Kronk, Detroit and Rolls Royces: A Conversation About Emanuel Steward With Morgan Campbell

Legendary trainer and boxing commentator, Emanuel Steward, passed away on Thursday, October 25th due to diverticulitis and after effects of colon cancer. A former Golden Gloves champion with an amateur record of 94-3,  Steward is most known for training 41 world champion fighters throughout his career. Guys like Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko and Thomas Hearns learned under his tutelage and became elite fighters in their respective classes. Steward also encountered a successful secondary career as a commentator for HBO, working next to Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and Max Kellerman. His commentary was always spry, witty and, most importantly, from Detroit.

I had a chance to chop it up with renowned boxing analyst and historian Morgan Campbell of The Fight Game and the Toronto Star to talk about Steward's legacy. From the greatness of Kronk Gym to all those damn Rolls Royce's, Steward's mark on the boxing will undoubtedly live forever.

Where will Emanuel Steward's legacy rank amongst the all-time trainers?

Near the top. Impossible to say for sure because different eras bring different techniques and advances in technology and that makes comparing across generations really difficult. If they had branched-chain amino acids and Testosterone Replacement Therapy in the 1950s, maybe Sugar Ray Robinson is able bulk up to 175 without sacrificing speed and knocks out Joey Maxim in their light heavyweight title fight. If that happens, we're calling the architect of that game plan the GOAT trainer and arguing for Steward's place as number two. All hypothetical. Point is Steward's track record of success stands up in any era. Hall of Fame trainer Angelo Dundee once said a trainer is only good as the guy in the stool, and that's true (See: Roach, Freddie). But the roll call of champs who have sat in Steward's stool -- from Hilmer Kenty to Hit Man Hearns to Miguel Cotto to the Wladimir Klitschko -- tells you it's more than a coincidence. The man was a master trainer, and when he passed, a lot of invaluable knowledge went with him.

Who will go down as Steward's best fighter?

Got to be Hearns. He's the bridge between the two halves of Steward's career, linking the Steward who taught neighborhood kids how defend themselves and the Steward who trained the world's elite.

Which fighter improved the most under Steward's watch?

Almost impossible to say, and that's what's special about Steward. Some trainers are incredible teachers and mentors who can build a kid from a raw beginner into a world champ. Other trainers are really effective as mid-career consultants, spotting and fixing the flaws in an established fighter's game. Steward is one of the few guys who's equally effective in both roles. The first champions from Kronk -- Kenty, Hearns, Milt and Steve McCrory -- were guys Steward built from the ground up, while world champs like Miguel Cotto and Lennox Lewis made huge strides under Steward. The ability to improve a fighter at any level is the sign not just of a great boxing mind, but of a great communicator and teacher as well.

Talk about the legacy of the Kronk Gym in Detroit and where it goes from here.

Fear of sounding like a moron keeps me from saying too much about the Kronk. If you guys haven't read Ralph Wiley's boxing memoir, Serenity, I recommend you do it. Wiley describes Kronk, and its origins, meaning and legacy with more detail and understanding than I ever could. In terms of the future, of course, there are concerns. Younger trainers like Javan Hill and Jonathon Banks have shouldered more responsibility as Steward's health deteriorated, so it's not like the door was padlocked the morning after Steward died. But you have to wonder how many established superstars will migrate to Detroit and wear the gold-and-red now that Steward's not around to attract them.

Was it surprising to see how well Steward came across to viewers on HBO Boxing?

A little bit. For armchair linguists like me, every sentence Steward uttered was a jewel, and I know it's going to be a long time before we hear words like "pernch," "spuhrrin," and "daynjiss" on HBO's air. I will definitely miss that. But for the broader audience, both Steward's boxing knowledge and his genuineness shone through. Anybody who has ever met or conversed with him will tell you how down-to-earth he was, and on the air, he came across that way and fans appreciated it.

What's going to happen to all of Steward's Rolls Royce's? (LMAO)

A few years back, he had to sell one to settle a tax debt. Maybe Rolls Royce ownership is the major blemish on Steward's legacy: a Detroit legend driving luxury cars from England. It doesn't compute, Ed. But if that's the biggest flaw we can hold against him, I figure he's done pretty well.

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