Emanuel Steward 1944-2012

by Kieran Mulvaney

Emanuel Steward, Hall-of-Fame trainer and manager, and a beloved member of the HBO boxing family, has passed away at the age of 68.

Born in West Virginia in 1944, he moved to Detroit, a city with which he would become deeply linked, as a child. It was there that he began to box, compiling an impressive amateur record that culminated, at the age of 18, in a Golden Gloves title in 1963. Instead of turning professional, however, Steward focused on training amateur fighters, although monetary concerns obligated him to initially earn a living as an electrician. In 1971, he accepted a part-time job as a trainer in Detroit’s Kronk Recreation Center, and that year his amateur team won the Detroit Golden Gloves team title.

In 1972, he became a full-time trainer/manager at Kronk, and in 1977, he ventured permanently into the world of professional boxing. Within three years he had his first world champion, in the form of Hilmer Kenty, who stopped  Ernesto Espana to win a lightweight title. Five months later, he had his second, when rangy, power-punching welterweight Thomas Hearns  knocked out Pipino Cuevas in the second round.

Although he would manage and train fighters for three decades more, it was Hearns with whom Steward was and will always be most strongly identified. During boxing’s most recent Golden Age, he was at Hearns’ side for his megafights with fellow Hall-of-Famers Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran.

He won the Boxing Writers Association of America Manager of the Year award in 1980 and 1989, and received Trainer of the Year honors in 1993 and 1997. It was also in 1996 that he was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He became much in demand for his training acumen, receiving the call from the likes of Oscar De La Hoya and Haseem Hamed; but the final 15 years of his training career were dominated by two heavyweights: Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko.

Steward was in Oliver McCall’s corner when McCall shockingly knocked out Lewis in 1994 to win a heavyweight crown. Lewis almost immediately turned to Steward to take charge of his career, and the two men regained the heavyweight title, overcame the shock of a knockout loss to Hasim Rahman by blasting out Rahman in a rematch, and concluded Lewis’ career with stoppage wins over Mike Tyson and Vitali Klitschko.

When Lewis retired, Steward was invited to train Vitali’s brother Wladimir, and the two men spent eight years together, losing just once and running up 16 consecutive victories  thereafter as Wladimir entrenched himself as the dominant heavyweight of his era.

For a decade, Steward was also one of the ringside voices of HBO Boxing, bringing to his commentary the insightful analysis of one who was steeped in the sport’s fundamentals, as well as the passion of one who thoroughly enjoyed and admired the sport and its participants. Who can forget his excited calls during the first Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward classic, or when Victor Ortiz rebounded from a knockdown to drop Andre Berto?

Those who were fortunate to befriend or work with him knew an Emanuel Steward that others could easily have inferred from watching and listening: a genuinely warm-hearted man, who had time for seemingly everybody, who never turned anyone away nor any request down, who loved not just boxing people, but people, period.

“There are no adequate words to describe the enormous degree of sadness and loss we feel at HBO Sports with the tragic passing of Manny Steward,” said Ken Hershman, President of HBO Sports.

“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. His contributions to the sport and to HBO will never be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”