Steward is gone but Hearns will fight for The Kronk to live on
00:01 GMT, 30 October 2012
They were taking down the garish red and gold sign over what would soon look like any other window-barred shop front on the mean streets of downtown Detroit.
Iniside, Tommy Hearns was sitting on the apron of the ring, which was due to be dismantled and taken he knows not where, along with the rest of the artefacts.
The Hitman alternated between wiping his eyes and smiling at the memories being shared among the old gang.
Remembered: Legendary trainer Emanuel Steward died aged 68
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It was the day after Emanuel Steward finally lost his last fight, against chronic stomach sickness, and fears that his fabled gym might die with him were being realised.
The man being mourned as the greatest trainer of them all WAS the Kronk.
Manny was the genius, the life-blood, the spirit of this gritty academy of champions.
Now that he’s gone – too young at 68 – the family are protecting his legacy, apparently by closing the place down.
Not if the Hitman can help hit.
Hearns, the most iconic of all the Kronk’s world champions, is now dealing with his grief over the loss of his Svengali by trying to save one of the most famous emporiums of fisticuffs in the world.
‘I’m wholly committed to trying to keep the Kronk going,’ he says. ‘It’s what Manny wanted.’
According to the great trainer’s sister and family spokesperson, Diane Steward-Jones, her brother had asked her to protect his legacy, in the form of the gym’s valuable memorabilia.
That includes the door sign, the ring, the posters of historic fights and such motivational messages as: No Pain, No Gain.
Since looters stripped out Emanuel’s restaurant – cooking was one of his other loves – the day after it shut down, her concern is understandable.
But even as she issued instructions for the doors to be locked and the alarm switched on, she admitted to being uncertain about the future of the gym’s paraphernalia.
The location on Warren Street has only been a temporary relocation in the six years since the original gym, in the basement of a community centre in a nearby project, closed down. And it, too, has been shut intermittently because of financial difficulties.
Only Steward’s personal generosity has kept the Kronk alive and he was considering a shock cultural move to a more affluent suburb of Motor City in the hope of attracting not only hungry fighters but fee-paying fitness work-out customers.
Emotional: Tommy Hearns has been remembering Steward
Tribute: A wreath for Steward sits outside the famous Kronk Gym in Detroit
Without its guiding light that is unlikely to happen now but Hearns has attracted powerful support for his campaign.
The Mayor of Detroit is proposing that the old, run-down community centre be refurbished and reopened so the Kronk can return to its spiritual home in the basement, partly as a tourist attraction.
Hopefully, this will be more successful than the attempts to save the old Thomas a Beckett pub on the Old Kent Road where the upstairs gym was home to countless London boxers, Henry Cooper notable among them.
Hearns knows there will be no replacing Steward but as he stood on the sidewalk he promised the gnarled old gym hands and the eager fighters around him that he would do his utmost to rescue their most inspiring of work-places.
A thousand stories: The Kronk walls are lined with pictures of Steward and his champions
One kid who would be a champ, with his kit-bag over his shoulder, said: ‘If this place is gone I guess we’ll have to move on…..but to where’
If the Hitman fails then the memorial service for Manny – which will be held on November 13 at Greater Grace Temple on Seven Mile Road in Detroit – may be the last time the Kronk Gym gang get together.
TOP FIVE TRAINERS
The passing of Emanuel Steward has produced a consensus that the master of the Kronk ranks as the greatest trainer of all time. Here is this column’s all-time top five:
1) Emanuel Steward: Hard to argue against the charismatic trainer of almost 50 world champions, some developed from boyhood at the Kronk such Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns, others elevated from champion to legendary status like Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Wladimir Klitschko, in whose corner he remained until his most recent fight.
No 1: Steward puts former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis through his paces
2) Eddie Futch: Like Steward a Detroit amateur, Futch took charge of Joe Frazier’s professional career after Smokin’ Joe won Olympic gold and guided him through the epic trilogy with Muhammad Ali.
Futch famously retired Frazier at the end of the 14th round against Ali in The Thrilla in Manila, to save his man’s sight in the right eye. He also trained three of the other four men who defeated The Greatest – Ken Norton, Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick.
Dream team: Eddie Futch (left) steered Joe Frazier on his path to glory
3) Freddie Roach: The comparatively new kid on this block as current mentor of Manny Pacquiao and Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr among many.
Like Steward and Futch, Roach is the trainer of multiple world champions – more than 20 – despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
Respected: Freddie Roach trains Manny Pacquiao in his Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles
4) Angelo Dundee: If not quite the greatest, then the trainer of The Greatest. Took over Cassius Clay as a teenager and was still in Muhammad Ali’s corner more than two decades later.
Also worked with Sugar Ray Leonard and George Foreman but Ali was his masterpiece.
The Greatest: Muhammad Ali had Angelo Dundee in his corner
5) Cus D’Amato: Began life as a trainer by developing one world heavyweight champion, Floyd Patterson, and finished life by manufacturing another, Mike Tyson.
The peek-a-boo style of Patterson was a tactical innovation at the time, while the creation of Tyson as the youngest heavyweight champion was his piece-de-resistance.
TOP FIVE GYMS
Steward’s death has also brought the famous boxing gyms of the world into focus. Our top five:
1) The Kronk: Synonymous with the great Emanuel’s work and therefore tops the list. Not only the breeding ground of champions like Tommy Hearns but also a place of pilgrimage for fighters, trainers, promoters and boxing lovers from all over the world.
The archetypal grim gym and as such a place of hope and inspiration.
Biggest names: Prince Naseem Hamed during a session with Steward in The Kronk back in the day
2) Gleason’s: Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) trained in the original New York sweat shop in the Bronx (opened 1937) for his first fight with Sonny Liston.
Jake La Motta, Sugar Ray Robinson, Benny Kid Paret, to name but a fraction, all worked at the old place and Gerry Cooney was among the first to make Gleason’s his home base when it moved to Manhattan.
Always buzzing with champion boxers and celebrities, Gleason’s became the film set for several movies. It’s latest home is under the Brooklyn Bridge and mirrors the changing times, with a dressing room for women boxers.
Hollywood treatment: Gleason's has been used in several films
3) 5th Street Gym: The then-rundown art-deco building in Miami’s south beach is where Angelo Dundee trained Muhammad Ali. Enough said.
For years there was a sign outside the front door which read: Cassius Clay – Trains Here Daily.
At the time, the world – the Beatles included – climbed the stairs to the ramshackle room on the second floor.
The rotting premises closed down but the gym reopened last year and Dundee spent much of the last months before his death back there working with some new young talent.
Star attraction: Even the beatles popped in to the 5th Street Gym where Ali trained
4) Joe Frazier’s Gym: As with the Kronk, a campaign is under way to save Smokin’ Joe’s place in Philadelphia following his death.
Frazier lived above the rickety gym for many of the later years of his life. He lost the building to foreclosure four years ago and it now serves as the In and Out furniture outlet.
But the faded gym sign is still in place and the three-storey structure has been listed as an endangered national heritage site.
City officials are working to reclaim the property, re-open the gym and un-shutter the window on which Ali famously knocked to call out Frazier for their first fight.
5) The Wild Card: On one of the most famous street intersections in the world – Sunset and Vine in Los Angeles – the Wild Card occupies the first floor of the building at the rear of a scruffy mini-shopping mall.
It is here that Hall of Famer Freddie Roach trains Pacquiao, Chavez Junior, a bustling throng of other talent… and until recently Amir Khan.
Pacquiao’s favourite Thai restaurant, just across the courtyard, is where he plays host to not only his team but selected, lucky, boxing fans from the Philippines and elsewhere.