Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward, a genius in the ring and a goodwill ambassador for boxing outside of it, died Thursday at 68 in a Chicago hospital following a lengthy illness.
There had been multiple erroneous reports of his death early Thursday, but Steward's sister, Diane Steward Jones, confirmed his passing to Detroit television station WXYZ at about 3:30 p.m. ET. No cause of death has been released.
A 1996 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, Steward was best known as the trainer who developed Thomas Hearns into one of the most fearsome fighters of his generation.
But Steward was also a master who was able to help fighters of all styles improve their games.
Considered the greatest trainer of his era, he worked with dozens of world champions and was instrumental in the success of not only Hearns, but elite fighters like heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, ex-heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, Oscar De La Hoya and many others.
In addition to being a great trainer, he developed a reputation as an outstanding analyst on HBO. Steward's excitement about a good fight was palpable – boxing pundits will recall his famous exclamation at the end of the ninth round of the May 18, 2002, fight between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, "This should be the Round of the Century!"
Though he trained fighters of all sizes and styles, ultimately he became something of a heavyweight expert. He took over as Lewis' lead trainer in 1995, not long after Lewis was knocked out by Oliver McCall. Steward had coincidentally trained McCall to the win over Lewis on Sept. 24, 1994.
Under Steward's tutelage, Lewis went 16-1-1, with wins over Mike Tyson, Vitali Klitschko and Evander Holyfield, among others. In 2004, he took over as Wladimir Klitschko's trainer and Klitschko was promptly beaten by Lamon Brewster in a massive upset.
But, just as he had done with Lewis, he slowly turned Klitschko around and helped him become the top heavyweight in the world. Klitschko won 16 fights in a row under Steward.
Steward also got heavyweight title wins with McCall and Evander Holyfield, which put his record as the trainer of heavyweights at 34-2-1.
"That's an extraordinary accomplishment," said Jim Lampley, Steward's partner on HBO boxing broadcasts since 2001 and one of Steward's closest friends. "He taught Lennox Lewis never to let his chin drift over his front knee. If you took a line from the fighter's front knee and brought it up, Emanuel taught them never to let their chin cross that line.
"He was extraordinary with things like that. When Lennox learned it, he became a superstar. When he taught it to Wladimir, look what he became."
A national Golden Gloves champion as a fighter, Steward became an elite trainer almost by accident. He took his half brother, James Steward, to the Kronk Gym in Detroit and became a part-time coach. Soon, he would be running the facility and developing scores of high-level fighters.
In a sport marked by infighting and bitter personal conflicts, Steward had no known enemies and was almost universally revered in the industry. He frequently reached into his own pocket to help the fighters he trained, and was always a friendly, accessible expert for journalists looking for help on a story.
"He's going to be most known as one of the greatest trainers in the history of the sport," Lampley said. "That's the central element of his identity. He's my best friend and it's on a personal level I have the most appreciation for him. But he is the man who groomed Thomas Hearns and who built an iconic inner city gym in the working class capital of America.
"What tells you a lot about the man he was is that he made a tremendous mark in his early days training what one would think was his natural constituency, black American fighters in the middle weight classes. But then he moved on and trained an English heavyweight champion, a Ukrainian heavyweight champion and an Irish middleweight. He was just spectacular."
Former HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg hired Steward in 2001 as an analyst to work alongside Lampley and Larry Merchant in the HBO broadcast booth. He said Steward excelled from Day 1. Steward's ability to analyze a fight in terms the audience could understand as well as his passion for the sport made him an elite broadcaster, Greenburg said.
He was always opinionated, but rarely angered the fighters he covered because of the respect they had for him. Most of the time, his analysis was spot on, they knew.
"Emanuel was really a special man and he had a heart of a lion," Greenburg said. "Sometimes in boxing, its easy to get caught up in that crossfire with the promoters, but he always maintained his dignity. He tried his best for his fighters, but always remained a very sweet man. He had great honesty as an analyst and he was able to climb off the fence and not be afraid to speak his mind.
“He had great eloquence and was a very smart man and that came across in his analysis. But he was just a wonderful human and anyone who knew him fell in love with him."
Ken Hershman, Greenburg's successor as president of HBO Sports, said in a statement, "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. 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."
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