Part One: Manny Steward, memories of a legend

In memory of the great trainer, who passed away on 25 October, we take a look back at writer Matt Christie's time with an all-time boxing legend

26 October 2012    |    0 Comments

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Image courtesy of: Fighting Fit

It is a miserable Sunday morning and I'm chasing the time. I have an appointment at a clinic. I'm eyed suspiciously by the concierge as I run into the swanky London hotel overlooking Hyde Park. The lift elevates so smoothly that I'm not sure if it's moving. It chimes inoffensively and the doors elegantly separate to reveal new shiny scenery that confirms I have changed floors. I step out and follow the noise that is reverberating from the end of the golden corridor.

I sign my name and pick up a workbook on the day's activities. I walk into the majestic, airy room and almost choke on the enthusiasm invisibly bouncing off the walls. In the centre of the makeshift laboratory is a short man, perhaps 5ft 6ins, grinning so earnestly that reciprocation comes naturally. Next to him sits a laptop and a cluster of frantic disciples trying to catch the rapid words zipping out of their master's mouth so they can hold on tight and cherish them forever.

The man is Emanuel Steward and he has an infectious lust for life. His wisdom is carving little slices of pugilistic gold that shine brighter than the sparkling walls inside the immaculate Park Lane Hilton. I take my place with the boxing fans. On the screen of the small computer are glorious moving images of James Toney and Gerald McClellan sparring. While we all watch in awe Steward replaces the DVD with more private footage. This time we get to see Tommy Hearns at the famous Kronk gym taking on Mike McCallum.

Within minutes of being in the room I've been given irresistible tasters of two of the finest fights that never were. “These films could be worth a lot of money,” Emanuel giggles as he carefully puts the DVDs into his bag. With the anticipation peaking, the boxing clinic is due to begin. I wasn't late, after all.

“I began these clinics because I wanted to share my years of experience,” Steward reveals as I take my seat. “I have seen the good and the bad. I have learned valuable lessons which I want to pass along to those who are truly interested in the sport. There are no teachers in boxing anymore and we need to learn the proper way.”

As the drizzly morning evolves into an enchanting afternoon, the legendary trainer, who has been involved in boxng for over 50 years, is in top form as he fuses talesof legendary fighters with good humour to create valuable lessons.

"Miguel Cotto beat Yuri Foreman with the basic fundamentals of boxing,” Steward says about his most recent protégé. He's a stickler for keeping things simple and it's certainly worked for the coach who's been dubbed the “hired gun” for his rapid correctional qualities. “He's utilised good balance, a good jab and common sense, which isn't that common. It's boring sometimes to teach the basics but that's what you have to have. I can take any boxer in the world and show them the basics and a few tricks, but everything has to come from a grasp of the basics.”

Steward was born in 1944 and was a wonderful amateur. In nearly 100 contests he failed to have his arm raised just three times. Choosing not to enter into the world of paid combat he worked as an electrician while feeding his boxing habit by training amateurs. By the 1970s his skills were being administered in the now famous Kronk gym. Today, he works with some of the finest fighters around and he's certainly one of the finest coaches of all-time. You can see why.

His passion is startling as he shadow-boxes in front of us. A golden, sleeveless Kronk shirt that sprouts fidgety arms is tucked into blue bottoms. Cushioning his expert stance and footwork from the carpeted floor are white boxing boots into which his sweatpants nestle. Well over 60, he still looks the part. He deftly criticises modern trainers and their eye-catching pad workouts which show off their charge's skills. He's not a fan of the pugilistic prima donna who surrounds himself with a large team that has little worth when it comes down to the fighting.

“People can hold the pads and it's a really great show but nothing else. You've also got guys who teach you how to lift weights so your body can look cut,” he adds with a smile. “What all these guys can't teach is basic boxing and without that there's only so far you're going to go. Today there's no real superstars because very few can win three impressive fights in a row, they'll win two and then fl op in their next one because there's no training programme.”

As well as Cotto, another of Steward's current success stories is Ukrainian giant Wladimir Klitschko. The veteran punchpreacher has turned the once-delicate heavyweight into a slick giant who's almost impossible to beat.

“When I first had Wladimir I had him doing just footwork going from side to side,” Steward chuckles. The smile doesn't leave his face before I depart. “He said, and he was 27 then and he'd had 50 fights, ‘I was doing this when I was 14 and you're making me do this now?!' I said that was why he was successful in the first place. I also made him rock back and forth, to the right then to the left. You'll be surprised the effect just practising that will have. When you see him box today people can't figure him out. He doesn't look that fast but everyone who fights him says, ‘I couldn't get in'. Wladimir will get you when you think he can't punch and he'll do that from a real simple step that creates a little space. People don't understand why they can't get to him – it's rhythm.” Before Klitschko, Steward was the man in the corner who screamed maniacally at Lennox Lewis to go and knock Mike Tyson out. Eight years before that, he was in Oliver McCall's corner urging the American to do the same to Lewis. And he did. In a massive upset, the troubled McCall tamed the previously unbeaten ‘Lion' inside two shocking stanzas.

“When I took over with Oliver, Don King asked me to perform a miracle,” Emanuel remembers. Teachers the world over would pay thousands for the engrossment Steward effortlessly imparts into the room. “I saw that Lennox was a far better fighter than Oliver but I knew what Lennox was going to do was throw a lot of right hands and that's what his whole training camp was geared to – throwing the big right hand. So I teach Oliver to beat him to it and if you look at the fight, he did just that. Lennox went down throwing the right hand. When you have small details perfect, one punch, split second, new champion of the world. That's why you have to have both hands in the right place, at all times.”

To read Part Two of our piece on all-time-great boxing coach Emanuel Steward, please click here

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Fighting Fit is published by Newsquest Specialist Media, the world’s leading combat sport publisher. Other titles include Boxing News, The Boxing News Annual and The Boxing News Health & Fitness Series

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