Thomas “Hitman” Hearns. Evander Holyfield. Lennox Lewis. Julio Cesar Chavez. Vlad Klitschko. Oscar De La Hoya.
This is a small sampling of names, united by another name that perhaps is greater than theirs. At first glance one would assume the great unifier to be membership in the boxing hall of fame, which might someday hold true. But the common denominator amongst these pugilistic warriors, the shared DNA that catapulted these gallant fighters into the annals of the sweet science’s storied history, could only have been the legendary Emanuel Steward.
Steward passed recently but the iconic trainer’s lasting uppercut on the sport will prove to be eternal. Steward’s family uprooted to Detroit when he was 12 years old, where he quickly called the Brewster Recreation Center (where Joe Louis and Eddie Futch trained at the time) his second home. This led to an impressive amateur career, where Steward compiled a 94-3 record (as well as the 1963 Bantamweight Golden Gloves national crown). Yet his passion for the ring was trumped by the impoverished economic reality that surrounded his family; Steward became an electrician, foregoing his own dream to help others survive an increasingly oppressed era.
In a collision greater than even “The Thrilla in Manila”, Steward’s love affair with boxing joined forces with his inherent drive to push others forward. A savant of sorts in his destiny as a boxing trainer, what began as a part-time gig in assisting his younger brother’s in-ring exploits translated into unprecedented (and likely forever unmatched) success on the grand stage. Steward’s first champion was crowned in 1980; thirty-two years later, the enigmatic dynamo would finish with 41 title holders notched on his (very championship) belt.
Professional boxing has lost one of the anchors on its version of Mt. Rushmore and the Steward era ended far too soon. Never again will we see another like him in the physical world and his legacy on the sport will forever be, much like his champions, undisputed. And somewhere in the next world, it isn’t too much of a stretch to envision him reunited with Joe Louis, training the “Brown Bomber” for whatever dream match awaits in boxer’s heaven.