My First Visit to Kronk Gym
The first time I walked into the Kronk Recreation Center and through the red doors of Kronk’s boxing gym, I was invited by Thomas Hearns and Emanuel Steward.
I had interviewed Hearns, Prentiss Byrd and Emanuel Steward at Carl’s Chop House on Grand River Avenue in Detroit.
I was a reporter for The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette and was in Detroit to cover the Nov. 7, 1987, Michigan State football game vs. Purdue University. Purdue was my beat at the time.
Hearns had recently defeated Juan Roldan for the vacant WBC Middleweight Title. I sat at the Carl’s Chop House table and asked Hearns when he would fight Sugar Ray Leonard again. I told him I wanted to break the story.
Thomas talked about whom he wanted to fight next and said he wanted to fight Sugar Ray Leonard again but there were no active talks or plans.
In the first bout, Leonard and Hearns fought for the undisputed World Welterweight Championship Sept. 16, 1981. Leonard was the WBC champion, and Hearns, the WBA champion. Leonard stopped Hearns in a TKO at 1:45 in round 14 of 15.
The interview with Hearns was brief, but I was invited to Kronk to watch workouts. They told me to come the next day by 3:30.
I arrived at 2:30 p.m. and watched the amateurs ages 5, 6, 7…to 10 years old in the ring learning how to throw punches as a group, listening to the commands of Coach Floyd Logan.
I met Walter Smith, Sammy Poe, Floyd Logan, Bill Miller and Taylor “Smitty” Smith who told me he trained Tommy before Emanuel Steward.
There were 16 more years of visits to Kronk where I watched uncountable sparring sessions, workouts, training camps, spent hours sitting on the bench and hunched over the computer to write and share their stories.
The fighters did all the incredibly hard work that aspiring world champions do. I took notes and wrote columns and stories for newspapers and publications.
I Returned to Kronk September 28, 2017
I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I returned to Kronk September 28, 2017. I had just driven through the entirety of a new downtown Detroit and people were walking everywhere. New buildings. Old buildings refurbished businesses and a skyline I no longer recognized, but for the better. Detroit was thriving.
I thought I would stop by one of the most famous boxing gyms in the world and take a selfie in front of the gym for the memory vault.
I had last seen the gym in early 2004. It wasn’t in great shape then, and was scheduled to close for repairs, but what I saw this day broke my heart.
The gym was a graffiti-covered abandoned building with windows covered by spray-painted boards. There were no doors and homeless people were living inside.
Broken glass was everywhere so I didn’t get out of the car. There was garbage strewn across long grass and weeds. Trash surrounded the gym where I had watched world champion fighters train and spend decades of their lives working out.
I’d been gone a very long time.
Kronk At Its Peak
The temperature at Kronk was always over 100 degrees. Fighters would have no trouble making weight if they were conditioned and sweating constantly.
What I watched in the early afternoons were some of the amateurs. Little boys, five, six years old in groups with working with an amateur coach Mr. Logan who trained the boys who were brought to or who found their way into the gym, and he taught them how to fight.
Before they were even allowed to box they had to show that they had the work ethic of a boxer. They had to get there on time, jump rope, jog, they had to spar, and train outside the gym.
They had to hit the heavy bag, speed bag, do sit-ups, do their running on their own. And if after two weeks they’d been able to do workouts regularly, Mr. Logan might let them put on some gloves and he might teach them how to fight.
He worked with and worked alongside Bill Miller, Sammy Poe, Walter Smith, Luther Burgess, Taylor Smith and they took great pride in teaching those boys how to fight.
It was exciting to watch and it was interesting. Some boys came in and were brought by principals, uncles, brothers, mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins.
They were kids who were maybe having trouble in school. Needed to have something to do afterward to stay out of trouble and Kronk was the gym that they came to.
Tommy Hearns actually started at another gym (King Solomon Rec Center). But this is where he spent his time with Emanuel Steward training.
What a lot of people don’t know is that Hilmer Kenty was the first world champion out of Kronk Gym followed by Tommy Hearns.
Other fighters included Milt McCrory, Steve McCrory, Jemal Hinton, Oba Carr, Tarick Salmaci, Gerald McClellan, Michael Moorer, Leeonzer Barber, Dennis Andreis.
Then the heavyweights started coming in. Oliver McCall, Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko trained here.
Now, no one trains here.
Where Does U.S. Boxing Stand Today?
I’ve been given a lot of theories by boxing trainers, promoters and managers as to why boxing is not as popular among people today as it used to be.
I asked trainer Abel Sanchez, “why do you think there’s not as many fighters going into boxing?”
“I think that football basketball other sports take away the bigger guys,” Sanchez said. “The smaller guys don’t have an opportunity in those sports. They gravitate towards boxing or some other sport.
“But the bigger guys have bigger opportunities in those types of sports here in America.”
I asked Bob Arum about what he sees of amateur boxers in the United States.
“What about some of the amateurs you’ve seen,” I asked. “Do you like anybody out there?”
“Who, the heavyweights? Not really, no,” Arum said.
“So how would you explain that?” I asked.
“Because they’re going into football and basketball,” Arum said. “The foreigners the ones particularly from Eastern Europe–even regular Europe–are too big to be soccer players. So they go into boxing.”
Gyms Like Kronk Have Closed
I believe that the reason there are few U.S. heavyweight champions and U.S. titleholders overall is that gyms like Kronk have closed.
States have lost the ability to pay for recreational programs. Kronk was a great gym and should have been retained and maintained.
Kronk is a place I spent many hours as a reporter. Sitting watching the workouts and seeing the gym like this it’s heart-wrenching.
I’m saddened that the city couldn’t find a way to at least preserve this one last icon.
Downtown looks beautiful. It’s amazing. It looks like a brand new city. But they couldn’t save the Rec Center or the boxing program from which many, many champions were made.
About This Kronk Footage
The footage shared here was something that I shot in September 2017. Less than two weeks later, the great Kronk Gym burned to the ground.
The gym may be gone but it’s not forgotten its history remains.
I’m a native Detroiter I’m glad to see that the City of Detroit rebounded, but angered to see so many Detroit Recreation Centers have closed.
- Detroit Brewer Rec Center
- Detroit Brewster-Wheeler Rec Center
- Detroit Cannon Rec Center
- Detroit Herman Gardens Rec Center
- Detroit Johnson Rec Center
- Detroit Kronk Rec Center
- Detroit O’Shea Rec Center
Because through the red and gold doors of Kronk Gym and others like it, many great fighters were made. Detroit gyms are a part of Detroit history.
Here’s a list of some of the fighters I interviewed during that timeframe. They shared their stories, I watched them train like warriors, and they all fought like champions.
So here’s a thank you from me to you letting you know that those great boxing memories will be preserved and you will never be forgotten:
Sugar Ray Leonard
John David Jackson
Julio Cesar Chavez
Oscar De La Hoya
Roy Jones, Jr.
Chris Eubank, Sr.
Tony Ayala, Jr.
Booker T. Word
Theotrice Chambers III
And, of Course…
Keith Lee, Sr.
Anthony Nolan, Sr.
Tony Ayala, Sr.
Dr. Stuart Kirschenbaum
About Kronk Recreational Center
The Kronk Recreational Center was built in the early 1920s and was named after former Detroit City Councilman, John F. Kronk in 1926. The neighborhood in which the building stood was once a predominately Polish community. Councilman Kronk was of Polish heritage, and the center was named in his honor. The boxing gym was inside the recreation center, maintenance for which was paid by the city of Detroit.