sports writers in the country. I got the assignment to interview a young Detroit boxer named Thomas Hearns who has recently turned pro. I had never been to a boxing match before so it was a mind-expanding evening. I walked out of the old Olympia Stadium as a different girl. I was a boxing fan.””After my story ran on Thomas, I did one on Emanuel. Then I did one on Mickey Goodwin, another Kronk boxer. From then on, I started hanging out at the Kronk Gym, filing story after story. I could not believe how comfortable I felt in the boxing world. It was my new home-away-from-home.”

“Emanuel Steward finally offered me a job as the Kronk publicist. I would write the bios on all the fighters, set up photo shoots, help arrange the weigh-ins and press conferences and kind of be his right hand. I jumped at it and continued doing it for 10 years until I took the leap to management.”

“He always deflected the criticism of having a woman around and was my biggest advocate. He taught me to ignore the innuendos and hold my head up high when I was taunted or disrespected. He taught me the right way to wrap hands, stop a cut, and choose an opponent. He told me stories about his own amateur days and he told me which trainers were good and which were merely “cheerleaders.””

“Prentiss Byrd and I stood beside Emanuel for years. We were there for the big victories and we were there for the sad defeats. We were there when the money flowed liked water and we were there when things got tight. But through it all, one thing was clear: Emanuel Steward was one hell of a trainer.”

“So many talented boxers never make it into the Top 10, much less win a world title. But when Emanuel Steward touched them–it was like being touched by Midas. If he had a good boxer with great speed, he taught him to sit down on his punches. If he had a brawler who could really slam–he taught him defense and movement. He evaluated every man individually and trained him accordingly.”

“We shared so many memorable moments. Our kids grew up together, we traveled the world as a team, and no one to this day could make spareribs like Emanuel Steward. I remember his first Rolls Royce, the gorgeous suits, and the amazing meals at Caesar’s Palace back in the day. I remember him lighting candles at my son’s Bar Mitzvahs.”

“We celebrated when Tommy and Hilmer Kenty won their first titles, and we consoled one another when Tommy lost to Leonard in 1981 and when my fighter James Toney lost to Roy Jones Jr. in 1994. When I decided to try my hand at managing, it was Emanuel who told me, “You can do it!” and who gave me advice and support.”


About Scoop Malinowski

Check Also

Biofile Fred Sternburg Interview

By Scoop Malinowski Status: Long time boxing publicist will be inducted into the International Boxing ...