Thomas Hearns on Emanuel Steward, The Kronk Gym
NEW YORK -- FanHouse caught up to impeccably dressed, 51-year-old former six-division world champion Thomas Hearns for an exclusive interview during a half-hour cab ride to a recent Friars Club dinner honoring Top Rank Promotions' CEO Bob Arum.
A titlist in the welterweight (147 pounds), junior middleweight (154), middleweight (160), super middleweight (168), light heavyweight (175) and cruiserweight (200 pounds) divisions, Hearns was in town in support of his former trainer, Emanuel Steward.
Steward guided four-time world champion Miguel Cotto (35-2, 28 knockouts), to his June 5 ninth-round knockout that dethroned WBA junior middleweight king, Yuri Foreman (2810, eight KOs) at the new Yankee Stadium, and said that he and Hearns, among others, will be the focus of a television series devoted to "The Kronk Gym," which Steward ran in Detroit.
"I've been told that there is something in the works right now to do a complete television series called, 'The Kronk,' similar to 'The Wire,' like they did in Baltimore, said Steward, the former proprietor of the gym for rugged youth he ran out of the basement of the oldest recreation center of the drug-infested portion of the Michigan city.
"[The series] would be something that goes beyond the boxing," said Steward. "It would deal with all of the other things that the children that we taught had to overcome just in their every day lives living in the neighborhood."
Hearns won the WBA welterweight belt at the age of 21 with a second-round stoppage of Pipino Cuevas in August 1980, later defeated former world titlist Wilfredo Benitez for the WBC junior middleweight (154 pounds) crown by unanimous decision in December 1982, and scored a June 1984 second-round knockout of Roberto Duran in the second of third defenses of that title.
Below are excerpts of Hearns' FanHouse interview:
FanHouse: Did you hear about the possibility of The Kronk Gym being the subject of a potential series on HBO, and if so, can you discuss what that venue meant to you?
I know that it's possible. The Kronk was a place where I got in touch with people who came from all walks off life. It was a mind-blowing experience for me. The Kronk definitely helped me a great deal.
I didn't see my life as being in jeopardy at the time, but I guess that it might have been. Anyway, The Kronk, it helped me an awful great deal. You had to be there to really understand what The Kronk Gym was about. I won a lot of championships through The Kronk.
But beyond that, it taught me how to cope with things and how to cope with life. It taught me how to be a man and to take care of my own business. Before, I wasn't sharp, didn't know anything about that. Emanuel Steward became like an idol of mine.
I watched him and saw the way that he did things and I just patterned myself after him in doing certain things, and little by little, it was helping me. I knew it would change me, and it did, because before that, I didn't know how to go about changing myself.
What sort of personality survived at The Kronk?
If you had no experience with toughness, or you had no toughness about you, then you weren't going to survive there. It would chew you up and spit you out. It was different between the streets and The Kronk. You had to have street knowledge, or to be a person from the streets.
That's the only way you were going to be able to stand up to another guy at The Kronk, because from the moment that you entered The Kronk, you were definitely going to be challenged.
Well, this is how it went from the moment that you, as the new guy, walked into The Kronk off of the streets. You'd walk in to this hot, steamy place in the basement, and you'd see all of these guys standing around the ring. And the first thing is that they were all talking about you.
And there was no doubt they were talking about you because it was clear and you knew it. The first thing they would say is, 'That's my meat.' It's like they do you in jail.
It's like, 'Fresh meat, fresh meat, I want some fresh meat.' It's like, 'That's my meat, That's my meat.' And 'Nobody else don't touch it, because I want that.'
Was it like that for you as well when you first arrived?
Yep. When I first came there, it was the same way. I had a guy named Bernard 'Superbad' Mays** coming after me. They were all looking at me, but Bernard 'Superbad' Mays was like, 'Boy, what you wanna do?'
But I wasn't worried. I was 16. I was a successful amateur and I had confidence in my abilities. If they could outbox me, they had me. But they couldn't outbox me.
**Note: Bernard 'Superbad' Mays was a middleweight who compiled a record of 25-1-1, with 15 KOs, last fighting in a November 1985 second-round knockout loss to Matthew Lewis. The 25-year-old Mays never fought for a title and died of alcoholism in 1994 at the age of 33.
So what happened between Bernard and yourself?
One day, I was boxing Bernard in the gym. I think we did some damage to each other, but that's how I got my nosed messed up. Once Bernard did that damage to my nose and twisted it up like it is right now, that's when I said, 'This ain't gonna happen to me no more.'
He had thrown a combination that nailed me pretty good and I didn't like it. The light switch came on and that day, I changed, and from then on. I began to see how I needed to be. I told Bernard before I left the ring, I said, 'We got plans tomorrow.' I said, 'I'll be back.'
I went home and looked at my nose in the mirror and I didn't like it. From then on, I just went after it. I went for blood. I got him back the next day. I came back and they couldn't believe it. When I started dropping my dimes and my quarters on him -- Whoo!
It was just me doing what I do naturally. Moving, sticking, using a jab that made it hard for him to do anything. When it was over, he was like, 'Man, I don't like boxing you,' and I was like, 'Man, I don't like boxing you.' But we had to do what we had to do.
That day, was a special day.
So Bernard Mays was the figurative and literal gateway to your eventual success?
Yes. I would say so. I had to do one thing to really get what I wanted, and that was to get through the other fighters who were sitting there. Once I took them out of the way and showed them that I belonged there, then the path became even clearer for me.
We all got along great. But the defining moment for me was making that transition. I visualized things that I wanted and I didn't want anyone to stand in the way of me getting there. I had to go and get it because it wasn't going to come to me.
Once I prepared for it, things started to move out of the way and I went after it.
From what I understand, is it true that you were not a knockout puncher as an amateur, but that you became one as a professional through The Kronk with that devastating right hand set up by that sensational jab?
Yes that is true. The Kronk brought it out of me. Emanuel Steward brought it out of me because he showed me how and I learned how to put my weight behind my punches. Before that, I was just arm-punching and winning and every once in a blue moon, I would stop a guy.
But I wasn't knocking them out before, I was just stopping them because of my boxing ability. But once Emanuel showed me how to sit down on my punches, that's all that it took. It all goes back to the golden gloves and the AAU.
Once I started taking on those older fighters and showing them that I belonged there and they started to recognize me, then I started to gain respect. It was in my blood after that.
So what did you know about last weekend's fight between WBA champion Yuri Foreman and challenger Miguel Cotto?
Well I'm not familiar with Yuri Foreman, but I realize that Miguel Cotto has fought some good fighters. I've heard Yuri Foreman's name once or twice, but I have not yet seen him fight.
Miguel Cotto has taken a lot of punishment his past few fights, and now, Manny Steward, your former trainer, is trying to bring him back from a loss. What do you believe Manny can do for him?
Well, I know that Emanuel is training Cotto. I think that Emanuel, knowing him for as long as I have, he has the ability of re-directing and changing your style if listen. If you pay attention to him, he can help you. Emanuel is the kind of guy who is more than a trainer.
He can help you find direction for the type of fight that you want to fight to be successful. A lot of trainers don't really do that. Emanuel will sit around and study the video and your style and break it down to you and study the fighter and sort of make the appropriate adjustments.
Once you let that happen, you'll know what to look for in the fight. A lot of guys don't know how to do that or take the time to do that. They'll focus on one or two things and then go on. Emanuel will figure out the easiest and best way to win a fight. And if you follow his advice then you'll be successful.