LONDON — Emanuel Steward made such an immense impact on Wladimir Klitschko’s life and career that the former heavyweight world champion still carries the late Hall of Fame trainer’s influence with him five years after his death from colon cancer at age 68 in 2012.
They were together for 17 fights, Steward taking Klitschko on in 2004 and rebuilding him into one of the most dominant heavyweight champions in boxing history. It looked as though it might be a short union because in their first fight together Klitschko suffered a shocking fifth-round knockout loss to Lamon Brewster in a vacant heavyweight title fight that Klitschko had been winning easily.
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But they stayed together and became very close. Steward’s reshaping of Klitschko’s boxing style and mental outlook laid the foundation for his historic 9½-year title reign that ended in November 2015 in a decision loss to Tyson Fury.
In his first bout since, Klitschko will attempt to regain the heavyweight throne when he challenges world titleholder Anthony Joshua (18-0, 18 KOs) in a megafight at sold-out Wembley Stadium on Saturday (live on Showtime at 4:15 p.m. ET with a replay on HBO at 11 p.m. ET/PT).
As he prepares to enter the ring, Steward is never far from Klitschko’s thoughts.
“I didn’t love boxing until I met Emanuel,” Klitschko said. “It’s coming from Emanuel. That’s where I got it from.”
Klitschko (64-4, 54 KOs) was training for a November 2012 title defense against Mariusz Wach, but Steward was too ill and could not come to Austria for their training camp. He died two weeks before the fight, but Klitschko went through with the bout anyway and rolled past Wach by near-shutout decision.
He had replaced Steward in his corner with Johnathon Banks, a fringe heavyweight contender who had grown up learning at Steward’s side and had served as one of Klitschko’s sparring partners for many years.
Although Banks, a Steward protégé, has his own style of training, Klitschko said they have kept much of Steward’s program intact and memories of him are all around.
“When I walk in the gym there are pictures of Emanuel, and the gym is set up like Emanuel set it up,” Klitschko said. “There are three TV screens, and they are nonstop running fights of my opponent, like we always did when Emanuel was training me. Those fights run up and down during my training sessions. Everything has stayed set up the way Emanuel set it up, the mirrors and the heavy bags are where Emanuel put them. As soon as I walk in the gym, it is Emanuel.
“There are a lot of memories. We spent a lot of time together talking about boxing and about life.”
Klitschko said Banks was the only trainer he considered to take over for Steward because of his connection to him.
“Johnathon is aware, and we have been talking about it — he knows he can never be Emanuel Steward. He has to be Johnathon Banks,” Klitschko said. “But Johnathon is very analytic and has a good mind as a coach. He learned it from Emanuel. Emanuel is the background that we both know. Johnathon is not Emanuel, but he passed a lot of things on to him, and we’re carrying it over.
“Every training session we are reminded of Emanuel. How would he say to throw this combination or that punch? The foundation is Emanuel, and I will take that into my fight with Anthony Joshua like I do for all of my fights.”