Although he won’t be there physically, the spirt of Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel “Manny” Steward will be ever-present on Nov. 10 when RING, IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko defends his belts against Polish-born challenger Mariusz Wach in an EPIX-televised clash from the O2 World Arena in Hamburg, Germany.
Steward died on Oct. 25 at the age of 68, but not before he had instructed Klitschko (58-3-1, 51 knockouts) to allow chief sparring partner Johnathon Banks (28-1-1, 18 KOs) to take his place as Klitschko prepares for Wach (27-0, 15 KOs).
The 6-foot-6 Klitschko, 36, will be after his 17th straight victory and his 13th knockout during that run against the 6-7 1/2 Wach, 32, who represents the first time that Klitschko will face a taller rival.
After coaching Klitschko, Banks will face unbeaten Seth “Mayhem” Mitchell (25-0-1, 19 KOs) on Nov. 17 as part of a doubleheader featuring undefeated former WBO junior lightweight beltholder Adrien Broner challenging WBC lightweight titleholder Antonio DeMarco at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
The 6-3 Banks is 8-0-1 with four knockouts in his past nine bouts, last falling by eighth-round stoppage as a 200-pounder to Tomasz Adamek in February of 2009 at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
“I never thought that it would happen, but, for years, Emanuel was telling me that one of these days, he might asked me to start training Wladimir.
“He would tell Wladimir, ‘if I can’t make it to one of these training camps, I’ll leave Johnathon here to train you, because I know that he knows boxing.’
“So I can’t express how much of an honor for me to know those things, and that he would say those things about me. I would just laugh when I heard it, sometimes, because I thought he was just blowing smoke.
“But he would just keep telling me, ‘Johnathon, I’m serious. If I’m not here, I’ll tell Wladimir to listen to you and to help you with this and that.’ So it’s true, he did that.”
On how what he has learned from Steward:
“The main thing that I’ve learned from Emanuel is the basics of boxing. He’s a person’s person. So in order for a relationship to work is communication.
I really learned to communicate with the fighter and to get responses at a moment’s notice. I always had a calm mentality, but he taught me to not only take that into the ring, but also, to take that into the coaches’ corner.”
On what he learned as a sparring partner for Wladimir Klitschko:
“When you get in there and box with a guy, and you do it for years, and you put in more rounds with him than any other person has, as far as sparring, you get to learn their habits.
“You learn what they like and what they don’t like. Now, coaching him, I’m only telling him things that I know that he can do. I know how he operates pretty much.
“So, it’s not like I’m going to tell him something that I know he’s not going to do. I’m not going to have him doing something that is not there or try to create something that’s not there.”
“It’s a big challenge because he’s a big, undefeated guy, and so it’s a dangerous fight because the guy doesn’t know how to lose. He has beaten up on everybody he’s fought.
“So this is a very big challenge, but all of Wladimir’s fights are a big challenge. Failure is not an option. He has to be successful.”
“Emanuel’s spirit is one spirit that you don’t have to try to keep, because it’s there, and it’s so thick, that you can cut it with a knife. I mean, it’s really, really thick.
“This spirit has been within me for years, and his words have been in my head for years. The spirit is inside of all of us.
“So as long as we go out there and continue to perform, as he sees fit for us to perform, then that’s the best way for us to show him the ultimate sign of respect.”
On dedicating the fight to Steward:
“This is going to be very emotional. This is a dedication to a guy I’ve been around since I was 15 years old. It still feels surreal. You feel as though, as some point, Emanuel is still going to walk into the gym and do his routine.
“It’s like, ‘wow, I can’t believe that he’s not actually going to come into the gym.’ I still can’t believe that on Saturday night, he’s not going to be in the corner.
“The whole vibe of the camp is different, because he always set the tone for everything. He was just thats guy. Everybody always wanted to be around him. So, it’s really different without him. I truly miss the guy.”
Photos by Getty Images
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org