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Boxing History Went Up in Flames in Blaze That Destroyed Kronk Gym

worked with 41 world champions, 30 of whom he helped develop at that city’s shrine to the sweet science, the Kronk Gym, the most famous alumnus

Bernard Fernandez



Kronk Gym

As a trainer, the late, great Emanuel Steward always believed he could help guide his prized pupils to victory when everything seemingly was on the line. That sense of supreme confidence proved more than justified as Steward, sometimes referred to as the “Godfather of Detroit boxing,” worked with 41 world champions, 30 of whom he helped develop at that city’s shrine to the sweet science, the Kronk Gym, the most famous alumnus of whom is five-division world titlist Thomas Hearns, who turned his career and, more importantly, his life, over to his beloved father figure when the future “Hitman” was just a scrawny boy with a grown-up dream.

“The man changed my life. He made me a different person. I owe him a great deal, more than I can ever repay,” Hearns, now 58, said upon learning that Steward had passed away at 68 on Oct. 25, 2012, after undergoing surgery for diverticulitis in Chicago, a procedure made more precarious by a weakened Steward’s ongoing battle with colon cancer.

“Manny told me as a kid I’d be a world champion someday,” Hearns continued. “He molded me, shaped me. Manny had the eye (for spotting talent).”

On Sunday morning, Hearns, again visibly distraught, stood before the burnt-out husk of the facility where, under Steward’s patient tutelage, he and so many other elite or near-elite boxers – Hilmer Kenty, Milton and Steve McCrory, Jimmy Paul, Duane Thomas, William “Caveman” Lee, Michael Moorer and Gerald McClellan among them – had heard and followed their shared destiny. Given the ravages of time and indifference that had taken place since the Kronk Gym was closed by the City of Detroit, which lacked the wherewithal to make needed improvements or even to keep it open as-is, such an ending for the onetime civic treasure probably was inevitable.

David Fornell, a deputy commissioner with the Detroit Fire Department, said the blaze was called in at 9:25 on Saturday night and that it was “suspicious” enough to warrant an investigation as to its cause. Firefighters were on the scene for 4½ hours, but their good intentions to enter the graffiti-defaced building were thwarted by fear that the roof would collapse, which it eventually did. Regardless of whatever information the investigation yields, there is no chance of another boxing gym, and little chance of anything else, rising on that site.

“It’s just sad that people didn’t value this place like we did,” Hearns told the Detroit Free Press. “What this building brought to me was a chance at life. I got a chance to become somebody out of this building right here. This was a safe haven to me.”

Sylvia Steward-Williams, Steward’s daughter, seconded Hearns’ sense of personal loss, telling the Detroit News that “my father’s heart lived in that gym. He’d still pay for it (the property) even after we moved out because his heart was so much with those kids who wanted and needed that space to train. We never expected this. It’s devastating.”

Built in 1921 and named for a Detroit city councilman named John Kronk, the Kronk Gym, located in the basement of the since-shuttered Kronk Community Center on Detroit’s economically depressed west side, was never a showplace even in the best of times. It was merely functional, and, truth be told, it did not age gracefully. By the time Steward was named its director of boxing in 1971, the paint had already begun to peel off the walls and the non-air-conditioned building could be insufferably hot during the summer. But the tools of a boxer’s trade were inside, and none of the aspiring champions complained much about the lack of amenities because, hey, they weren’t there to be comfortable. They came to learn, and the main man doing the teaching was Steward, a former Detroit Golden Gloves titlist whose gift for imparting knowledge to his young charges soon would become legendary.

In his own way, Steward had been as much of a student as were Hearns and the other kids who wore Kronk’s gold-and-red colors as a distinctive badge of honor. Born in Bottom Creek, W.Va., little Manny moved with his family to Detroit when he was a child and he was taught to box by Luther Burgess, a disciple of the venerable Eddie Futch, at the Brewster Community Center, where the iconic heavyweight champion Joe Louis honed his craft. The Brewster was, in a sense, the Kronk Gym before there was a Kronk Gym.

“The Brewster is on the east side of town right in the middle of the Brewster Projects,” Steward told Newark Star-Ledger sports columnist Jerry Izenberg in 1992. “The east side was poor then and it’s poor now. But when I was growing up, every kid in Detroit knew that Joe Louis trained there.”

And so it would be with the Kronk, with Hearns serving as its Joe Louis and Steward as its Eddie Futch. But as the Kronk’s neighborhood slowly withered away, and the number of kids who had once flocked there to tug on their first pair of boxing gloves decreased, Manny’s role transformed from that of stay-close-to-home professor to roving troubleshooter for hire. Instead of getting in on the ground floor with young fighters he accompanied all the way to the top, he applied his magical touch when requested to such seasoned pros as Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Julio Cesar Chavez, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and Wladimir Klitschko.

But the struggling Kronk Gym was never far from Steward’s thoughts, and he undertook several initiatives to raise enough money to keep it operational and, hopefully, more than that. But what Steward did not have was unlimited financial resources or as much success at rallying local support for the city-owned gym as he had in developing such homegrown ring stars as Hearns, Kenty and the McCrorys.

“Without additional funding, the Kronk Recreation Center will simply not be able to remain open,” Manny told me in January 2006. “Shuttering the Kronk Gym would be devastating to Detroit and the youth of this city.”

But Detroit had priorities then, and it still does, and some of those supersede an expensive-to-maintain gym where young boxers can learn the proper way to hook off the jab. As Fornell, the deputy fire commissioner, noted, the loss of the Kronk Gym is “a part of history that was destroyed” and “it’s unfortunate that we are losing these architectural gems, but also, they’ve been vacant for years. Nobody stepped up. Right now the city is working on getting street lights, lowering response times (for calls to the police and fire departments). There are a lot of priorities in the city.”

Makes sense from a strictly practical standpoint, but still one wonders why boxing – as much a part of Detroit’s identity as, say, a chart-topping song – was given such relatively short shrift in comparison to Motown, where a visionary named Berry Gordy Jr. served as the rhythm-and-blues counterpart to Steward and was accorded so much higher a place of distinction in the city’s sense of self-identity. Motown, also known as “Hitsville USA,” was founded by Gordy in 1959 and served as the springboard to superstardom for such performers as the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas and Mary Wells. Although Gordy moved his operation to Los Angeles in 1972, the original Motown headquarters at 2648 West Grand Blvd. since 1985 has housed a museum that has become a popular tourist destination, located on the renamed Berry Gordy Jr. Blvd.

Tight operating budget or not for the City of Detroit, fight fans will continue to wonder why no such effort was undertaken to commemorate the life and times of the much-beloved Steward, and to preserve, to some minimally acceptable degree, the proving ground from which he sent Hearns and his Kronk brethren forth to proudly carry the municipal banner.

Then again, other cherished heirlooms of boxing have also been allowed to go fallow or to be removed altogether. The 5th Street Gym in Miami Beach, where Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) trained for his first fight with Sonny Liston, was partially razed and dormant from 1992 to 2009 when it reopened with little fanfare. The Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, site of the 1932 Olympic boxing competition, was purchased in June 2006 and now houses the Glory Church of Jesus Christ, a Korean-American congregation. Philadelphia’s Sesquicentennial/Municipal/John F. Kennedy Stadium, where Gene Tunney wrested the heavyweight championship from Jack Dempsey on Sept. 23, 1926, and Rocky Marciano seized it from Jersey Joe Walcott exactly 26 years later, was demolished in 1992 to clear the ground on which the Wells Fargo Center now sits. And the Blue Horizon in Philly has, like the Kronk Gym, been shuttered and decaying for a decade now.

Boxing will survive because, hey, it always does. But the fire that consumed the Kronk Gym left in ashes more than what had become a dilapidated building. It burned a hole in the fabric of fight fans’ collective memories, and all we can do, like Tommy Hearns, is shed a tear for what once was and can never be again.

Above the Kronk rec center as it appeared in 2006 before vandals rendered it uninhabitable. The boxing gym was in the basement.

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Erick Ituarte Wins Featherweight Battle in Ontario, Calif.

David A. Avila



ONTARIO, CALIF.-Looking to make waves as a featherweight, Santa Ana’s Erick Ituarte battled Tijuana’s Jose Estrella evenly before pulling away in the last third of the fight to win by decision on Friday.

Ituarte (21-1-1, 3 KOs) lacks the big punch but has the long arms that enabled him to keep distance and out-point the shorter Estrella (20-16-1, 14 KOs) in their 10-round bout at the Doubletree Hotel. Thompson Boxing Promotions staged the fight card that saw about 500 fans at the event.

Estrella used his guts and guile to keep the fight close in the first four rounds of the fight. Back and forth they went trading momentum, Ituarte was effective attacking the body and Estrella was good at connecting with big blows to the head.

It wasn’t until the seventh round that Ituarte began utilizing his reach and mobility to make Estrella chase and run into pot shots. From that moment on Ituarte was in control of the fight. No knockdowns were scored with one judge scoring it 98-92 and two others 100-89 for Ituarte. Each round was very competitive.

Other bouts

Corona’s Luis Lopez (5-0, 3 KOs) powered his way to victory by unanimous decision over Mexico’s Daniel Perales (10-17-2, 5 KOs) after four rounds in a welterweight match. Though Lopez won every round with sharper punches he was never able to hurt the super tough Mexican fighter from Monterrey. He recognized that early and used crisp combinations to win each round though Perales had his moments too. All three judges scored it 40-36 for Lopez.

A heavyweight fight saw local fighter Oscar Torres (5-0, 2 KOs) run his record to five wins with a fourth round stoppage over Houston’s Thomas Hawkins (4-4) after a barrage of punches. The fight was stopped twice in the fourth round and a final barrage of blows prompted referee Tony Crebs to halt the fight at 1:20 of the round. Torres fights out of Rialto, California and is trained by Henry Ramirez.

Lightweights Davonte McCowen (0-0-1) and Chris Crowley (0-0-1) fought to a majority draw after four torrid rounds. Both were making their pro debuts. McCowen started faster and slowed in the last two rounds that allowed Britain’s Crowley to mount a rally in the last two rounds. It was a spirited fight between the two newcomers.

Photo credit: Alonzo Coston

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Introducing Australia’s Bilal Akkawy who steps in for David Lemieux on May 4

Arne K. Lang




“Big Announcement Coming – Stay Tuned” wrote Bilal Akkawy late yesterday (April 18) on his twitter page. And then the Nevada Athletic Commission went and stole his thunder.

Later that day, the commission released its agenda for its forthcoming meeting on April 24. Among the items on the docket will be the selection of officials for Akkawy’s fight with England’s John Ryder. The 12-round contest for a “Vacant WBA Interim Super Middleweight Title” is penciled in as the chief undercard bout on the big May 4 show at the T-Mobile Arena topped by the match between Canelo Alvarez and Daniel Jacobs.

John Ryder’s original opponent, David Lemieux, was forced to pull out when he suffered a hand injury in training.

Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, the undefeated Akkawy (20-0-1, 16 KOs) has been Canelo Alvarez’s chief sparring partner. Canelo’s trainer, Eddy Reynoso, hired Akkawy based on a video that Akkary sent him as he was preparing to set up Canelo’s camp for the 2018 Cinco de Mayo rematch with Gennady Golovkin.

Two days before Canelo-Golovkin II, which was pushed back until September, Akkawy made his U.S. debut at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, scoring an 8-round decision over Christian Olivas. He appeared on the Canelo-Fielding card this past December in New York, scoring a 7th round stoppage over Victor Fonseca, and has had one fight since then, a stay-busy fight buried on a small show in Tamazula, Mexico, in which he didn’t stay very busy, dismissing his hopelessly overmatched opponent in the opening round.

Akkawy comes from a fighting family. His father Mahmoud “Mick” Akkawy and two of Mick’s brothers were good amateurs. Mick Akkawy was 2-0 as a pro when his career was cut short by a serious car accident. Mick and his brother Ahmad “Al” Akkawy now run a boxing club.

The elder Akkawy, whose roots are in Tripoli, was tutored by Johnny Lewis. To this day, Lewis, now 75 years old, insists that Mick Akkawy was the hardest puncher that he ever coached. Bilal Akkawy, says Lewis, inherited his old man’s genes. Lewis rates Bilal the hardest puncher, pound-for-pound, in Australia today.

That’s high praise. Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017, Johnny Lewis has worked with six world title-holders, most notably Jeff Fenech and Kostya Tsyzu.

Bilal Akkawy’s power was on display on Oct. 30, 2016 when he stopped fellow Aussie Kerry Hope in the seventh round. Akkawy shattered Hope’s jaw – two operations were necessary – and dislodged four of his teeth. His best win since then was a wide 10-round decision over Italian veteran Giovanni De Carolis who had briefly held the WBA world super middleweight title.

Not all of Akkawy’s performances were glowing, however. The draw on his ledger is an ugly smudge, notwithstanding the fact that it came in a 4-round bout. His opponent was Joe Rea, a British slug who is currently 11-37-5 after losing 24 of his last 25 fights. Moreover, although he won every round in his U.S. debut vs. Christian Olivas, we were unimpressed. Akkawy had Olivas down in the second frame but was unable to apply the finisher.

Although Akkawy is a second-generation prizefighter, his father discouraged him from pursuing a career in the ring and he entered the pro ranks without the benefit of a single amateur bout. By contrast, John Ryder had 35 amateur fights before turning pro in September of 2010.

Ryder (27-5-1, 15 KOs) is no slouch. A southpaw, the Londoner has won three straight inside the distance since losing a split decision to Rocky Fielding. At age 30, he’s five years older than Akkawy and has far more experience, answering the bell as a pro for 187 rounds compared to only 84 for the Aussie.

Akkawy vs. Ryder won’t get the juices flowing in the United States where both are obscure. However, it’s an intriguing match. It will be interesting to see how the bookmakers price it.

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The Avila Perspective, Chap. 43: Welterweight Wars Coast to Coast and More

David A. Avila




In a twisted development a couple of East Coast guys are headed to Los Angeles to battle while another pair of West Coast guys are headed to New York City.

Makes sense I guess.

Former two-division world champion Danny “Swift” Garcia of Philadelphia faces Adrian Granados of Chicago at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California on Saturday April 20. The PBC card will be televised by FOX.

Dignity Health is the new name attached to the complex formerly known as the StubHub Center and before that it was the Home Depot Center. Ironically, Dignity Health owns most of the cemeteries in Southern California.

Is that an omen?

Garcia (34-2, 20 KOs) is a counter-punching Puerto Rican who needs someone to fight that’s always on attack mode in order for him to shine. When he’s matched with another counter-puncher the crowd goes to sleep.

That’s where Chicago Mexican Granados (20-6-2, 14 KOs) fits in.

Granados (pictured) has never fought in a snoozer in his life. He probably kicked his way out when he was born. In fights against slow developers like Adrien Broner and Felix Diaz he made them fight for their lives. If this were ancient Roman times he would be fighting in the main event armed with a tooth pick against a lion. Blindfolded.

But he’s weary of being labeled as merely an entertaining fighter.

“I’m tired of it,” Granados, 29, said. “I want the title or I’m out of here.”

World titles are something Garcia knows about. He’s held the WBC and WBA super lightweight titles and the WBC welterweight title. In unification clash with Shawn Porter last September he lost by a razor close decision. He feels naked without a strap around his waist.

“I’m going to make a statement,” said Garcia about his pending battle with Granados. “I definitely want a rematch with Shawn Porter or Keith Thurman.”

Granados eyes Garcia with slight envy whenever they’re in the same room.

“I’m trying to cash in baby,” said Granados. “I just got to go in there and do my thing.”

Another interesting bout on the PBC card includes undefeated Brandon Figueroa (18-0, 13 KOs) a southpaw super bantamweight fighting Venezuela’s Yonfrez Parejo (22-3-1) for the interim WBA title. The actual titleholder is Los Angeles fighter Danny Roman who fights next week at the Inglewood Forum.

Other fighters of interest are Andy Ruiz, Alfredo Angulo, Omar Juarez and Carlos Balderas. It’s an extremely long card and begins at 3 p.m.

Friday is Thompson Boxing

Headlining a boxing card at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario, California is featherweight Erick Ituarte (20-1-1) versus Jose Estrella (20-15-1) in a 10-round main event. Ituarte is the stablemate of WBA champion Danny Roman. Estrella hails from Tijuana and has fought some tough customers like Miguel Marriaga and Christopher Diaz.

The Thompson Boxing Promotions event also features a solid looking welterweight Richard Brewart (4-0) against Vincent Morales (2-2-2) in a four round bout. Another interesting fight showcases Uzbekistan’s Murodjon Akhmadaliev (5-0) a southpaw slugger trained by Joel and Antonio Diaz in Indio. The lefty faces former world title contender Carlos Carlson (23-5) in a super bantamweight clash.

Thompson Boxing always delivers solid boxing cards and you never know which new boxing jewel will be discovered by them. They have a 20 year history of finding outstanding talent. You can also watch it streamed on Thompson Boxing’s page on

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For more information call (714) 935-0900.

New York Card

If you plan on staying home on Saturday night a solid fight card at Madison Square Garden features a welterweight world title fight between WBO titlist Terence Crawford and former two-division champion Amir Khan. It will be shown on ESPN pay-per-view at $59.95.

It’s a loaded card with Top Rank unfurling its best. Of course the best is Crawford who in my opinion is the top fighter pound for pound. And I was a late convert.

Nebraska’s Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs) is based in the Midwest and heads east to fight England’s Khan (33-4, 20 KOs) who trains in California. They’re fighting for the WBO title and it should be a very good fight.

Khan has always been a favorite of mine. He’s blessed with speed and agility and also has a lot of guts. Not just because he fought Saul “Canelo” Alvarez at middleweight, but because he’s a true prizefighter looking for the biggest fights in the world. He’s been criticized by his own countrymen for not fighting some of his fellow Brits, but Khan looks at everything globally, not nationally. He especially wants fights that Americans want to see. They want to see this fight.

“I wanted this fight because I wanted to fight the best. Terence Crawford presented the greatest challenge to me at this point in my career. Listen, the Kell Brook fight was there, but fighting Terence gives me the opportunity to show I am a pound-for-pound fighter,” said Khan.

Of course thousands of Brits will be flying across the Atlantic Ocean for a glimpse of this showdown. First because it’s New York, second because it’s boxing and Brits love boxing. Gotta love them Brits.

Crawford, like Khan, is blessed with speed and agility too. And he also has several ways to attack. He’s not a one-dimensional fighter. He’s like a jazz musician; he can take it wherever it needs to go. Whether its hip hop or improvisational he can easily slip into another tempo. That’s his magic.

“Amir Khan is undefeated as a welterweight and can’t be underestimated. He has great hand speed, movement, and some power as well,” said Crawford. “I want to showcase all of my talents in this fight.”

Keep your eyes open in this fight.

Other bouts on this high quality fight card:

Top Rank has a couple of their prospects jumping up to face contenders. First you have Shakur Stevenson (10-0) meeting former world title challenger Christopher Diaz (24-1) of Puerto Rico in a 10-round featherweight clash. If it were any other prospect I might say the kid is moving too fast. But Shakur has eye-popping talent.

Another prospect going against a contender is Brooklyn’s Teofimo Lopez (12-0) meeting Finland’s Edis Tatli (31-2, 10 KOs) in a lightweight match. Lopez, 21, already has fought in three 10-round fights and has the NABF and USBA lightweight belts. Tatli has the EBU lightweight belt. Whose belt means more in this fight?

Puerto Rico’s highly touted Felix Verdejo (24-1,16 KOs) lost a year ago to Mexico’s Ines Lozada Torres by knockout. Then he returned to win by knockout last November. Now he’s back against a tough customer in Bryan Vasquez. It’s not an easy fight for either fighter.

Verdejo was Top Rank’s golden child a couple of years ago and ran into some personal problems before running into Lozada’s fists. Now he has Vasquez, a slick fighting Costa Rican who arguably could have won a world title had he been given the decision after fighting Raymundo Beltran two years ago. Beltran won by majority decision that night in August 2017, then proceeded to win the WBO lightweight title against Paulus Moses. That could have been Vasquez’s title.

It’s a strong boxing card.

Lights Out

Next Thursday on April 25, former middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight, cruiserweight and heavyweight world champion James “Lights Out” Toney will be the honored guest at the Golden Boy Promotions boxing card at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif.

Toney spent the last 25 years in Southern California where he first trained at the Wild Card Boxing gym in Hollywood. Over the years he became one of the most popular prizefighters by fans who loved his aggressive style and off-the-charts boxing skills. The Michigan native had more than 90 fights as a professional against some of the best to ever put on gloves.

Many boxing writers, including myself, consider Toney one of the best, if not the best prizefighter in the last 60 years. He’s beaten some of the best in the business and performed at a high level for decades in classic fights. Among the gems were his knockout wins against Michael Nunn, Tim Littles, Vassiliy Jirov, and Evander Holyfield.

Toney, 50, will be available to sign autographs and take photos with fans. Be sure to be there and meet the great multi-division champion.

One of the featured fights is Oscar Negrete (18-1-1) in a rematch against Joshua Franco (14-1-1) who fought to a draw last October. It was one of the best fights of the year. The NABF bantamweight title is the prize.

For tickets or information call (800) 827-2946.

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