By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Not everyone gets a legendary ending.
Though he’s been celebrated in recent days for work with Hall of Famers Thomas Hearns and Lennox Lewis – not to mention a Canastota-bound talent in Wlad Klitschko – not every fighter who made contact with Emanuel Steward will be as widely remembered as the Kronk-centric trainer.
But that doesn’t mean, amid the “he’s dead/no he’s not/yes he is” hand-wringing of the more-ethical-than-thou windbags last Thursday, that those lesser heralded didn’t feel a profound loss.
Just ask Kermit Cintron.
“It was weird for me because I actually couldn’t sleep (Wednesday) night, and when I woke up (Thursday) morning I thought about him,” said the Reading, Pa.-based Cintron, who turned 33 years old three days before Steward’s death. “The first thing I looked at was one of the pics of Emanuel and I, and I said to myself that after my training session I would call him.
“I was done training and went to my office and heard my phone blowing up with calls and texts and it was all about Emanuel passing away. I felt like a Mack truck just hit me.”
Cintron and Steward worked together for just five fights over a two-year stretch from 2006 to 2008, beginning with a 10th-round stoppage of welterweight gatekeeper David Estrada in Palm Beach, Fla. and ending with a sixth-round TKO loss to Antonio Margarito in Atlantic City, N.J.
It was within that time period, however, that the Puerto Rican native won his lone world title – the IBF welterweight championship – and racked up most of the memories that came flooding back upon hearing of the Detroit icon’s too-soon demise at age 68.
“The best one was becoming IBF champ and being his first legit Puerto Rican champ,” said Cintron, who stopped Mark Suarez for the vacant crown in his second fight with Steward.
He defended the belt twice, including a devastating second-round blowout of Walter Matthysse that his temporary mentor remained proud of even after their working relationship ended.
“I dropped him in the first round. In the corner, (Steward) told me to go in and jump on him right away because he was badly hurt,” Cintron said. “I threw a nasty left uppercut and followed it with a hard right hand that put him out cold. Manny loved his knockouts, and that was one to remember.”
A handful of Cintron’s camps with Steward led him to actually train in the oppressively hot basement gym where the Kronk brand was perfected. While there, he did in-ring work with several of Steward’s other “name” clients, including Andy Lee and Jermain Taylor, Johnathon Banks and Klitschko.
The severity of the trainer’s health issues became widespread when it was announced that Banks, a former cruiserweight belt-holder now campaigning as a heavyweight, would be in Klitschko’s corner for the Ukrainian’s four-belt heavyweight defense against unbeaten Pole Mariusz Wach on Nov. 10.
“He treated every fighter he had equally,” Cintron said. “It was a family atmosphere. We all helped each other. I loved the Kronk gym. I wouldn’t call it a sauna. It was more like an oven. It was a pure hardcore gym where you could feel the energy of that championship mentality.”
Cintron stopped Jesse Feliciano in 10 rounds for his second and final defense of the IBF title before losing the belt when Margarito stopped him for the second time on the undercard of the Miguel Cotto/Alfonso Gomez show at Boardwalk Hall.
The two parted ways after the Margarito rematch, though Cintron ultimately went with Steward’s recommendation and began working with Texas-based Ronnie Shields.
He’s 4-3-1 in eight fights since, and is now training with longtime friend Milton Santiago for his first appearance since a TKO loss to WBC super welterweight champ Saul Alvarez last November.
“There are no regrets whatsoever,” Cintron said. “Emanuel was a great trainer, friend and he sure was a father figure to me and to all his fighters. He bettered my skills and got me to the top where I won a world title. I really enjoyed the times when we sat around his dining room table and played poker. And the moments he shared his stories about boxing.
“My kids could not wait for Manny to have training camps in the Poconos. My kids and wife would come to visit, and all my kids would want was to see Manny, play and fish with him. My kids will never forget him.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBC bantamweight title – Sendai, Japan
Shinsuke Yamanaka (champion) vs. Tomas Rojas (No. 7 contender)
Yamanaka (16-0-2, 11 KO): Second title defense; Second fight outside Tokyo (1-0)
Rojas (39-13-1, 26 KO): Sixth title fight; Held WBC title at 115 (2010-11, two defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Sharp-punching champion is climbing the ladder at 118 and doesn’t figure to have too many rough moments with veteran Mexican whose best days seem passed.” Yamanaka by decision
WBC flyweight title – Sendai, Japan
Toshiyuki Igarashi (champion) vs. Nestor Narvaes (No. 7 contender)
Igarashi (16-1-1, 10 KO): First title defense; Second fight outside Tokyo (1-0)
Narvaes (19-0-2, 9 KO): First title fight; First fight outside Argentina
Fitzbitz says: “Champion hasn’t yet established himself as an elite, but he’ll take a step toward that status with traveling foe with zero wins over anything resembling true contenders.” Igarashi in 7
WBO cruiserweight title – Halle, Germany
Marco Huck (champion) vs. Firat Arslan (No. 7 contender)
Huck (34-2-1, 25 KO): Tenth title defense; Two-fight winless streak in 2012 (0-1-1)
Arslan (32-5-2, 21 KO): Fourth title fight; Held WBA title at 200 (2007-08, one defense)
Fitzbitz says: “Forty-something challenger has been feasting on the second level since losing his own belt, but won’t have enough to handle a tough 27-year-old incumbent here.” Huck in 9
Last week’s picks: 1-1
Overall picks record: 349-117 (74.8 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz. Tags: Emanuel Steward , Kermit Cintron