He always had a way about him, the way he spoke, the way he carried himself. Emanuel Steward was never too big for his stature. The Hall of Fame trainer knew who he was, what he was about and confident in what he knew.
And he was always pleased to flash his radiant personality and dispense his vast wisdom and to anyone—anyone—willing to listen and absorb. It didn’t matter who it was, from sportswriters, to fans, to the millions that watched and heard his expert analysis for years on HBO, to his many, many beloved fighters.
“Manny” had a way of touching people. He seemed like someone genuinely comfortable with his life.
It’s why Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012 marked an incredibly sad day in the boxing world.
The sport lost a great man in Steward, who died at the too-soon age of 68.
“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,” HBO Sports president Ken Hershman said in a statement. “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.”
Steward had an amazing ability to reach into a fighter’s head and quell whatever fears and anxieties they may have had. He created champions, and Steward had many, from Tommy Hearns, to Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and most recently current heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko.
He could be emphatic with them in an old-school, Detroit way, or he could finesse them into thinking they were better than they were, like the time Holyfield upset Riddick Bowe to regain the world heavyweight championship in 1993.
It was Steward that kept Detroit boxing alive through his fabled Kronk Gym, a hellfire proving crucible for any young fighter open to learn what it’s like getting hit in the face.
Steward was most closely associated with “Hit Man” Hearns. He developed the tall, lean, ferocious puncher from the beginning, though in the latter part of his career, Steward was more a polisher and fixer, resurrecting the careers of Lewis and Klitschko.
“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 was privileged to spend many hours with Manny before and after fights. Perhaps the most memorable came after Manny Pacquiao’s second fight with Juan Manuel Marquez on March 15, 2008, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Steward just finished the HBO broadcast and I happened to catch him at a bar inside the casino. He was still in his tux sipping a drink, when I approached him and asked what he thought about the fight. Manny was breaking down all of the things Pacquiao did wrong, but his speed erased them all.
Before I knew it, there were more than 30 people around us, buying Manny drinks, as he regaled the crowd with tales from his past, some of the greatest fights and fighters he ever saw. He lit up the whole room that night.
That effervescent glow was dimmed Thursday. Boxing lost a true giant of a man.
Post script: Saturday night during the HBO Boxing After Dark telecast (10:15 p.m. ET/PT) from Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, NY, HBO Sports will present a video tribute to Emanuel Steward. The Hall of Fame trainer worked since 2001 as a boxing analyst for HBO Sports. He passed away Thursday at the age of 68.