Emanuel Steward dies at 68; boxing trainer to world champions

Emanuel Steward tapes the hands of world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko of Ukraine in 2008.
Emanuel Steward tapes the hands of world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko of Ukraine in 2008.
(Thomas Langer / Bongarts/Getty Images)

Hall of Fame boxing trainer Emanuel Steward, who directed several world-champion fighters including Thomas Hearns, Lennox Lewis and current heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, has died. He was 68.

Steward’s executive assistant, Victoria Kirton, said the trainer died Thursday at a Chicago hospital. Steward’s family has not disclosed the cause.

The personable Steward was one of his sport’s greatest resources and had served as a television analyst for HBO’s most significant fights since 2001.

According to the boxing statistician company CompuBox, Steward trained 41 world champions, and his heavyweights accumulated a remarkable record of 34-2-1 in title fights.


“The depth of his knowledge was unsurpassed,” said HBO’s lead boxing announcer, Jim Lampley. “He was just as involved in amateur boxing as he was professional, so almost every time we’d start covering an American fighter, Emanuel had seen him at the start.”

HBO Sports President Ken Hershman said the network feels an “enormous degree of sadness and loss.… Ten bells do not seem enough to mourn his passing.”

Steward was born July 7, 1944, and moved from his native West Virginia to Detroit in the 1950s with his mother after she divorced his coal-miner father. He worked on auto industry assembly lines as a teenager and trained to fight at Brewster Recreation Center, where former heavyweight champion Joe Louis worked out and legendary Eddie Futch trained.

Steward was a Golden Gloves champion, but his family’s need for financial support led him to sacrifice a professional career for work as an electrical lineman.


He gravitated to training at Detroit’s Kronk Gym, a location he would later build into one of the world’s best-known boxing centers, where international title contenders flock to train shoulder to shoulder with kids off the street whom Steward would lavish with boxing knowledge and even financial support.

“His favorite quote was, ‘Who would’ve thought I’d leave West Virginia to find a gym for troubled, inner-city kids in Detroit and train an Irish middleweight, Andy Lee, and a Ukrainian heavyweight, Klitschko?’” Lampley said.

In 1980, Hilmer Kenty became Steward’s first champion.

The next year Hearns, who developed under Steward’s hand from scrawny “Motor City Cobra” to “Hitman,” battled Sugar Ray Leonard in a highly anticipated super-fight.


Hearns was leading on all three judges’ score cards when Leonard launched a stirring rally that concluded with a 14th-round technical knockout.

Hearns gained another mega-bout against Marvin Hagler.

Steward left Hearns’ side briefly in the pre-fight training room to tend to some errands. In his absence, some Detroit friends entered. Steward returned to find one of the people massaging Hearns’ legs, a “terrible mistake,” Steward recounted to Lampley.

“Now you won’t have any legs tonight, so you’ll just have to run at him and try to knock him out,” Steward said to Hearns.


In a fight often regarded as the greatest three-round bout in the sport’s history, Hearns blasted Hagler in the opening seconds, but suffered a broken right hand on his first punch, delivering what Lampley described as “the perfect step-over right cross.”

A hurt and cut Hagler regrouped and rallied for the third-round knockout.

“I was like the son he never had,” Hearns said Thursday of Steward. “Through the good times, the difficult times, he was there for me. Emanuel Steward is the man who taught me how to adapt, how to deal with all the different situations.... Losing him from my life, I’m very hurt today.”

Many fighters relied on Steward’s wisdom.


With Steward presiding over a “168-hours-a-week” training program in which he’d often sleep in the same room and share meals with his fighters, then train, watch film and engage in “talking, talking, talking,” Lampley said, Lewis developed to defeat Mike Tyson in 2002.

Klitschko has trained without Steward for his title defense against Mariusz Wach next month in Germany.

“It is not often that a person in any line of work gets a chance to work with a legend.… I was privileged enough to work with one for almost a decade,” Klitschko said. “I will miss our time together.”

Information on survivors was unavailable Thursday.