By Jackie Kallen
I can barely write this, but between my tears I must try to tell the world how much Emanuel Steward meant to me. I know he meant a lot to so many people. I am just one of many. But there would be no “First Lady of Boxing,” no movie Against the Ropes and no Galaxy Boxing if it weren’t for him.
The year was 1978 and I was one of the first female sports writers in the country. I got the assignment to interview a young Detroit boxer named Thomas Hearns who has recently turned pro. I had never been to a boxing match before so it was a mind-expanding evening. I walked out of the old Olympia Stadium as a different girl. I was a boxing fan.
After my story ran on Thomas, I did one on Emanuel. Then I did one on Mickey Goodwin, another Kronk boxer. From then on, I started hanging out at the Kronk Gym, filing story after story. I could not believe how comfortable I felt in the boxing world. It was my new home-away-from-home.
Emanuel Steward finally offered me a job as the Kronk publicist. I would write the bios on all the fighters, set up photo shoots, help arrange the weigh-ins and press conferences and kind of be his right hand. I jumped at it and continued doing it for 10 years until I took the leap to management.
He always deflected the criticism of having a woman around and was my biggest advocate. He taught me to ignore the innuendos and hold my head up high when I was taunted or disrespected. He taught me the right way to wrap hands, stop a cut, and choose an opponent. He told me stories about his own amateur days and he told me which trainers were good and which were merely “cheerleaders.”
Prentiss Byrd and I stood beside Emanuel for years. We were there for the big victories and we were there for the sad defeats. We were there when the money flowed liked water and we were there when things got tight. But through it all, one thing was clear: Emanuel Steward was one hell of a trainer.
So many talented boxers never make it into the Top 10, much less win a world title. But when Emanuel Steward touched them–it was like being touched by Midas. If he had a good boxer with great speed, he taught him to sit down on his punches. If he had a brawler who could really slam–he taught him defense and movement. He evaluated every man individually and trained him accordingly.
We shared so many memorable moments. Our kids grew up together, we traveled the world as a team, and no one to this day could make spareribs like Emanuel Steward. I remember his first Rolls Royce, the gorgeous suits, and the amazing meals at Caesar’s Palace back in the day. I remember him lighting candles at my son’s Bar Mitzvahs.
We celebrated when Tommy and Hilmer Kenty won their first titles, and we consoled one another when Tommy lost to Leonard in 1981 and when my fighter James Toney lost to Roy Jones Jr. in 1994. When I decided to try my hand at managing, it was Emanuel who told me, “You can do it!” and who gave me advice and support.
With the passing of both Angelo Dundee and Emanuel Steward, the boxing world is a different place. We also lost Bill Miller and Burt Sugar. The landscape looks different. The old familiar faces are leaving us, to be replaced by younger ones. But will there ever be faces in the corner as revered and iconic as Emanuel and Angelo?
My heart is very heavy. A part of my life and my heart is gone.
Jackie Kallen is a boxing manager who has been in the business for over three decades. Her life inspired the Meg Ryan film “Against the Ropes” and she was a part of the NBC series “The Contender.” www.JackieKallen.com, www.facebook.com/JackieKallen
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