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Interview: Emanuel StewardBy David Iamele
If you watch boxing, you've seen Emanuel Steward. Lennox Lewis, Tommy Hearns, Naseem Hamed, Evander Holyfield, and Mike McCallum are just a few of the many boxers Emanuel has managed and/or trained. These days, Emanuel-or "Manny" as his friends call him-is most visible behind the microphone doing ringside commentary for HBO, and he also just happens to manage THE heavyweight champ, Lennox Lewis. Manny has been in the fight game since the 60's, and when I found out I would have a chance to pick his brain, I was delighted (and not just because I finally had something good for my overdue column). Here's what boxing's legendary manager/trainer had to say:
David Iamele: "You've managed or trained over 20 world champions, some of them are already enshrined here at the Hall of Fame, and you were inducted in 1996. They may have to build a special Emanuel Steward wing just for you and your fighters! How does it make you feel to see one of your guys get inducted here, like Mike McCallum will be this year?"
Emanuel Steward: "It makes me feel extremely good because in Mike McCallum's case in particular here's a fighter that never got any recognition at all. He was always going from one person to another (trainers, managers, promoters)-didn't stay long with anyone-and to now see him get this recognition means a lot to him-maybe more so than anyone who's being inducted this year. He was a great champion-many people only remember him knocking out Donald Curry. I don't remember ever seeing him on the cover of a major boxing magazine. Ever. That's very unusual. He fought so many guys in their hometowns or even their home countries. He never had a home base like say Tommy Hearns did with Detroit. He just fought anybody, anywhere, under whatever conditions and prevailed all the way 'till he was really never beaten. His age really only caught up with him. But to see him enshrined means a great deal to him because he never got the recognition or the super fight with Leonard, Duran, Hagler-none of those guys-which I think he'd have been 50-50 to beat any of them!"
DI: "Boxing insiders always loved Mike "The Body Snatcher" McCallum, but many fight fans don't know much about him. Do you have any interesting stories involving Mike?"
ES: "I signed Mike and moved him into the number-one spot, and we were supposed to fight Roberto Duran. Then Duran's people told me (they weren't) going to fight Mike McCallum. I said, 'What do you mean, we have a contract, he's the number-one contender!' Duran just had a good fight with Hagler and lost a close decision, and they wanted to make a rematch. With McCallum, they would only make $500,000, but with a rematch with Hagler, they would make $5 million. So, I made a deal that Duran would fight Tommy Hearns, but Duran would have to give up his WBA title. I allowed Duran to fight Tommy and make more money than Tommy, but the bout would only be for Tommy's title. I made him give up the belt so Mike could fight for that vacant title. So, Mike was gonna fight Sean Mannion for the title on the under card of Duran/Hearns. I was using Tommy to get him his title shot because they were not gonna let him have it. It was advertised as being a double-header with Hearns/Duran for the WBC title and McCallum/Mannion for the WBA title, and I told him that under these conditions if Duran won, he would have to give McCallum a shot.
Anyway, we all agreed. Mike was getting $250,000 and keeping all of it-as his manager I wasn't taking anything-and then suddenly he gets a phone call from Shelly Finkel telling him that I was screwing him and so on. I explained to him that I thought I was doing the safest thing for him that would guarantee him a title shot. We had an argument, and he ends up pulling out of the card. That's why when you saw the Hearns/Duran fight it was only for Tommy's title even though they were both champions. It should have been a title unification, but that's what we sacrificed to get Mike his shot. He didn't want to fight on the card, so later on the fight takes place, and he ends up fighting for about $30,000. He won the title, but shortly after that we severed our relationship because I got to realize that he always talked to everyone. He was always looking for advice, and when you do that you stay confused.
People don't know that even though Tommy was the star at the Kronk, Mike was the one I was the closest with-he was my close buddy. I mean almost every night I went out to eat, wherever I went, Mike was with me. We got to be that close-not Tommy-Mike and I were much closer. I've watched his career as it went on, and I was right there in the front row when he knocked out Donald Curry with a beautiful, picture-perfect left hook.
The main thing that I remember about Mike is he's the most naturally gifted fighter that ever walked into my gym. He did everything effortlessly. I mean he was just so smooth, so automatic. You would show him a little trick, and . well here's a good example. One day he was boxing with Tommy, and I said to him, 'I'm gonna show you a little trick. Tommy jabs with his left hand down, so I want you to parry it and step over real smooth, and shoot a little one, two and hit him on the chin.' He hit him three consecutive times, and finally Tommy stopped and said, 'How come I can't stop him from hitting me?' And everyone laughed! He did it so smooth-and I've shown that to a lot of fighters-but no one was ever able to do it, and he could hit anybody to the body! The workouts between Mike and Tommy were just unbelievable. They were better than most fights. They were just phenomenal!
I felt that when Lennox was fighting Tyson, all the people were putting the emphasis on Ronnie Shields as the new trainer, but I thought the biggest threat was Mike McCallum in Tyson's camp. I was more afraid of the tricks he could teach Mike Tyson than anyone else! In fact, when we were in training, Lennox even said to me, 'What do you think McCallum's teaching him?' You know, because he knew I had so much respect for him. I said, 'Well, naturally he's gonna show him how to work the angles so he can get in and work the body.' So we spent a lot of time working to neutralize that. There was no other technique that we were concerned about other than making sure that Tyson didn't become a body snatcher himself that night, and it worked out perfect. But, Mike is a very good trainer now, and I got a bunch of kids ready to turn pro, and I'm getting ready to manage and promote more, and I'd love to have Mike train some kids for me.
To have Lennox beat Tyson in such a total mismatch-he followed orders perfectly. Everything he did was right, so this was, to me, the highlight of my career as a trainer. I was totally, personally satisfied with that particular performance."
DI: "Everyone knows you as a trainer and manager and now as a television personality, but I was surprised to learn that you have very impressive amateur boxing credentials yourself. You had a 94-3 record and won the 1963 national golden gloves championship at bantamweight. Not too bad! So why didn't you turn pro?"
ES: "I never turned pro because I never could find what I considered a good manager. I believe that a manager is so important in professional boxing. I was a very good fighter. I could go to the tournaments, and just based on the brackets and the pairings in a weeklong tournament I could pretty much count on myself winning. But in pro boxing, the deals are made at diners or nightclubs or bars and all that. I didn't have time for all that, and after searching, I couldn't get anybody I thought that could manage me that I could trust and was competent. Finally, I was approached by a guy, a fellow Detroiter, by the name of Eddie Futch who was working for the post office at the time, and he offered me $50 or $100 thousand dollars to sign, which was a lot of money back then. But, I would have had to relocate to California. Rough decision. I didn't want to relocate. I had a mother and two sisters that I helped to support, so based on that, after boxing all of my life and dreaming of being a professional champion, I made a rough decision and decided not to do it.
For the next three years or so I just quit boxing. I didn't even go to the fights or watch them on TV. It was just too painful. I went on and got married and got myself a job, and then what really got me back into it was in '68 I heard about a tournament going on about 45 minutes away, an AAU championship. I asked if they had anyone good, and they said they got this big, strong kid out of the job corps that can't fight, but every day he's in a big brawl. His name is George Foreman.
So, I drove down to see him after work one night. He was clumsy but with unbelievable strength and so much determination. I couldn't believe a few months later he was Olympic heavyweight champion. Then, I started following boxing more and more and got back into it and started training.
Eddie Futch used to always see me a lot and tell me, 'You know, you would have been the first four-division weight class champion.' He really believed a lot in me as a fighter. I think I would have turned pro at featherweight and ended up a junior middleweight. Always, to this day, I wonder about that (turning pro). But, I had a great amateur career, and I'm more proud of that really then my other accomplishments. At that time there were only eight weight divisions.
(Because of my amateur career) I think that's why when I work with fighters I still have the feeling. I can almost feel the punches that they're going to be throwing and also what the other guy's gonna throw.
Usually before a fight I can see the fight take place, which is very unusual. For the Lennox-Rahman fight, I had a bad feeling before the fight, something was wrong, not quite right. Lennox was way superior to this boy, but I had a bad feeling. It kind of reminded me of Hearns and Barkley when they fought their first fight-that strange ending. I saw Tommy crash right in front of me, right in his own corner. The second fight with Rahman, I had no problems, the fight ended almost exactly as I pictured it. The Tyson fight went the same, only it should've ended two rounds sooner, but I saw Lennox totally out-handle him.
I told him everything to do - be physical with him, and make him be aware of your strength and your size. And Lennox did it right. When the bell rang he went toe-to-toe with him, didn't run, went right at him and slugged with him. (I told him to) take a risk for the first two minutes or so, then just quit fighting and let him fight himself, and that's what Lennox did. We fought later at a distance, where Mike couldn't do anything, and tied him up on the inside, but mainly he was real physical, and Mike started to cry and complain. So, he made him into a cry baby."
DI: "Do you think your extensive amateur background is critical to your success as a manager and trainer?"
ES: "Yes! I really, really do. I know that having 97 fights, which was a lot back then because there were only two tournaments: the golden gloves and the AAU. No doubt about it, that's why when I'm in the ring with my fighters, I can almost get in their body and sense the punches-get into their rhythm. That's why when I work with fighters I like to work with guys with a great amateur background because it helps so much. Look at Oscar. He started boxing when he was 5, Roy Jones was 5, Lennox was 12, and Tyson was 12. So, that amateur background is so important. It helped me because I learned all the tricks-how to make weight and stay strong, things like that."
DI: "Just like Jameel McCline vs. Klitschko? McCline has no background; he looked overwhelmed."
ES: "Jimmy Glenn, who's a good trainer, did not want that fight. He knew he was not ready, and actually what you just said is what happened in the fight. You saw a very nervous fighter, punching and jumping in with his eyes closed. The size of the event, everything was just too much for him whereas Klitschko has the amateur experience-Olympics, fighting internationally and in front of big crowds, on TV-and this boy (McCline) wasn't used to that. That's what comes from the amateur experience. He even looked nervous and confused in the Briggs fight. When Jameel punches, he runs in. That's why he's a fast guy, because he's nervous. He doesn't plant himself properly, he runs at you.
That's why today we haven't got any heavyweights coming up. We still have the guys from the 80's: Lennox, Tyson, and Holyfield. We are not developing any heavyweights from the amateur program in the last 12 years, and as a result, we don't have any heavyweights. When will America have a heavyweight champ? It could be a while."
DI: "What enables you to get along with fighters from all types of backgrounds with various personalities and push the right buttons?"
ES: "That's one of the keys. I make it a point to spend one-on-one time with my guys. I like to go back to where they grew up. If you understand what makes someone tick, you are much more effective with them. I have to get inside the person in order to function with him and think like he does. Lennox is low-key, and when I speak to him about different things he should do, he looks at me and doesn't say too much, but he listens. That one-on-one time when I wrap a fighter's hands is very important to me. You'd be surprised, but that's the time when we totally connect and everything necessary we talk about, and I talk in a nice slow manner and make sure he understands. I hardly ever holler at anybody too much during a workout because I know I can't do that during a fight. I let him think on his own. When he comes back between rounds, I don't want to just tell him 'throw more jabs,' I want to tell him why. A lot of it is going back into each person's background.
Tommy Hearns was a different personality. Tommy was raised at the Kronk Gym always as a team fighter. Wherever he was, he had the whole gang with him with the red and gold jackets. That's just the way that he is; he likes to have everyone around him.
I took Oliver McCall, who had no chance of beating Lennox Lewis. Don King brought him to me in May, and in September he knocks out Lennox Lewis. I made him a totally different fighter. He was a counter-puncher, almost like a big Ray Leonard. I spent a lot of time with him after training, talking to him about life, about the value of this fight to him. He had about six kids and was under 29 years old, so at least winning the title would guarantee him so many millions of dollars. Once I created in him a real desire, then I showed him the moves that he would have to do. We knew for sure that the one thing Lennox would do was throw right hands because at the time he was right-hand crazy. So, I trained him to take advantage of the one thing we knew he'd do: throw rights. He learned to counter the right, and if you saw the fight when Lennox was KO'd, he was in the process of throwing the right hand.
I just spent time with him. A lot of these guys just want attention, and I gave him a lot of personal attention, and I got more out of him than anyone ever has. Everyone is a result of his life experiences-even me.
A lot of trainers just get a guy and teach him how to throw a jab, throw a hook, and they don't understand what turns him on. I had a fighter named Rodney Allen, and he only came to the gym because his big brother boxed, and their father was always bragging about the older brother. He wanted his father's attention. So, I told him, 'You got this fight with Bobby Czyz .,' and he shouldn't have been in the same ring with Czyz-he had no experience-and Czyz was all muscle. Anyway, the first round he gets beat up pretty bad, and when he comes back, I tell him, 'If you beat this guy, you'll be national champion, and you brother's never done that. Your father would have to talk about you then.' He jumped up right away, didn't say anything, but went out there and beat up Bobby-gave him a standing-eight count and won the fight-because I knew what button to push for him. It wasn't about thrown the jab, then the hook."
DI: "Of all the fighters you worked with, who was the biggest overachiever?"
ES: "Dennis Andries. Because when Tommy Hearns knocked him out, the next day he came to my house and asked me to manage him. I said OK, you know not really thinking too much of it, and he calls me up two months later and asks if I had a place to stay for him, so I sent him a ticket. So, Tommy, being a team guy, says, 'Why are you training this guy?' He was about 38 years old (laughs), and it wasn't like teaching an old dog new tricks because he didn't know any tricks (laughs)! He was just a clumsy old, you know (makes spastic wind-milling motions with both arms). So, I got him a couple of fights, and Tommy said he'd drop down and fight for the 160-lb. title and let Dennis fight for the 175-lb. title. So, we got him a fight for the WBC title, and he won it! That's why I say I'm more proud of my managerial skill than I am my training.
But, I'll tell you the next biggest overachiever was Tommy Hearns. That's why he's so close to me still. Tommy lost three of his first four fights with me. Everybody beat him up. He was a real quiet, sad-eyed little kid. But, he had so much determination, he would come in and get beat up and catch his bus home. He had to take three busses, go all the way across town, and he would be back the next day. Then, all of a sudden, about the third year, something happened, he blossomed. He would come to the gym even when no one else was there, and he'd be hitting the bag. That's why, really, he went on to be a legendary great. Of all the other gifted kids I had at the Kronk, he went on to be the greatest one of all of them. I'm going to bring Tommy and Lennox to Canastota in June. Tommy was my favorite because he never complained. No matter what I told him, he would do it.
To show you the team spirit he had, when we got Dennis, Tommy said he'd give up his title so Dennis could fight for it. He went from 154 lbs. to winning the 175-lb. title, then went back down to 160 lbs. and won that title. He was the first man in history to win four titles in different weight classes-but he did it in such a crazy manner.
He gave up his title so his teammate could get a shot and took the short money against Duran, and then Mike didn't even take the opportunity. Tommy was the best team man ever. Whoever was on the team, he'd help. He'd said to put in the contract that Michael Morrer had to fight on the under card of his fight. He'd give up part of his purse-he didn't care. Tommy always thought of himself as part of a team; he didn't want to be alone.
In fact, Lennox is a real quiet guy, he doesn't like too many people around or he gets nervous. I had him and Tommy at the same training camp, and Tommy's got like 30 guys with him, but he (Lennox) and Tommy got together, and Tommy got him to come out of his shell a lot more."
DI: "Tommy is my favorite fighter, and when I watch that third round of him and Hagler, I always get a little choked up ."
ES: "He fought that fight with a broken fuckin' hand in the first round, and his legs were shot from that rub-down. I come to the room before the fight and here's Tommy watching some kung-fu movie, and three of his buddies are massaging his legs. I told everybody to get the fuck out! Tommy (asked) why I was so mad. I didn't say anything, but I knew right then that seven weeks of fuckin' training were shot to hell . he would have knocked Marvin's ass out. He got up to get ready for the fight and (asked) why his legs (felt) so rubbery . oh man! If I massage your legs for even ten minutes, you're gonna be rubbery legged. I didn't say anything, but I knew the fight was over. Even when he was getting into the ring, his legs were shot. He went out there and fought the three greatest rounds with no legs and a broken hand! But, I talked to Marvin Hagler, and he said it's the hardest he's ever been hit in his life. I said, 'What about Mugabi?' He said no, in that first round against Tommy he had to hang on, and that's when Tommy broke his hand. So, he fought three of the most exciting rounds of boxing with fucked-up legs and a broken right hand! In the dressing room when I cut the gloves off, his hand was broke right in half-down the middle. He broke his hand because he hit so goddamned hard! He said not to mention anything about the hand-this is Marvin's night. That's what made him such a professional and so loved. He and Marvin are still close, they stay in contact."
DI: "Let me ask you one last thing. You've been very generous with your time ."
ES: "You got me really warmed up today. Usually I'm quiet, but I'm just having a good time today-shoot ."
DI: "Another one of my favorite fighters was Gerald McClellan, and his fight with Nigel Benn was a real heartbreaker. Were you with Gerald for that fight in England?"
ES: "No. If you ever see the Showtime broadcast, they have a picture of me and they say, 'This is the first time in his career that Gerald is fighting without his manager.' A certain promoter convinced him that he didn't need a manager anymore, and he could just keep that 30%.
When I watched the fight, I could see that something wasn't right. He kept blinking and spitting his mouthpiece out. He was drugged, or something was not right. He's had that same, custom-made mouthpiece his whole career, but he kept sticking it out like there was a bad taste on it. Then, the first round he should have won the fight. Benn was down, in the ropes. If I was there as his manager, I would have never let that official come in. That was Frank Warren's doing (Benn's English promoter). But he had no one there. Then, when Gerald dropped to his knee and then slumped over, Don King just stepped right over him and was like, 'Nigel-my man!'
The whole thing was a mystery: the mouthpiece, no one there covering him as a manger, the blinking-something was not right. I talked to the guys who were over there, and I've heard so many crazy stories, and I don't like them! The day before there was a big argument-almost a physical fight-with him and Don King in the lobby. He wanted to know about his contract, and him and Don almost got into a fistfight! After the fight, they tried to find the contract in Gerald's room, but someone had already taken it. There were so many mysterious things going on over there."
DI: "What about McClellan vs. Roy Jones?"
ES: "I have a tape of Gerald beating Roy in the golden gloves in '88. Roy was quicker but Gerald was too heavy-handed. Gerald was supposed to go to the Olympic trials. At the time, Ray Leonard was courting both guys, and when they sent the letter for Gerald to report, the story goes that Ray Leonard and Roy's dad got to be good drinking buddies, and they sent a letter to the Olympic committee (unknown to Gerald) that he was hurt and they were sending Roy Jones instead. That's how Roy ended up going to the Olympics, and when he found out about that, that's when he left and signed with me, and I turned him pro. But, Roy always truly supported Gerald, and that's what makes Roy special to me. It would have been a real, real great fight. Gerald was just a heavy puncher, but it was just one of those types of fights that who knows what would have happened? I would have loved to see that!"
* * * * *
Whew! There you have it. Emanuel Steward is truly one of boxing's greatest trainers, and he's a true credit to the sport. If only there were more like him! Naseem Hamed Thomas Hearns Michael Moorer Jimmy Paul Duane Thomas Jesse Benavides Hilmer Kenty Milton McCrory Gerald McClellan Dennis Andries John David Jackson Mike McCallum Leeonzer Barber Evander Holyfield Julio Cesar Chavez Lennox Lewis Gaby Canizales Oliver McCall Tony Tucker Mark Breland Aaron Pryor Jeff Fenech Eddie M. Muhammad Leon Spinks Welcome N'Cita
John David Jackson
Julio Cesar Chavez
Eddie M. Muhammad
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