Kronk Gym one of the most treasured and beloved gyms in boxing, and a centerpiece of Detroit's culture, is back. It never really left, even after it's closed it's original doors at McGraw Avenue in 2006, and then was moved to another location on West Warren Avenue.
This gym was never really about it's location, or the what was in it, but really the spirit of the late great Emanuel Steward, and the boxers (Thomas Hearns, Milton McCrory, Jimmy Paul, Duane Thomas and Hilmer Kenty, among others) that represented 'the Motor City' so well.
Now it has moved to just outside of Detroit to where the Norwayne Boxing Club is located. This gym was started by Jeff Styers, a former fighter who operated this gym as part of a youth development program for local kids. A central focus here is education, life training skills, and then boxing.
Here is feature that was done on Styers and his program back in 2015: Ex-boxer turning heads with Norwayne Boxing Club
Norwayne Boxing is now being rebranded as part of the 'new' Kronk Gym. A man who was very close to Steward has joined the organization as it's business manager, John Lepak. He told SNAC.com that eventually this facility will be ''mirror of Kronk, from top-to-bottom, all the photo's everything."
In addition to Lepak you have Styers, Sylvia Steward-Williams (daughter of the late Kronk impersario) and Scott J. Savage are the partners. Steward's widow, Marie, is still very much involved with Kronk says Lepak.
"We are currently working with the administration in Detroit to find a location to move back to the city,'' he explained. "We are looking to erect a statue or landmark at Junction and McGraw to honor the original location," he explained.
"Once we are firmly re-established in the city of Detroit, we are looking to expand with the same youth development program in other cities, as well," he continued. "Sylvia had many offers from various parties who wanted to buy Kronk in recent years. But she really liked Jeff's commitment to working with the youth because that is basically the same foundation and formula that her father started with."
The legacy of Kronk to Detroit is immeasurable, especially in the 70's. It was a beacon of hope and a source of pride for a region that went through a declining economic landscape. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that this group of boxers lead by Steward was every bit as beloved as the Tigers, Lions and Red Wings. When you saw the iconic Kronk colors (gold, blue and red, patterned after the Marine Corps by Steward), you knew what city these hard-nosed fighters were from.
For Lepak, Kronk is more than just a place that produced world-class prizefighters.
"As a little kid I used to come up there and peak in the window of the famous red door," he recalled. As he got older he would train there in the summertime (''nothing serious," he noted) but it was clear he got the boxing bug. In addition to phoning up noted Detroit Free Press columnist, George Puskas, Lepak also reached out to three men in hopes of getting his foot in door: local promoter, Bill Kozerski, Don King and Steward.
Steward was familiar with a young Lepak through encounters with him at the gym, but it was Kozerski -- who put on a multitude of shows throughout the 70's and 80's helping to move Steward's boxers in Detroit -- who gave him his first break. "I used to walk the B-side guys for the Kronk Fight Night Series' at the Palace," he recalled.
John Lepak with Emanuel Steward
Which eventually lead to him being offered a position to be Steward's right hand man, as his assistant and office manager in the early 90's, in what Lepak described as a bit of a drought period for the gym as the likes of Gerald McClellan had just left Kronk. Regardless, it was a memorable period.
"I got to spend an amazing amount of time on the road with Emanuel, where it was just him and I," said Lepak, who not only heard all the stories but learned his idiosyncrasies. Such as never to call him 'Manny', or that he hated the label of being a 'hired-gun' trainer.
The gig included everything from taking various boxers to Steward's house, working the training camp as the they prepared Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. and just other ''odds-and-ends," as he put it.
Lepak had his own bedroom at Steward's home, which served as his office space.
"It was like going on a treasure hunt every day," he remembers. One day he'd find the trunks Michael Moorer wore in his memorable battle with Bert Cooper. Or the gloves of 'the Hit Man' that were used against Juan Roldan. Or a spare WBC title belt in the basement. "It was never a dull day."
Lepak with Kronk team
He left his post in 1996 after the Lennox Lewis-Ray Mercer fight but remained cordial with the noted trainer throughout the years, as he moved onto becoming the site coordinator for Kozerski. Now, he's back with Kronk.
"I'm tasked with getting the amateur boxing program restructured, helping build that back up to the powerhouse that it once was," said Lepak, who will also work on revamping their website and merchandise sales. Their first amateur event will take place in March. Eventually they will have a focus on the professional side of things, and Lepak said he has had early conversations with Tom Loeffler in regards to this.
McCrory, who once won a welterweight world title under the Kronk banner, is one of it's coaches, as is Erskine Wade, who trained boxers at Norwayne. The likes of Johnathan Banks has expressed interest in helping out any way he can. Boxing and Kronk will always be intertwined.
But they haven't lost site of the main focus -- and it's not producing prizefighters.
"We have an emphasis on helping the guys who my not make it, or have an opportunity to turn pro," Lepak stated. "We want to give them job training skill sets, help find their strengths early on.
Here is a link to their website:
Here is a link to this weeks episode of 'the 3 Knockdown Rule' where Ring Magazine editor, Doug Fischer, joined Mario Lopez and I in-studio to discuss their year-end awards, and their 100th anniversary: