August 20, 2012 at 1:00 am

Legendary trainer puts money into his fighters

Detroit — Iconic boxing trainer Emanuel Steward didn't fight at Kronk Gym when he was a teenager, but having the chance to box saved his life.

He had boxed before moving to Detroit's east side at age 11 from West Virginia, but in a new town, Steward took to the streets.

At 14, Steward said he kicked a boy in the head and put him in a coma for three days, a story made worse when he realized a police officer saw the blow.

The officer took Steward home and made a deal with his mother: He could either box daily at the Brewster Recreation Center or go to juvenile detention.

"It's because of what I got out of amateur boxing that I keep coming back here," said Steward, the 1963 National Golden Gloves champion as a bantamweight and who became a Kronk trainer in the 1970s. "I enjoy being here.

"I would rather be here with all these little kids than with the professionals. When I'm here with the kids, we have a ball."

With his career as a professional trainer — current fighters include Irish middleweight Andy Lee and Ukrainian heavyweight Wladimir Klitschko — and as an analyst on HBO, Steward said he could be a rich man.

Instead, he said his fellow HBO commentator Jim Lampley often pokes fun at his financial situation because he puts much of his money into Kronk's amateur fighters, sending them around the country for bouts.

"(Lampley) tells me, 'I don't care if you make $20 million, you'll always be broke because you're feeding all of those kids back in Detroit,'" Steward said.

The broadcaster said Steward never planned to produce so many champions, but with his training ability, Kronk evolved into a symbol for Detroit's diverse, blue-collar community.

"It was the right legend for the right kind of place," Lampley said. "I fully expect he will still be teaching fighters forever, right up till the day he passes."

(313) 222-2019