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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

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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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Star Power: Ryan Garcia and Oscar De La Hoya at West L.A. Gym

David A. Avila

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Under gray skies and very cool temperatures Ryan Garcia arrived with his father and a couple of others at the Westside Boxing Gym on Monday.

Waiting anxiously were about 100 people comprised of mostly videographers and photographers who had already surrounded Oscar De La Hoya who arrived earlier.

Golden Boy greets the Flash.

Garcia (19-0, 16 KOs) has a fight coming soon against Nicaragua’s Francisco Fonseca (25-2-2, 19 KOs) on Friday Feb. 14, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The Golden Boy Promotions show will be streamed by DAZN.

“I’m ready for this fight,” Garcia said quickly.

Some say it has been a rather quick road for the fighter from Victorville known as the Flash. But if you ask Garcia, it has been too slow.

“I think he (Garcia) will be world champion this year,” said De La Hoya, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions.

Years ago, De La Hoya arrived with the same hoopla but his travel to the top seemed even faster. By his fifth pro fight he was matched with Jeff Mayweather. Yes, those Mayweathers. At the time Mayweather had fought 27 professional fights and had only two losses. De La Hoya stopped him in four.

In his eighth pro fight De La Hoya met Troy Dorsey, a tough Texan who had formerly held the IBF featherweight world title and who would later win a super featherweight world title. De La Hoya stopped him in one round.

Two years after winning the Olympic gold medal in Barcelona, the Golden Boy met WBO world titlist Jimmi Bredahl at the Olympic Auditorium and after dropping him several times finally stopped him in the 10th round. It was De La Hoya’s first world title and he was 21 years old.

Garcia is now 21 and ready to test the loaded lightweight division waters. For a while he was fighting at super featherweight, a division loaded with talent. But lightweights are the Maginot Line when it comes to boxing’s big hitters. Everybody can punch in the 135-pound limit lightweight division.

When Garcia met Romero Duno last November in Las Vegas many expected the speedy Victorville fighter to get his come-uppance. Instead the lanky slugger lit up the strong Filipino fighter and dropped him into the ether world.

It was mesmerizing stuff.

Now he’s back with a load of credibility after shutting down detractors with his devastating knockout win over Duno. It wasn’t supposed to be that easy. Just like it wasn’t supposed to be that easy when De La Hoya raced by world champions like Secretariat did in the Kentucky Derby decades ago. It’s not supposed to be that easy, but for some it truly is.

Garcia seems to be headed for a journey so remarkable that he has other world champions like WBC titlist Devin Haney eyeing him for their next challenges. It barely results in a yawn for the fighter who will be facing a very credible foe in Fonseca next month.

“I’m not even the champion and he’s calling me out,” said Garcia with a whatever kind of look.

Other fighters and promoters can see what Garcia represents and want to get a slice of it too. Its intangible yet most of the boxing world can sense something is coming and Garcia might be part of it.

That’s called star power and it’s difficult to explain. Some have it, many want it and others have no chance of ever attaining it.

Time will tell how far Garcia’s star power will venture.

One man lived that life and, in a sense, still lives that life and that is De La Hoya. Even he senses a déjà vu moment with Garcia.

“It’s why we made him one of the richest young prospects in boxing today,” De La Hoya said.

Expect several thousand ardent fans of Garcia to fill the seats on Valentine’s Day. How else can you explain it but, star power.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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The Much Maligned Boxing Judge

Ted Sares

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Identifying bad judges is pretty easy, but that’s not the purpose of this essay. To the contrary, the emphasis here is on fine judges and the many ways they can be unjustly labeled.

Now to name a few of today’s best boxing judges is to risk excluding others and that’s admittedly unfair but space is limited. Quickly coming to mind, however, are these judges, all currently active: Julie Lederman (pictured), Steve Weisfeld, Glen Feldman, Dave Moretti, Glenn Trowbridge, Joe Pasquale, Max DeLuca, Hubert Earle, Benoit Roussel, Burt Clements, Tom Shreck, Don Trella, Gary Ritter, Patricia Morse Jarman, Pat Russell, Pinit Prayadsab, Raúl Caiz, Jr., and, of course, the South African legend Stanley Christodoulou.

Boxing judges, unlike referees, are far easier to criticize because the average fan can score a fight using whatever criteria he or she selects and the view from a TV is pretty good. This contributes to the relatively high number of maligned boxing judges.

Being a boxing judge is a thankless endeavor where attention is received only when something controversial and/or negative occurs. And once a judgment is made about a bad job, that judgment influences future perceptions. This is known as “confirmation bias.” Thus, when a boxing commentator like the outspoken Teddy Atlas launches into a tirade over the judging in a particular fight, he may be engaging in confirmation bias—a kind of “See, I told you so.” Those who might criticize based on one poor performance may feel their suspicion of botched judging confirmed. Thus, the tagged judges’ reputation may be unfairly tarnished in the future.

Out-of-town fighters going to Texas to fight are aware of the risks based on the post-fight rants of Paulie Malignaggi, Atlas and many others. If so, the solution is to use out-of-state judges or avoid Texas altogether.

However, even if the elite judges make one “questionable” call in the eyes of fans and certain boxing commentators (or have an off day) they can be labeled as “bad” judges while simultaneously serving as a dart board for Bob Arum’s selective and quite nasty criticism.

No judge is perfect. They deal in a subjective world. Even the legendary IBHOF member Harold Lederman was harshly criticized for his scoring in the Maurice Harris vs. Larry Holmes fight in 1997. And even his daughter Julie has served as a target for some of Arum’s especially vicious criticism.

“She is the best judge in our household”—Harold Lederman

“You have people who are concentrating for three minutes, looking at nothing but the gloves, nothing but the punches. These other people are judging from TV, they’re judging from twenty rows back and they don’t see the effect of the punches all the time.”—Dave Moretti

“It’s easy to criticize boxing judges. But it’s not that easy to have a sound basis for the criticism. One needs to see the fight the judge saw to be in the position to rightly criticize. Critics should temper criticisms in light of the situations boxing judges are in when judging fights. And judges should likewise understand criticisms from the boxing public, however baseless these may seem.   Epifanio M. Almeda (PhilBoxing.com)

All it Takes Is One Bad Apple

In the recent Jesse Hart vs. Joe Smith Jr. fight in Atlantic City, a somewhat under-the-radar judge got it terribly wrong. Two judges had it for Smith, 98-91 and 97-92, but the judge in question shockingly had it 95-94 for Hart. He was scorned, tagged, labeled and God knows what. The criticism took on the form of a tsunami.

Bob Arum had this to say: “That judge should be banned from scoring a fight — and I promote Hart. How can you ever score that fight for Jesse Hart? It was a terrific fight, good for boxing, good action fight, and then you have a damn judge who screws it up.”

Al Bernstein added, “…He should never be allowed to judge again….”

A look at his past record as a judge since 2015 doesn’t reveal anything untoward. But he has now been tagged—perhaps justifiably so– and if he somehow gets through this and slips up again, there will be one very loud “we told you so.” It’s the nature of the beast; It is what it is.

The Pod Index

Matt Podgorski (a former boxing official) came up with a method to evaluate the performance of judges worldwide by determining the percentage of instances his or her scores are consistent with the other two judges working the same fights. He calls it the Pod Index. “Boxing and MMA judges are often evaluated based on whether or not they have had a controversial decision. This is a poor way to assign and regard professional judges,” said Podgorski in an interview with former RingTV editor Michael Rosenthal.

Matt’s Disclaimer: “We are not claiming that judges with low Pod Index scores are bad judges. The Pod Index is simply a measurement of round by round variation compared to other judges.”

Steve Farhood

farhood

2017 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Steve Farhood is a lot of things: analyst, writer, historian, commentator, and an unofficial judge for Showtime fights. If he were an official judge, his Pod Index score would undoubtedly be at or near the top. Steve seldom gets it wrong. He may be the best “judge” in boxing.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Jeison Rosario’s Upset Crowns This Week’s Edition of HITS and MISSES

Kelsey McCarson

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Jeison Rosario’s Upset Crowns This Week’s Edition of HITS and MISSES

There’s was plenty of quality boxing action available for consumption this weekend in the U.S., particularly on Saturday evening because of the competing cards put forth by the PBC on FOX and Top Rank on ESPN crews that have become chief rivals over the last year.

But what were the biggest HITS and MISSES seen during all the action? That’s what you’re here to find out.

HIT – Jeison Rosario’s Stunning Upset for two 154-pound Titles

Nobody expected Rosario to dethrone unified junior middleweight champion Julian Williams on Saturday night at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, but the massive underdog overcame the situation anyway to vault himself to the top of the junior middleweight division. The thing that saved Rosario was his stunning power. He appeared to be out-boxed by Williams early in the fight, but that changed just as soon as it became apparent Williams was slinging only his fists while Rosario was working with sledgehammers. Now the division has become more crowded than ever at the top with all roads amazingly leading to Rosario, the little known 24-year-old from the Dominican Republic who now owns the WBA and IBF titles.

MISS – Chris Colbert’s Fail to Impress

Junior lightweight prospect Chris Colbert was given a great chance by the PBC to impress fight fans on national television on the undercard of Williams-Rosario, but the talented 23-year-old didn’t make the most of the opportunity. Sure, Colbert was taking a step up in competition by taking on former world titleholder Jezreel Corrales for a vacant interim belt, but Colbert mostly came across as a talented fighter who just doesn’t seem quite capable of putting it all together yet. Colbert won the fight, but it wasn’t interesting or noteworthy in any way. Judging by how the PBC has worked in the past, he’ll get plenty more chances to shine, but I’m not sure anyone but the people who stand to gain monetarily from the fighter’s success will be looking forward to it.

HIT –  Eleider Alvarez’s Epic KO of Michael Seals

Former light heavyweight titleholder Alvarez scored the early leader for knockout of the year against Seals in the main event at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York. The fight was fairly lackluster until the explosive ending in the seventh round. It was an important victory for Alvarez, who was coming off losing his title to Sergey Kovalev via decision last February. Alvarez is 35, so it was imperative for him to get back to action and remind people he’s still a viable contender in the 175-pound ranks. And there’s no better way to do that in boxing than by thunderous knockout.

MISS – Felix Verdejo’s Fresh Start Starts Stale

Verdejo is still only 26 years old, but after defeating Manuel Rojas in a lightweight bout at Turning Stone, the once highly regarded prospect doesn’t appear to be any closer today than he was yesterday to living up to the tremendous promise he once possessed. To be completely fair to Verdejo, it was only his first fight under new trainer Ismael Salas and the fighter still has time on his side. Still, there appears to be plenty of work to do if Verdejo is ever to become a world champion. In fact, he didn’t look all that materially different from the fighter who was knocked out in 2018.

HIT – Floyd Mayweather Wins Prestigious BWAA Award 

I honestly had some concern that Mayweather wouldn’t win the BWAA’s Fighter of the Decade award before it was announced on Friday via press release. After all, Mayweather lost the previous decade’s top honor to Manny Pacquiao in 2010, and Sports Illustrated had just named Andre Ward its Fighter of the Decade winner the week prior. It’s only one person’s opinion, of course, but I think there would have been something wrong with Mayweather not picking up the honor at least once in the last two decades. After all, he’s quite easily the generation’s best overall fighter and he’s transcended the sport to mainstream celebrity status, too. Congrats to Mayweather for winning the well-deserved honor.

Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp / TGB Promotions

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