About twice a month I spoke to the godfather of Detroit boxing, trainer Emanuel Steward. It was not for a newspaper article or for research. We were just two dudes kicking it about all kinds of subjects.
Before he died in 2012, I asked Steward why there was a void of great American heavyweight boxers. His came quick and easy.
“They are still around,” Steward said. “They are playing defensive end in the NFL.”
For the next half hour, Steward turned into a mad professor.
“If I had them for a few weeks I could turn them into boxers,” he said. “Give me two or three years and I could turn them into championship contenders.”
This country has produced great boxers. I could see Muhammad Ali as a defensive end in the NFL. What about Larry Holmes or Deontay Wilder, who is contemplating retirement from the sport?
Steward mentioned defensive ends becoming great boxers. What about some of the tight ends? I thought of Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce after he burned the Los Angeles Chargers for 191 yards on 10 catches Thursday night, including a game-winning34-yard gallop in overtime.
Give Kelce to Steward and he could become a great boxer.
Back in the day, if you were big and nimble and quick, you became a boxer. Then the NFL began to gobble these guys up. And the NBA. Steward could turn DeAndre Jordan from a dunker into a boxer. He could do the same with LeBron James. The problem with LeBron in the ring is how many dives would he take in his boxing career?
I always get in trouble with my lists of greatness. But that’s OK. Here are my top five Detroit heavyweight athletes — past and present — that I believe Steward could turn into championship-caliber boxers in the ring.
Lomas Brown, 6-4 280 pounds, Left tackle, Detroit Lions: The greatest left tackle in Lions history used superior foot speed and punching power to protect quarterbacks. He’s a very nice guy who’d need a streak of meanness.
Ndamukong Suh, 6-4, 313 pounds: I don’t know if Suh would be better suited for the boxing ring or Monday Night Raw.
Bill Laimbeer, 6-11, 244 pounds, center Detroit Pistons: Laimbeer won me over with an epic fight against Charles Barkley at the Palace. Laimbeer won a tight decision on points.
Rick Mahorn, 6-10, 240 pounds; Detroit Pistons power forward/center: He taught Laimbeer how to be tough. Mahorn also swattedwould-bee scorers out of the paint like flies.
Darren McCarty, 6-1, 219 pounds, winger, Detroit Red Wings: He worked with Steward at KronkGym, which may partially explain why D-Mac held his own during scrums on the ice.
Follow Foster on Twitter at TerryFosterDet.