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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

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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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Lemieux vs. O’Sullivan: There Will Be Blood

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There is not much to dislike about Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan. The bald and mustachioed O’Sullivan looks like his name and fights like an Irishman named “Spike.” He rarely backs up and just keeps coming and coming until he wears out his opponent. And he is willing to take two to give one as he did against Antoine Douglass (22-0-1 coming in) in December 2017. The Douglass win, a KO, gave Spike a regional title, but more importantly put him squarely in the mix of top contenders. In fact, he has joined the growing chorus of those who want to fight Gennady Golovkin—and the early retirement payday that could follow. If he beats David Lemieux on the undercard of the Canelo -GGG mega fight on September 15 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, he just might get his chance, but that’s a big “if.”

Thus far, Spike’s only two losses have been to Chris Eubank Jr in 2015 and slick and tough Billy Joe Saunders in 2013. Since the Eubank loss, Spike (28-2) has won six straight, the last five by stoppage. When he KOd Melvin Betancourt in May 2015 in Boston, MA, the Dominican middleweight was 29-1. Today he is 29-6. Pleasing local Irish fans (and this writer), O’Sullivan has fought nine times in the Greater Boston area, bringing back memories of another tough Irish fighter by the name of Stevie Collins.

Lemieux

David Lemieux was also outboxed and shut down by Billy Joe Saunders in a clash of styles that favored Saunders. This time, the styles virtually guarantee a thriller for as long as it lasts. Lemieux (39-4) has 33 stoppage wins compared to Spike’s 20. His KO of Curtis Stevens still resonates as one of the more chilling one’s ever seen.

Unlike the globetrotting O’Sullivan, The popular Canadian fighter has done most of his work in Montreal but is 4-1 outside Canada losing his title to GGG at Madison Square Garden in October 2015. At stake in this one were the IBF, WBA, and interim WBC World Middleweight Titles. David was badly bloodied by Golovkin (then 33-0) but did not disgrace himself as he fought to win.

David is a tremendously powerful puncher with either hand and begins the stalk as soon as the bell rings. But Spike also generally moves forward at the opening bell. Something has to give here and it just might give early on. Spike is no BJS and moving away and slipping punches is not his strong suit. But it’s not in Lemieux’s DNA either. This is almost guaranteed to be a spine tingling, all action thriller. Fans had better stay glued to the telecast.

Chocolatito

In addition to Lemieux-O’Sullivan, it appears that all-action fighter Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (46-2) will also appear on the GGG/Canelo undercard, opposing Moises Fuentes (25-5-1). If so, this one will be over sooner rather than later. In fact, the promoters better have some solid fill-in fights on tap before the main event.

This is about as good as it gets; this is a boxing fan’s dream. Don’t miss it!

Ted Sares is one of the oldest active full power lifters and recently won the Maine State Champions in his class. A member of Ring 10, and Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he was recently cited by Hannibal Boxing as one of three “Must-Read” boxing writers.

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Why Fury’s Bout with Pianeta is Bigger than Ever Imagined

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Artur Szpilka

Back in January of 2016, Tyson Fury got into the ring and upstaged him on live TV after he struggled with and eventually stopped Artur Szpilka in the ninth round. Now it’s being conveyed that WBC titlist Deontay Wilder will be ringside for Tyson Fury’s second comeback fight against Francesco Pianeta in Belfast Saturday night, and it’s expected that he’ll pay Fury back and get in the ring and upstage him and call him out.

Wilder quickly accepted Fury’s challenge on that night in Brooklyn, but Fury went away and in his own words overindulged with food, alcohol and drugs. And with that, the talk of Wilder vs. Fury died.

Since then, Wilder has established himself more as a title holder and, in the opinion of most, is thought to be the second best heavyweight in the world, ranking behind only Anthony Joshua. Two months ago in June, Fury made his awaited ring return and stopped a non-entity in Sefer Seferi. Throughout the spring and summer the talk of a showdown between Joshua and Wilder remained one of the foremost stories in boxing. Every time it looked close to becoming a reality it fell through, due mostly to how the purse split should be divided with each side blaming the other and avid fans of both fighters siding with their man. While arrows were being slung back and forth between Team Joshua and Team Wilder, the shrewd Fury slung arrows at both of them.

Tyson Fury is one of the greatest salesmen in boxing history and nobody uses social media better than he does. Seeing how hard Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn is to deal with, a light went off in Fury’s head and he began to shy away from AJ and began turning his attention towards Wilder, who has been riding a high since stopping Luis Ortiz in his last fight. Tyson, fully understanding that Wilder has never earned huge money for any of his bouts, understood that a match between him and Wilder could rival nearly any bout Hearn/Joshua could make, excluding one involving himself or Wilder. With that, someone must’ve got in Wilder’s ear and outlined the monumental upside it would be for him to face Fury and what beating him would do as far as helping him negotiate the anticipated fight with Joshua. Not to mention he wouldn’t be facing Fury at his best.

With Fury having lost a lot of the weight he gained during his exile, an impressive showing this weekend versus Franceso Pianeta would go a long way to help boost the interest in a Wilder-Fury bout. The Fury-Pianeta clash has been picked up by Showtime and that says a lot in regards to the way Fury can attract attention. With Wilder having committed to attend the bout, is there a morsel of doubt that he’ll be a big part of the broadcast?

The mere fact that Wilder will be there has increased the credibility among fans in that Wilder-Fury is no longer a press grab and it very well might just come to fruition. And to help increase the profile of a future bout between Wilder and Fury, it’s impossible not to believe Wilder won’t get into the ring after Fury wins and publicly challenge him. If Wilder does that, hopefully he’ll script what he says and not adlib because exchanging adlibs with Fury would be a losing battle for Deontay….even Muhammad Ali might be the underdog doing so because Fury is such a good talker and so quick-witted.

And if there’s any doubt about Fury being able to sling verbally and hype a fight between he and Wilder, I present his recent words….

“I’m just sat here thinking, isn’t it marvelous that the world’s biggest fight, Fury vs Wilder is going to happen and that smug little t****r Eddie Hearn has nothing to do with it at all.”

“He has nothing to do with the world’s biggest fight — or his little puppet on the string the fighter he’s got [Joshua].”

“They’re not involved in the biggest fight the world has ever seen, between the two biggest heavyweights on the planet.”

“The two most controversial — most outspoken heavyweights out there — both over 6ft 6, both talkers, one Brit. one American.”

“Isn’t it marvelous that this fight is going to happen and little Eddie ain’t got nothing to do with it.”

At the moment Fury is killing Hearn and Joshua on social media while at the same time convincing everyone within earshot that he and Wilder is the biggest fight in boxing and the authentic heavyweight championship. Along with that, Wilder and Fury are both going to earn their blockbuster payday facing each other and without fighting Joshua. The winner will easily be able to get a 50-50 purse split when he meets AJ, and there will be nothing Hearn can do about it….because Team Joshua knows that for AJ to be recognized as the true undisputed champ, he must beat the winner of Wilder versus Fury.

Another testament to the Fury factor is found in the odds. Earlier this week, a friend emailed me the pending Vegas odds on Wilder vs. Joshua and Fury vs. Joshua. In a proposed fight with Wilder, Joshua was listed a 2-1 favorite. However, if he were to face Fury, he’d only be an 8-5 favorite, signifying that Fury, with only two fights under his belt after a nearly two-and-a-half year layoff, is considered by the betting public to be the bigger threat to Joshua.

At this time it looks as though only a loss to Pianeta 35-4-1 (21), who’s never ranked among the top-10, can derail Wilder-Fury from becoming a reality, and even against a rusty Fury that looks doubtful. In Pianeta’s only title shot he entered the bout undefeated and was still bounced around the ring by Wladimir Klitschko as if he were a Spalding basketball. He had the advantage of being one of Klitschko’s sparring partners for a year prior to them meeting and yet he still couldn’t make it out of the sixth round.

Since losing to Wladimir in 2013, Pianeta has gone 7-3 (6) and in his last bout lost a 10-round unanimous decision to Petar Milas, who was fighting for only the 12th time as a pro. Fury looks in good shape based on his recent pictures on social media, and is one of the most difficult heavyweights to fight and look good against since Vitali Klitschko was at his best. True, Fury isn’t a devastating puncher and sometimes fighters who aren’t in his league can go rounds with him, but with so much on the line and Wilder observing from ringside, it’s nearly impossible to envision him losing.

The prospect of a Wilder-Fury confrontation has escalated the interest in Fury’s second comeback fight this weekend. It’s unlikely the actual fight between Fury and Pianeta will be fan-friendly, but the thought of Wilder being there to help launch their fight makes it worthwhile to see. Don’t be surprised if Wilder vs. Fury is announced in the ring after Fury’s bout concludes. And if that’s the case, or when it is announced, for the first time as the alpha heavyweight in the world, Anthony Joshua won’t own the headlines nor will he be the sole focus pertaining to the heavyweight division.

Like him or loathe him, Tyson Fury’s return has provided the division with an infusion of anticipation. And Joshua will ultimately benefit financially as a fight between him and the Fury-Wilder winner becomes that much bigger and lucrative for all the parties involved.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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What Are You Up To, Paddy Barnes?

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Paddy Barnes

For all the hullabaloo about Tyson Fury and his victim elect Francesco Pianeta in Belfast, Northern Ireland this weekend; for all the “Irish Eyes Are Smiling” rhetoric surrounding the return of Carl Frampton to Windsor Park, where he, too, will defeat an overmatched opponent in Luke Jackson; for all that and the barely concealed excitement with which writers and promoters crane their necks at the futures of both these men – for all that, the most intriguing and competitive fight on this Saturday Night’s big “Norn Iron” card is the rampantly ambitious attempt by Paddy Barnes to win a title-strap against Cristofer Rosales (27-3) in just his sixth contest.

This might not be quite Vasily Lomachenko taking on Orlando Salido in his second fight but Rosales, just twenty-three years old and fighting out of Nicaragua, will not be visiting Northern Irish shores to lose. In fact, the TBRB rank him as the worlds #2 flyweight, second only to veteran Donnie Nietes. Flyweight’s radiance may be on the wane but becoming the second best fighter at 112lbs is no small matter, no matter the drain being inflicted upon the division by super-flyweight, the new home of the fashionable small man. Rosales earned the right, and Barnes will have to take it from him.

Like Lomachenko, Barnes is a storied amateur, a two-time Commonwealth gold medalist and two-time Olympic bronze medalist.  Prior to his third swipe at Olympic glory, Barnes turned in a sterling performance in the World Series of Boxing, once controversial for straddling the amateur and professional codes so comfortably, now  seen as nothing more (nor less) than a nursery for top-class amateurs who are ready to mount an assault on the professional ranks.

Barnes began his assault on the professional ranks in the traditional way, beating up overmatched, underfed opposition with losing records.  In 2017 he staged his fifth fight, his fourth in Belfast, against Elie Quezada (21-6-3) who represented something of a step up, though to nothing like world-level where many were sure Barnes was headed.

Even against his taller, heavier, more experienced, switch-hitting opponent, Barnes looked good that night, feinting with the jab behind organized pressure-footwork, opening up shots to the body with jabs, outs-squabbling his rangy opponent when Quezada decided to throw. In the second, investment in the body paid early dividends as a withering short right-hand to the torso married earlier work done with the left hook to achieve a knockdown and nine-count. A ten count at the very end of the sixth was earned with a left-uppercut to the by then tenderized body of an overmatched opponent.

In between the two knockdowns there were naturally issues, the kind experienced by all raw prospects. For that’s what Barnes is, at thirty-one years of age and carrying an armful of amateur medals; professional fighting is different.

So it should be noted that Barnes repeatedly strayed low, and was so paranoid about his inability to keep his punches north of the borderline he apologized to the referee on one occasion without being warned. He hit Quezada when he was down after the first knockdown. He has issues with temperament that need fights to iron out.

More pertinently he was hit, often, by an opponent who was not afraid to trade with him.  Barnes is not a puncher. Quick and accurate, he’s very capable of hurting his opponents but not of turning them away or, as a rule, concussing them. This is problematic and demands careful attention by style, but Barnes does not box like a man who can seek but cannot destroy. He brings speedy pressure, using his quickness and natural balance to unseat an opponent and turn him, all while throwing fast combinations which tantalize between slickness and indeterminate.   Like Rocky Marciano, Barnes has a “land and it’ll do” rule of combat, unlike Rocky Marciano he’s not breaking any bones while he does it.

How is Rosales, a legitimately world class opponent, going to handle all this?

A possible clue lies in another fight Quezada lost. Also a Nicaraguan, last March he met Rosales over ten rounds in their shared hometown of Managua. Rosales won in a fun, bruising fight but was unable to stop his countryman despite throwing and landing a large volume of punches; the judges, a little unkindly I thought, awarded only a split decision but it was interesting that Barnes was able to get Quezada out of there and Rosales was not.

Nevertheless, Rosales was at a more advanced stage of his career and was rewarded (only after defeating the unbeaten Italian Mohammed Obbadi in Italy) with a shot at the strap held by the latest Japanese wonderkid, Daigo Higa. 15-0 with fifteen consecutive knockouts, Higa was favored to win that fight but after struggling with the weight was badly beaten by a vicious Rosales.

Much of this was put off on to Higa’s indiscipline on the scales, but Rosales was exceptional that night in Yokohama. Aggressive and direct, he is a big, big flyweight, pushing 5’7 and sporting a reach of nearly 71” by BoxRec. Rosales does little to favor this reach advantage. He is loose with his selected leads, booming over trailing right hands from outside and sometimes shortening up his own jab by stepping in; on the other hand he loves and administers serious punishment on the inside. Rosales is delightfully old-fashioned in his attitude to his physical advantages and is adapt with both hook and uppercut.

He used both of these to his advantage against Higa, positively bullying him in the eighth, before brutalizing him with his left hand in the ninth.  His corner pulled him after little more than a minute of that round.

Reviewing this footage, the right pick is absolutely clear: it’s Rosales. Bigger, he is probably the puncher in the fight, certainly the more experienced of the two, and he was equal to the relentless body assault Higa mounted early in their fight; but there’s more.

Rosales does not have a spotless record in the UK. One year before his defeat of Higa, he was being out-boxed by the less talented of the two Selby brothers, Andrew. Andrew Selby weathered a dramatic and forceful storm from the Nicaraguan late, but my impression was that he was good for his points win. Two years previous to this, Khalid Yafai, who holds a strap up at 115lbs, defeated him over eight rounds in another tough scrap.

Rosales travels well but not to the UK, and my impression while checking in with friends who follow the smaller men was that his reputation was firmer abroad than upon these shores.

What to make of this web of intrigue?  Has Barnes overstepped in agreeing to fight Rosales so soon based upon a week British rep? Or has Rosales falsely enhanced his status by beating up a weight-drained, crestfallen Higa? Is Rosales too big for Barnes? Or is his propensity for letting wasp-like, whip-crack fighters like Barnes inside a disaster of a style-matchup and one which Barnes, who has slightly faster hands, is primed to take advantage of?

Here’s the truth: I don’t know. I’ve had this fight under the microscope all last week and can’t pick a winner. Just when I think some crucial aspect has been revealed to me it is counter-balanced by some snippet of information from the other camp, or spied on the often single-camera video that spills out of Nicaragua.

I suspect the fight itself will be a thriller though. Both are busy, both have proven punch resistance, both come to fight, both want to mix it up close. The hand that is raised may be the one that is most tempered, the one most ready to shy away from what is natural. Can Rosales spear Barnes on the outside, making him pay for every step? Can Barnes resist the temptation to rush and use his superior speed to close the reach and height gap by staging a sometime counter-punching offense?

With all due love and respect to Tyson Fury, perhaps my favorite active fighter, and Carl Frampton, the man of the moment for the rampant Belfast fans, finding the answer to the above questions is the main reason I’ll be tuning in.

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