EMANUEL STEWARD would have been 76 today. It’s still hard to believe he’s gone. He deteriorated quickly in October 2012, when he died. The boxing world he adored was devastated by his unexpected departure.
“What was disturbing for me is I only spoke to him two weeks before he went into hospital,” said Lennox Lewis, one of over 40 world champions Steward taught. “I had no idea he was ill. I don’t know how a man could get sick so fast. I tried to speak to him in hospital but he wasn’t well enough. It was so upsetting to know he was deteriorating like that. I kept close to the situation, and then I was told he’d gone.”
Anyone who knew Emanuel would have wanted to say goodbye, to tell him what a special man he was, and to thank him for his unerring faith in boxing. The sport has not been the same without him and his vast knowledge, without his teddy bear warmth, without his bright sleeveless vests from which his arms would dance.
Steward was a journalist’s dream and would welcome a phone call – at virtually any time – to discuss boxing. Each response he uttered was considered, eloquent and wise. And extensive.
“From working in the media I hate it when you ask someone a question and they just give you a one word answer,” Steward chuckled after giving me a 35-minute explanation on Miguel Cotto’s chances of defeating Yuri Foreman in 2010. “Just let your shit flow, let’s talk about boxing, we can cut out all the rubbish later.”
Cutting the rubbish was never easy. Although his words would gallop and occasionally stumble as wisdom frantically searched for release, the end result of a conversation with Steward was always gold.
“What you got from Manny was honesty,” said Lewis, a fighter Steward often named as the most complete he had worked with. “I liked to call it ‘The realism of Manny’.”
That realism fed his magic. When he watched boxing he had an uncanny knack to combine a fan’s excitement (just listen to him almost explode with joy during his HBO commentary for Ward-Gatti), with a professor’s understanding of the science. His mind computed the intricacies of each punch; why it had been thrown, where the muscles came from to power the blast, and the workings of the brain that triggered the movement. He could predict what would happen next because he had an implicit grasp of what came before.
“Send your fighter out first for the next round,” Steward explained. “Psychologically, if the other guy is waiting for you in the centre of the ring, you lose the edge. Make sure you’re there first. When Samuel Peter knocked Wladimir [Klitschko] down, I made sure Wladimir was in the centre of the ring waiting for Peter when the bell went for the next round.”
Steward’s legend was made in his Kronk Gym, the unforgiving laboratory of champions. Not everyone who trained there could be king but improvement was almost a certainty.
“It was a dream for me when I went out and met Emanuel at Kronk,” explained Errol Christie, once the hottest prospect in British boxing who trained at the gym in the early 80s. “I was training with Thomas Hearns, Mike McCallum and Milton McCrory, who were talented guys. We all used to walk around joking one minute and sparring the next. I trained at a lot of gyms in my career and nobody moved like the Kronk boys. They moved so well around the ring they knew every inch of it and we all respected Emanuel. I just wish I could go back to those days.”
He’s not the only the only one. It’s been hard to say goodbye to Manny.
“[Before he died] I was talking to him about a couple of boxers who I wanted him to train but they’ll miss out on the greatest teaching in boxing,” said Lewis. “But I want a lot of Manny’s knowledge to continue through me, I feel I have to pass it on. I’m always helping fighters but it’s not until I start training them that I realise how much of what I am saying, Manny told me. I feel like I’m the son he gave a lot of things to and I want to carry on his tradition. He should never be forgotten.”