Boxing has been a part of the American sports scene since the 1700s by way of England. It started by infiltrating the larger port towns before eventually working its way into the lexicon of America. Now it showcases some of the most talented combat sports athletes in the world. We will embark on a 50-part saga exploring the best boxers representing the United States. Some states will have more athletes to choose from than others, but the journey will be quite the ride. Let’s embark on the journey by looking at an interesting fighter or bout from each state. Next, we look at our 22nd entry, the state of Michigan.
Check out the 21 states we have covered by clicking below:
Michigan, the 26th state to join the Union, is ranked 10th out of the 50 states in population. Much of that has to do with the Detroit, which is the 27th-most populated city in the country. With a representative in all four of the major sports, (all located in Detroit) 2008 was the last time the state saw a world champion with the Detroit Red Wings earning the NHL’s Stanley Cup in 2008, their 11th title. Unfortunately, the area of Detroit is rampant with homicide. In 2016, there were 302 murders. In 2015, half of Michigan’s homicides occurred within the city of Detroit. Michigan, on a positive note, has a very rich history in boxing. Not only is it the birth state of Floyd Mayweather, who many consider the greatest of all-time, but legends Kid Lavigne and James Toney also call Michigan home. There is one gym in the world like no other responsible for bringing so much talent to the world of boxing. That facility is the Kronk Gym of Detroit.
Creation of Kronk Gym And The Kronk Rec. Center
5555 McGraw Street in the city of Detroit will go down as one of the greatest breading grounds of boxing talent in the world’s history. Located in the Kronk Recreation Center, Kronk Gym was created in the 1970’s under the leadership of Emanuel Stewart, but the facility itself was built in the 1920’s after World War I. So where does the name originate? Kronk Gym comes from its location, in the basement of the Kronk Recreation Center named after a Polish immigrant named John Kronk. Kronk grew up in Detroit’s Westside. He eventually grew up to become successful in the real estate business and severed as a city councilman for several terms. Feeling the area lacked a source of recreation, the center was built and consisted of mostly Polish-Americans. The facility was equipped with a tennis court, swimming pool, and a boxing gym in the basement.
The Start Of A Legendary Gym
It all started with a part-time head coach named Emanuel Steward. Steward, who moved to Detroit from West Virginia around the age of 12, ended up leading the center to a Detroit Golden Gloves Championship in the late 1970s. With quite the amateur career of his own training out of the famous Brewster’s Gym in Detroit, Steward tallied a 94-3 record along with the 1963 Golden Gloves Championship. Steward had proven himself to be an amazing coach for the amateur ranks, but it was now time to venture into the pro ranks of training. That first fighter would pave the way for Kronk Gym’s legacy of “gold and red” with “The Hitman” Thomas Hearns helping pave the way.
The Great Talents Of Kronk Gym
From being “an assassin in training” to becoming “The Hitman,” Hearns began his legendary career under Steward’s tutelage in 1977. Hearns’ professional career began with a bang, knocking out his first 17-straight opponents. In August 1980, Hearns would win his first major championship defeating Jose Cuevas for the WBA welterweight championship. The Hitman would have three successful title defenses before dropping the title to fellow “Four Kings” member, Sugar Ray Leonard. Over the course of the next handful of years that saw a victory over a different “Four Kings” member in Roberto Duran, Hearns would meet the fourth member of this memorable group in a matchup known simply as, “The Fight.”
April 15, 1985 will go down in history for many boxing fans as the greatest three rounds of boxing, if not, the greatest bout in history. Hearns would go to war with Marvin Hagler in a three round showdown that saw Hagler walk out victorious. Over the span of the next 21 years, Hearns would earn a collection of championships and go down in boxing history as one of the greatest to ever put on gloves.
Thoughts On Steward
In an interview with RingTV after the passing of Steward, Hearns stated, “He took kids out of their backyards at 13 and 14 years old and made them world champions. All of the other great trainers were hand-fed. Emanuel raised all of his kids. Emanuel Steward was like the father I never had. To me, that’s what he was, because my father was never there for me. He never spent any time with me. I never really knew my father, but I knew Emanuel. I first met Emanuel probably when I was 13. He was someone who was very, very dear to me, when you’re talking about Emanuel. Emanuel Steward to me, he was a man that changed my life. He helped me to become the man that I’ve become today.”
Very few in the boxing world felt the loss of Steward worse than former IBO and IBF cruiserweight champion, Johnathon Banks. Beginning his professional career in 2004, Banks would earn a perfect 20-0 before earning the IBO World Cruiserweight championship. After a loss to Antonio Tarver in 2014, Banks would follow a calling he shared with Steward, and become the newest trainer at Kronk Gym. Banks would assume the role of his protigue and take over the head training duties of world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. Since then, Banks has become the head trainer for former champion Gennady Golovkin and heavyweight Badu Jack.
In his own interview with RingTV, Banks stated of Steward, “It was almost like a father/son relationship. It was a mentor and student. It was trainer and fighter, manager and a fighter. It was like a father and a son, and it was two best friends. Emanuel was such a big influence on peoples’ lives that many people never bothered to say ‘hey man, how’re you doing?’ That’s the one thing he liked about me, because I’d always ask hey man, how’re you doing? That’s how I found out how sick he was,” recalls Banks. “I put my arm around him and said Emanuel, you can’t keep doing this, you’re not looking like yourself.”
Kronk Gym Now And Moving Forward
In 2015 the renowned Kronk Gym reopened it’s doors after being closed since 2006. The rec center had sustained too much damage from thieves, leading to the city shutting down the center. Eventually, money raised would be used to build the current location at 9520 Mettetal Street in the Grandale neighborhood of Detroit. The gym looks to be moving forward strongly in the image of Steward behind such fighters as Jack and Nico Ali Walsh, grandson of of the the sport’s greatest Muhammad Ali. Not to mention, Tyson Fury, still helps carry the torch, who learned a lot under Steward’s tutelage before his passing.
I am a life-long MMA fan who has been a fan since UFC 1. I was born in Illinois but raised in South Louisiana, home of many great mixed martial artists. I started martial arts at the age of 4 and continued into my adult years where I served nearly 10 years in law enforcement. I feel my job is to convey the stories of the MMA fighters we enjoy to watch and share their stories with the world.
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