Harold Bell Remembers His Friend Emanuel Steward


I REMEMBER EMANUEL STEWARD: FAST and FURIOUS—A PRINCE AMONG THIEVES!

By Harold Bell

The out pouring of love showered on Emanuel Steward after his surprising and sudden death was well earned.  His death shocked the boxing world.  He was a genius in the confines and corners of a boxing ring on any given night or day.

He was affectionately known as Manny to some but I preferred to call him Emanuel (I liked Emanuel because it was biblical).

His friend and colleague the late boxing historian Bert Sugar once described him as being “The Energizing Bunny” of professional boxing.  To me he was much like the character starring in the epic television series Richard Boone “Have Gun Will Travel,” instead of a gun he had boxing gloves.  Emanuel was always just a telephone call and plane ride away from his next boxing assignment.

There was always some champion, former or potential champion who needed to have his “Mojo” fixed and he was the man often called on to fix it!

His roots were in West Virginia but his heart was in the Motor City of Detroit.  He moved to the city with his mother when he was 12 years old.

Emanuel easily adapted to the bright lights and big city of Detroit.  He quickly learned the language of the streets.  He became a boxing hustler of young men in the good sense of the word.

He had an outstanding amateur boxing career with 94 wins and 3 losses and he quickly learned pro boxing was not his calling and turned to coaching.  The rest is boxing history.

The three biggest institutions in Detroit in the 70s and 80s were General Motors headed by Lee Iacocca, Motown Records headed by Berry Gordy and the Kronk Boxing Gym headed by Emanuel Steward.

I met Emanuel in the late 70s when he was making his mark as one of the great trainers and forces to be reckoned with in boxing.

U. S. A. amateur boxing.  The first thing that attracted me to him was his outgoing personality which made everyone around him a friend.  It took him a little while to warm up to me.

My personal relationship with Emanuel grew out my friendship with his partner Prentis Byrd.  Whenever I would enter in their space Emanuel would yell, “Prentis, here comes your man Harold Bell” and this big smile would break out on his face!

Emanuel knew I was closely attached to Sugar Ray Leonard and maybe this was his way of saying “no secrets discussed please.”

There was definitely a distinct difference in the two camps.  The Kronk Gym was built on a foundation of love, family and loyalty. Team Leonard’s foundation was built on one of mistrust, lies, theft and “Player Hating.”

Emanuel was flawed like most human beings.  He was not tall, but he was dark and handsome and two out of three is not bad.

These characteristics along with his taste for fashion, quick wit and infectious smile made him a lady’s man.  He had a girl in every port.  He never saw a crap table he didn’t like and a pipe he could not smoke.

This was the fast and furious world of boxing, but these character flaws did not make him a bad human being, but I do think they shorten his life.  I had his cell phone number and it was very seldom that I called when he was not on the run to an airport or meeting.  It seems like he always had a cold; we would be talking and he would be sneezing and coughing.  I would say “Emanuel you have got to slow down and take better care of yourself.” His response was often, “I am okay.  I will call you when I get back in town.”

His heart was as big as the boxing ring when it came to his fighters and the people he loved.  He would literally give you the shirt off of his back (if he had not already lost it).

I remember after one fight in Vegas when Tommy’s younger brother Billy got a hot hand at the crap table.  Emanuel and Tommy walked away with a bundle (I won over $1,000 betting scared)!

On the way to get something to eat he put another $1,000 in my jacket pocket.

It was business as usual for him to take one of the fighters off of the mean streets of Detroit.  His home would become their home.  According to him, this and other missteps cost him his first marriage.

Television personality Geraldo Rivera once described the world of pro boxing as a place where the rats were bigger than the lions (Don King).

There was a lot of stress connected with Emanuel’s boxing success.  For example; I remember one year in Atlantic City he was working the corner of Mike Tyson for Don King Promotions. After the fight Don had him running back and forth to his room and made him wait in line for his money.

When you work for DK (Don King) there are a whole lot of mind games played devised by him and a lot of going along to get along!

Emanuel often had money problems and during preparation for the Tyson fight he asked DK for and got a “Pay Day Loan.”  Big mistake.  After the fight DK acted accordingly–like a jackass.   Despite his human flaws, Emanuel Steward was one of “The Good Guys.”

His very first champion out of the Kronk gym was Hilmer Kenty (a gentleman and class act).  However, his crown jewel and meal ticket was the warrior known as “The Hit Man” the one and only Thomas Hearns.

I was in Detroit covering the fights when Hilmer and Tommy won their first titles.  Tommy and Emanuel were as close as brothers.  They were like shoes and socks, one could not go anywhere without the other!

Hilmer stopped Ernesto Espana in the 9th round in March 1980 to win the Lightweight World title at Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit.

Five months later I would return to Detroit to watch Tommy knock out Pipino Cuevas in two rounds to win the Welterweight title.

It was during this visit to Detroit I would introduce Emanuel to my friend Wayne Davis who was the Director of the FBI field office in Detroit.  Wayne and I had become fast friends when he was working in DC during the late 60s. It was that same time period I was working in the streets with youth gangs for the DC Recreation Department.

I knew Wayne and Emanuel would like each other because of their outgoing personalities.  Neither man was a phony in any sense of of the word.

Wayne would later write and thank me for introducing him to Emanuel.

When I became a trusted member of the Kronk Family Gym it was nothing for Emanuel or Prentis to call me and say “Harold we are going to be in DC this week and we are bringing Tommy and Hilmer, line something up for us to do in the community!”

I think they got a kick out of coming to DC and pissing Sugar Ray Leonard off and exposing him for forgetting who he was and where he came from!

In 2007 at the 37th Annual Christmas toy party for needy children we honored Emanuel with the Kids In Trouble, Inc., Life Time Achievement Award for his support of Inside Sports and our many community endeavors.

Emanuel had a lot in common with the great boxing guru the late Angelo Dundee.  They both were class acts and generous with their time.  Emanuel was definitely the Godfather of boxing in the Motor City.

When Emanuel’s passing was officially announced, words of love came in from around the world.

HBO Sports president Ken Hershman said, “There are no adequate words to describe the enormous degree of sadness and loss we feel at HBO Sports with the tragic passing of Manny Steward. For more than a decade, Manny was a respected colleague who taught us so much not only about the sweet science but also about friendship and loyalty. His energy, enthusiasm and bright smile were a constant presence. Ten bells do not seem enough to mourn his passing. His contributions to the sport and to HBO will never be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Washingtonian and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said, “With the loss of Emanuel Steward, we have lost a true Detroit icon.  Emanuel Steward embodied our city’s toughness, our competitive spirit, and our determination to always answer the bell. We are grateful for Emanuel Steward’s many contributions to our city and his impact on generations of young people.”

There were words of condolences from former heavyweight champions, George Foreman and Lennox Lewis and reigning heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.

George said, “Boy if only we knew we had such a short time to laugh and celebrate  Manny.   Such a simple and kind man. The sports world will miss him. Not to mention boxing.”

Klitschko said, “I will miss our time together. The long talks we had about boxing, the world, and life itself. Most of all I will miss our friendship, rest in peace Emanuel.”

“(My brother) Vitali and I, along with the entire Team Klitschko, send our deepest and most heartfelt condolences to Emanuel’s family and friends,” Wladimir Klitschko said in a statement. “It is not often that a person in any line of work gets a chance to work with a legend. Well I was privileged enough to work with one for almost a decade.

“I will miss our time together,” Klitschko said. “The long talks about boxing, the world, and life itself but most of all I will miss our friendship. You will be greatly missed.

My team and I will carry on with the goals we had set while Emanuel was with us because that is exactly what Emanuel would have wanted. I know he will be with us in spirit along the way and we will accomplish these goals in his honor, until we meet again my friend.”

Klitschko, is training in Austria for a November 10 title defense against Mariusz Wach, knew the gravity of Steward’s illness and was forced this week to announce a replacement for Steward for the fight, tapping Steward Disciple and pro heavyweight Johnathon Banks, a Kronk Gym product.

Emanuel began working with Klitschko in 2004, and their first fight resulted in a knockout loss to Lamon Brewster. But under Steward’s steady hand, Klitschko rebuilt himself into a heavyweight force and one of the most dominant heavyweight champions in history.

He got a lot of the credit for helping Klitschko mentally as much as he did for training him physically. Klitschko and Steward shared a close bond that went deeper than simply trainer and fighter.

The words of Lennox Lewis I think summed up the feelings of those who knew and loved Emanuel Steward when he said:  “I’m completely devastated by the passing of my long time friend, mentor and trainer Emanuel ‘Manny’ Steward, Manny has helped me get through some of the biggest fights in my career and I only regret that I couldn’t return the favor and see him through his biggest fight.

We’ve maintained a close relationship and the last time we spoke he seemed his usual upbeat self so it was very disturbing to hear about his illness and rapid decline. It is with a heavy heart that the realization of what I hoped were just rumors, are now in fact true. Manny always told me I was the best, but the truth is, he was the best and I’m grateful, privileged and honored to be counted among his many historic successes.  We’ve truly lost one of boxing’s crown jewels. Manny was giving, selfless, compassionate and stern. He always gave back to the community and never forgot where he came from. He was an institution unto himself and I’m proud to have had him in my corner for so many years.

I’m extremely grateful for the time that I was given with him and he will be severely missed by all who knew and loved him. I’ll miss his smile, his frank no-holds-barred truthfulness and our discussions on boxing and life. My prayers and condolences go out to his family at this very difficult time.” 

In this time where a lot of attention is being focused on sports figures and their struggle with finances, I hope Emanuel’s decade long employment with HBO, his relationship with Lennox Lewis and the Klitschko brothers will mitigate any potential financial woes.

Muhammad Ali, I think described Emanuel best.  I remember asking Ali how he distinguished his true friends.  Ali said:  “Friends are like our shadows they are with you as long as you are in the sun, but once you cross over into the shade your shadow disappears.  A friend is always doing something for you and never expecting anything in return.”  Sounds a lot like my friend Emanuel Steward!

Harold Bell is the Godfather of Sports Talk radio and television in Washington, DC.  Throughout the mid-sixties, seventies and eighties, Harold embarked upon a relatively new medium–sports talk radio with classic interviews with athletes and sports celebrities.  The show and format became wildly popular. Harold has been an active force fighting for the rights of children for over 40 years with the help of his wife through their charity Kids In Trouble, Inc.   To learn more about Harold Bell visit his official web site The Original Inside Sports.com.

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