EMANUEL STEWARD trained some of boxing’s most famous fighters at the Kronk gym in Detroit and although they’ve moved base, Javan ‘Sugar Hill’ Steward, the nephew of the late Steward, is keeping the name alive.
The Kronk is still the place to go for many fighters and Russian trio Apti Davtaev, Aslambek Idigov and Umar Salamov, who star on BoxNation on Thursday, are all developing under ‘Sugar Hill’.
Emanuel trained more than 40 world champions, although many like Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko were not Kronk originals and did not often use the fabled sweatshop at the basement of 5555 McGraw Ave often.
Steward opened what became boxing’s best known fight factory in the early 1970s. It remained open until 2006, but burned down in 2017.
BoxNation pundit Steve Lillis recalls his personal favourite five Kronk fighters who spent most, if not all their camps at the original Kronk.
1) THOMAS HEARNS
‘The Hitman’ is the best known of the Kronk originals and rightly accepted as an all time great. He became a world champion in the famous yellow colours a few months after his great friend, Kenty. Hearns is one of the most devastating punchers in boxing history. The Marvin Hagler shootout is one of the most memorable and exciting fights of all times. World titles in five weights from welterweight to light-heavyweight say it all, but wins against men like Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran, Pipino Cuevas, Dennis Andries and James Kinchen are superb. He also looked to have won the Sugar Ray Leonard rematch but had to accept a draw after losing their first meeting in the Ring Magazine's 1981 Fight of the Year.
2) HILMER KENTY
The first world champion trained by Steward joined the Kronk after becoming friendly with Steward and Hearns following a great amateur career, moving from Columbus, Ohio to Detroit. He made it to world title level in March 1980 and recovered from a first round knockdown to stop WBA lightweight champion Ernesto Espana. He made three defences, but his reign ended after 13 months. He was shocked by Sean O’Grady when he had a detached retina and pneumonia. He boxed until 1984 and retired with a 29-2 (18 KOs) record.
3) MILTON MCCRORY
He drew with Welshman Colin Jones when they boxed for the WBC welterweight title in March 1983, but won the rematch five months later. He made four defences, three by KO but then ran into Donald Curry who was considered invincible at the time. He was never the same after Curry blitzed him and failed in a WBA super-welterweight challenge against Mike McCallum. He perhaps struggled to become a superstar as he lived in Hearns' shadow. Nevertheless a good talent.
4) GERALD McCLELLAN
McClellan’s tragic fight against Nigel Benn has been documented and at the time he was locked in a contract dispute with Steward who was not in his corner on that awful evening in London. He turned professional under Steward in 1988 and was a wrecking machine. He obliterated John Mugabi inside a round in November 1991 to win the WBO middleweight belt in London and 18 months later hammered Julian Jackson to win the WBC title. He made three defences before moving up in weight to face Benn. Steward once said: "Gerald McClellan is the most talented fighter I have ever worked with. Gerald could have been the best of the 1990's, and I think he would have been had he stayed at the Kronk."
5) DUANE THOMAS
Thomas had a 31-3 record and while he might not be the gym’s greatest world champion he was skillful and an avid student of old fight films. Thomas won the WBC super-welterweight title when he stopped John Mugabi after an accidental thumb injured the Ugandan. Lupe Aquino beat him in his very first defence and he then lost to Gianfranco Rosi in a challenge for his old title. He was murdered in 2000 after a drugs row went wrong and it’s believed that at the time of his death he was working on setting up the London Kronk Gym with Emanuel. Months before he was killed, Thomas made a winning return after ten and a half years out of action.