Lennox Lewis calls him “the trainer of champions,” and Emanuel Steward accepts the praise from his largest fighter with a simple shrug.
Why deny the obvious?
Steward has been a force in boxing since exploding onto the scene with Thomas Hearns in the 1970s. But in the aftermath of
Lewis’ first-round knockout of Andrew Golota last Saturday and the continued rise of Oscar De La Hoya, Steward is riding as powerful a wave as any trainer has in years.
“There is a momentum, yeah,” Steward said this week. “My other fighters see what Oscar and Lennox are doing and they call me and say, ‘When am I getting my belt? I want one, too.’ ”
Before joining Lewis several years ago, and De La Hoya last April, Steward had accumulated an impressive list of brief, but successful, tenures with high-profile fighters:
* He trained Evander Holyfield for two fights, including his astonishing upset of Riddick Bowe in November of 1993, then left Holyfield in a money dispute before Holyfield lost the heavyweight title to Michael Moorer, another former pupil.
* In 1994, he figured out a way to get Oliver McCall a clean shot at Lewis, then trained by Pepe Correa. McCall knocked out Lewis, taking away from him the World Boxing Council heavyweight title. Steward left McCall after that, and eventually hooked up with Lewis, who beat McCall to regain his lost title last February.
* He worked several months with Julio Cesar Chavez in 1994, before Chavez began his serious decline.
* He was in the corner with Miguel Angel Gonzalez when Gonzalez gave De La Hoya one of his toughest fights earlier this year.
And now he has formed what could be long-lasting, lucrative associations with Lewis and De La Hoya, the fighters most likely to be commanding $10-million-plus purses into the 21st century.
Which only makes it more likely, Steward says, that he will produce more champions in his stable of fighters based at the Kronk Gym in Detroit--or the ones who work with him when Lewis and De La Hoya train in Big Bear.
“It does spill over,” Steward said. “You get excited . . . you become what you’re associated with.
“I think this knockout was as big an asset to other fighters as it was to Lennox. When I called back, all of the guys were packed around the TV. It’s like in high school: You want to make sure you get that letter on your jacket and can get up to that level the other guys are at.”
In his most obvious--and personally fulfilling--teaching performance, Steward has transformed Lewis from the wobbly warrior who lost to McCall into, quite suddenly, the one heavyweight who could flourish in the post-Tyson/Holyfield era.
Lewis, 32, always had power and agility, but he often looked tentative in the ring, and acted insecurely out of it.
One thing about Steward’s straight-from-Detroit style: His best fighters are attackers, knockout-stylists, and Steward has never been insecure in his life.
“It’s funny, I always tell Lennox, ‘You can do more things and you have more talent than Oscar, really--but Oscar has that quality that makes greatness, the burning desire to be successful,’ ” Steward said.
“Lennox, with all that talent, never had that desire. I just think he’s excited now. And I think me being with Oscar helped him. He’s watching the intensity and aggressiveness of Oscar. At the same time Oscar’s getting praise about this, I’m continually degrading him, publicly and personally. I’ve never held back.”
With Lewis, Steward has concentrated on footwork and a more solid mental framework--throw tighter punches and stay more focused on the tasks at hand.
Against the talented but emotionally fragile Golota, Steward saw a golden opportunity for Lewis to showcase his power and new confidence against a respected but flawed foe.
Steward said he always figured Golota would back down under the attack of a bigger man--unlike Golota’s impressive showings against the slower, softer Bowe--and when Lewis came out firing, Golota shrank back and was gone in less than a round.
“I told Lennox to remember that this fight is going to be shown again and again,” Steward said. “What you’re really doing is, you’re making a movie, and it’s going to be shown over and over the rest of our lives.
“And I don’t want to be somewhere and this thing comes on and I’ve got to run and hide. This is something that’s going to be with you the rest of your life. This can be the greatest thing in your life or it can be a nightmare.”
NEXT UP TO BAT
Can Steward conjure the same kind of title-winning magic out of his latest contender, L.A.'s Carlos “Famous” Hernandez?
Hernandez, a perennial up-and-comer, has been working at Steward’s camp in Detroit, hoping to sharpen his offensive skills.
“I just hope I can add to his list of champions,” Hernandez said.
He finally gets his title shot Nov. 20 at the Grand Olympic in the DirecTV satellite series, against WBC junior-lightweight champion Genaro Hernandez, who has sparred with the other Hernandez dozens of times and remains a good friend.
“I want to get him away from that brute strength--smother, smother, smother--because you’re not going to do that with [Genaro] Hernandez,” Steward said of Carlos Hernandez’s strategy. “He’s too cagey. You’re not going to muscle him.
“But I do know that if he can come in with speed, and be in and out and be unpredictable, and still have that tremendous punching power, he has a good chance of scoring a knockout.”
Gabriel Ruelas’ handlers are hoping to schedule a quick rematch against Arturo Gatti, who last Saturday scored a furious fifth-round knockout.
Joe Goossen, Ruelas’ trainer, said this week that referee Benjy Esteves stopped the fight “arbitrarily” after Ruelas recovered from a hard knockdown--a round after Gatti, the International Boxing Federation junior-lightweight champion, was almost out on his feet.
“My No. 1 priority is getting Gatti back in the ring with Gabriel,” Goossen said. “Who ended up in the hospital? Gatti [who was briefly hospitalized for treatment of some cuts] couldn’t even make it to the press conference.”
IBF lightweight champion Shane Mosley apparently will defend his title, for the first time, on Nov. 25 in El Paso against a yet-to-be-determined foe. . . . Undefeated junior-featherweight Carlos Navarro, Mosley’s stablemate at Mouthpiece Sports management, is being pointed toward a possible title fight against IBF champion Vuyani Bungu next year, Mouthpiece’s Tom Loeffler said. . . . De La Hoya lasted one day as a potential juror in Los Angeles Superior Court, then was excused from the jury pool.
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The only boxers to hold titles in three or more divisions:
* FIVE DIVISIONS: Sugar Ray Leonard (right)
* FOUR DIVISIONS: Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, Pernell Whitaker
* THREE DIVISIONS: Roy Jones Jr., Mike McCallum, Iran Barkley, Wilfredo Gomez, Alexis Arguello, Julio Cesar Chavez, Wilfred Benitez, Jeff Fenech, Emile Griffith, Henry Armstrong, Barney Ross, Tony Canzoneri, Bob Fitzsimmons, Terry McGovern.