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November 09, 2012

By Doveed Linder

Since the sudden and tragic passing of Emanuel Steward, active heavyweight Johnathon Banks, a pupil of Steward, has taken over as heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko's trainer.  Recent headlines reveal that Banks will be training Klitschko, not just for Klitschko’s fight this weekend with Mariusz Wach, but every fight from this point forward.  This is one of the most intriguing human interest stories of recent times.  Steward was the driving force behind the resurrection of Wladimir Klitschko’s career.  Even when the public had doubts about Klitschko’s chin, heart and ability to bounce back from stoppage losses to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster, most people believed that he had a shot at regaining a heavyweight title for the simple fact that Emanuel Steward was in his corner.  Since Klitschko and Steward started working together, Klitschko has gone on to become one of the most dominant heavyweights of all time.  What defines Wladimir Klitschko as a heavyweight champion, in my opinion, was his ability to overcome adversity early in his career.  The toughest opponent he ever faced was himself.  Now that Klitschko no longer has Steward in his corner, he doesn’t seem particularly rattled or distracted.  It seems as if Steward fulfilled his prophecy of not only helping Klitschko reach his potential, but getting him to a place where he could perform at his best, even if Steward himself is no longer physically in his corner.
Banks is a fringe heavyweight contender. He has a good pro record (28-1-1 with 18 KOs) but is not considered a major player on the world scene.  Banks started out as a cruiserweight, who was being touted as the next prospect out of the Kronk Gym.  When Banks was knocked out by Tomasz Adamek in 2009, he moved up to heavyweight where he has remained undefeated, although he has looked less than spectacular against C and B level competition.  In one week, he is going to face rising prospect Seth Mitchell in a fight where Banks is perceived to be the "opponent".  Yet, now that Banks is training Klitschko, he seems to have a certain aura around him.  It’s as if his path has been discovered.  Time will tell if he turns out to be a good trainer, but he is now being looked at in a new light by the boxing world. This whole scenario with Banks training Klitschko is rather unusual.  Have we ever seen anything quite like this?  It’s heroic and inspiring that these two fighters have declared that they will be dedicating themselves to maintaining and restoring the legendary Kronk Gym once their fights are over with.  I look forward to seeing how this plays out in the next week or so, and where these two men go from here.
When I heard of the passing of Emanuel Steward, I was tempted to do a write-up, but I don’t know if I could say anything that hasn’t already been said.  This past summer, I had several long, in depth conversations with Steward.  Having spent about four hours on the phone with him, I can say that everything that has been written and said about him over the past couple of weeks is absolutely true.  Emanuel Steward is one of the nicest people anyone could meet.  I called him with several topics that I wanted to discuss, and he went out of his way to answer each and every question.  When we spoke, I could feel the weight of the pressure of his various responsibilities – training Andy Lee, training Klitschko, commentating for HBO...  I told him that I didn’t want to be a burden and that we could do the interview at a different time.  In jest, Steward told me that I was, in fact, a burden, but that we would do the interview anyway.  Steward was a kind and generous man and the same thing can be said about Angelo Dundee, who also passed away this year.  I had the pleasure of speaking with Dundee for ninety minutes the week before he died.  It absolutely floored me when I read that he passed away.  When we spoke, he sounded just as energetic and enthusiastic as he has been known to be over the years.  When you speak with men like Emanuel Steward and Angelo Dundee, they really make you feel at home.  You feel like you’ve known them your whole life.  And when you hear about their passing, you feel like you’ve lost a friend.
Virgil Hunter is already a great trainer (he, did after all, take Andre Ward from when he was nine years old and guide him to becoming one of the best fighters in the world today), but having recently taken on Amir Khan, Fernando Guerrero, and Alfredo Angulo, he might begin to stand out as one of the best boxing minds of this generation.  He is now the new “hired-gun” of the boxing world and he has an opportunity to take some physically gifted boxers to the next level.  I have had the pleasure of having several in-depth conversations with Hunter, and he is one of my favorite people to talk boxing with.  His philosophies are simple, yet very profound.  Like Emanuel Steward and Angelo Dundee, he is the kind of person who makes people feel very comfortable when they are in his presence.  He is not only a trainer, he is a teacher, and I expect good things from him in the coming years. 

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