Following the tragic death of Emanuel Steward yesterday, we bring you once again Jessica Sinyard’s highly acclaimed article on Steward from 2011.
The name Emanuel Steward has been synonymous with success in one of the
most physically and psychologically demanding sports there is for a total of more
than three decades.
By Jessica Sinyard
One of the most revered and respected trainers of a
generation (or two) who has consistently provided the voice of reason for
innumerable fighters in what can be a world of trashtalk.
A quietly influential,knowledgeable, humble presence whose opinion packs a mighty punch. The following article is by no means intended as the definitive guide to Steward’s life and achievements; such a guide would require a word count bordering on‘War and Peace’. But rather as an introduction to the man who needs no
introduction, meaning that while few fight fans will be new to this stellar
trainer’s name and influence, they may be unaware of his specific origin and role
in what have come to be some of the most hotly anticipated fights or career
reviving performances of recent times ‐‐ not least Miguel Cotto’s triumphant
return to form against a brave Yuri Foreman in 2010, and more recently
Wladimir Klitschko’s comfortable decision win over Britain’s vociferous David
Despite beginning his own boxing career as a talented bantamweight, winning
the Golden Gloves Tournament in 1963, interestingly much of Steward’s current
success has centered on fighters at the opposite end of the weight scales. He has
developed a particular reputation and tenacity for refining big, tall heavyweights
who at times are considered to be hindered by their own enormous physical
presence from having speed, good footwork, balance, and mobility. “The jab has
always been to me one of the key punches,” Steward insisted, during one of his
radio appearances for On The Ropes in May of this year. “A jab and good
Steward’s fighters practise what he preaches. Current pupils Wladimir Klitschko
and Britain’s Tyson Fury are both coming off the back of wins over opposition
considered by some to have had a genuine chance of shaking up the division:
outspoken David Haye and the unpredictable, if at the time poorly conditioned,
Dereck Chisora. Wladimir’s jab is perhaps unquestionably one of the most
steadfast in the division, if not the sport, and prevented Haye from sustaining (or
beginning) any serious work on the inside.
Fury worked by throwing combination punches and controlling the explosive Chisora at range, boxing his way to a lively, wide decision win that was evidently the work and influence of an experienced trainer.
Between them then, Steward and his stable have dispatched some of the toughest competitors in one of the most scrutinised
divisions on the planet, silencing the hype, and flying the flag for the triumph of
technique over theatre, substance over style.
Steward’s decision between 1971‐2 to become a full‐time trainer at Detroit’s
Kronk Gym was arguably one that had a far‐reaching impact on the sport as a
His success has been broad and varied, training an intimidating roster of
talent ranging from Olympic Gold medalists (six for the US Team in 1984
including Steve McCrory and Pernell Whitaker); through to memorable world
champions in the form of Thomas Hearns, Lennox Lewis, Julio Cesar Chavez,
Sugar Ray Leonard, Prince Naseem Hamed, Oscar de la Hoya, and Evander
Holyfield. Athletes so hotly pursued and prized that maintaining a level head as
their manager‐trainer cannot have been an easy feat. Even now in high profile
roles with HBO or shoulder to shoulder with sought‐after fighters on a world
stage, Steward appears unfazed and outspoken.
He refuses, as an example, to
recognise heavily hyped fights as necessarily being competitive, asserting on
radio show On The Ropes this year that exceptional ‘marketing’ was to be
praised in the Pacquiao‐Mosley fight rather than the performances. In a more
personal (if brief) confrontation with Paddy Fitzgerald at the Haye‐Klitschko
press conference in Hamburg, (Fitzgerald being a former member of Lamon
Brewster’s team for his 2007 rematch with Klitschko, in which Klitschko
avenged his loss with a 6th round stoppage), Fitzgerald accused Steward of illegal
handwrapping against WBO regulations. Steward’s response was
characteristically stoical: “Why on earth would I do that?” He went on to tell
skysports.com, “I have been wrapping hands for years… all over the world. I give
clinics on wrapping hands, so why on earth would I do that?”
Steward’s impact has been officially recognized on numerous occasions being
named as BWAA Manager of the Year in both 1980 and 1989, and BWAA Trainer
of the Year in 1993 and 1997; 1997 being the year in which he was also inducted
into boxing’s infamous Hall of Fame. The face of stoicism slips only on occasion
when watching a fight, his impassioned exclamations of ‘Oh My God!’ (Berto‐
Ortiz, anyone?) being heard around the world perhaps even as loudly as his
successes themselves. An exceptional trainer with a global reputation, who also
remains a passionate fight fan like the rest of us.
It is uncertain how many readers will be familiar with the play on which this
article’s title is based. If fight fans will excuse a literary reference on this
occasion, ‘A Man For All Seasons’ refers to Robert Bolt’s powerful play depicting
Thomas More, a highly influential official in the time of King Henry VIII whose
own respected reputation and ethics threatened those of the King himself.
Evidently this isn’t about literature (thankfully), it’s about fights, but more
specifically about those who can affect the outcome of a clash other than the
fighters themselves. Excellent trainers have a genuine impact on whether or not
a fight is competitive, on whether or not technique and fundamentals are
present, and thus on whether or not the sport itself goes from strength to
strength. They provide a constant reminder of the skill and intelligence involved
in a fight and must surely give pause to any that consider boxing just a brawl, a
battle of brawn over brain, rather than the complex product of tactics and
athleticism that it often is.
On a personal level, Steward has always struck me as
boxing’s contemporary embodiment of More; the go‐to advisor where the kings
of the boxing world must turn, whether newly crowned or in the latter days of
their reign, to refine their skills and ensure their impact. Steward is a true
ambassador of the sport and remains a man for all seasons, whether reviving a
fighter in the winter of his career, or overseeing his meteoric rise to the high
summer of his glory days.
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