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Re: What did pre-Steward Lewis do better than post-Steward Lewis?
Wow this sounds familiar, but I guess some of you guys know more than Emanuel Steward.
Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward was sought out by King to work with McCall and harness the talent that many boxing insiders knew was there, but was being frittered away through all the nuttiness. Steward initially was hesitant because of his high personal regard for Lewis, although to that point he hadn’t actually been involved with him.
“I was a big fan of Lennox since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics,” Steward told me. “I trained (eventual gold medalist) Tyrell Biggs when he beat Lennox in ’84. Tyrell, who was from Philadelphia, was living and training in Detroit then, training with Tony Tucker.
“But even though we beat Lennox (who took gold in the super-heavyweight division at the 1988 Seoul Olympics) in ’84, I liked him a lot. You could see the potential he had. He was this big kid with a lot of power and a lot of natural talent that hadn’t been refined.”
For all his warm and fuzzy feelings for Lewis, however, Steward felt he had technical problems that were not being addressed by his trainer at the time, Pepe Correa. And those technical problems, Steward concluded, could be exploited by McCall, provided he laid off the booze and the drugs long enough to do what needed to be done.
“Lennox had a habit that when he jabbed, he put his right hand all the way across his face, almost to the left side of his jaw,” Steward said. “Then, when he threw a right hand, it took him a little bit longer to bring it back and re-set to throw it again.
“He also had a slow, lazy jab, which he didn’t really snap off. It was used more to measure where his opponent was before he threw that big right hand. When I had McCall, we based our strategy on trying to catch Lennox when he threw the right hand. Lennox had been destroying everybody with that big right, but the flaw was there for everybody to see. I don’t know why nobody else picked up on it, or was unable to take advantage of it if they did see it.”
Once McCall went to camp with Steward, the heretofore wild child allowed himself to accept a measure of discipline for perhaps the first, and last time, in his career.
“Oliver was totally loyal to me when we trained. I never had any problems with him,” Steward said. “He finally had some stability, and that’s because I put the time in with him. That was the difference. Every day I cooked for him. He came to my house and we talked about boxing and about life. I babied him.”
Steward also revamped McCall from a free-swinging slugger into a different sort of fighter than anyone had seen before. Certainly, Lewis didn’t expect to mix it up with that much of a new and improved McCall on fight night.
“Oliver wore white shoes for that fight,” Steward said. “He was more like a Sugar Ray Leonard. He had never fought that way before. I trained him for speed. He moved better, he punched crisper.”
And he waited for just the right moment to exploit the ***** in Lewis’ armor, which he did when Lewis went to throw that huge right hand in the second round. But McCall’s right got there first.
“First thing I told Oliver when I started to work with him was, `Lennox is a better fighter than you. He’s bigger and stronger. He has a better amateur background. Really, he has a better everything. But he has a weakness, and I will train you to beat him by taking advantage of that weakness.”
To his credit, Lewis learned from his mistakes. He let Correa go and went shopping for the best trainer available, believing that that person was the man who had just helped a lesser fighter, McCall, defeat him.
Steward jumped at the opportunity to work with Lewis, even though he had prepped Briggs to beat him in the 1984 Olympics and then McCall to take him out as a pro a decade later.
“I still thought Lennox was the best heavyweight in the world, or at least he could be,” Steward said. “And when I did begin to work with him, I set out to eliminate the flaws I had seen in his before.
“I knew he needed a snappier jab. He needed better balance and conditioning, and to not be overly aggressive. He also needed top sparring partners because you adjust to the level of your competition, and I knew he did not have the right sparring partners when he was getting ready to fight Oliver the first time.”
It was a vastly different Lewis who entered the ring at the Las Vegas Hilton on Feb. 7, 1997, and, unfortunately, a vastly different McCall. For whatever reason, the Chicago native was over-anxious and mentally unprepared to replicate his watershed conquest of Lewis.
“He obviously was trying to deal with a situation he couldn’t handle,” Steward said of McCall. “I really think he had some sort of nervous breakdown that night. His corner people were yelling at him, calling him crazy and stupid, but it had just the opposite effect of what they were trying to do. He just went deeper into his shell instead of coming out of it.”
Steward also was having fighter-control issues. Try as he might, he couldn’t quite prod Lewis – who still might have been remembering the way he had previously been dispatched by McCall – into turning it loose. The Englishman was wary of McCall’s strange behavior, believing it was an act to lure him in for another putaway shot.
“Lennox was still very suspicious, cautions and confused,” Steward said. “He didn’t commit as fully as he could have, or should have.”
Since they last squared off, Lewis and McCall have gone their separate ways. Lewis retired after defeating Vitali Klitschko on cuts on June 21, 2003, and will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., on June 14.