The Kronk Khronicles: Catching up with Bronco McKart
Anyone who remembers the career of Bronco McKart, 56-11-1 (34), knows he was a tough-as-nails junior middleweight, who ducked no challenge or challenger. Our own John Lepak caught up with his longtime friend, former WBO 154-pound beltholder and fellow Kronk Gym denizen to reflect on days gone by, as well as get his thoughts on how boxing in Michigan today differs from the good old days.
John Lepak: Bronco, readers and fans may wonder what Bronco McKart has to do with the original Kronk Gym. Even though you never wore the Kronk gold, you are a fighter with many ties to the original Kronk Gym. First and foremost, Emanuel Steward always lit up when he saw you, and spoke highly of you. You also trained under two of Emanuel’s mentors, arguably two of the best trainers in Detroit/Kronk boxing history, Bill “Pops” Miller and Walter Smith. You also spent a lot of time in the later part of your career training at Kronk, not to mention you were managed most of your career by Jackie Kallen, who was once the PR director for Kronk, and promoted by Bill Kozerski, the man who promoted the Kronk team for so many years.
But before we get to that, let’s talk current happenings. Congratulations on recently being re-appointed to your second term on the Michigan Unarmed Combat Commission. Although on different sides of the ropes, we were both part of the last generation of the old school from Detroit. After several years of being on the downside, how do you see the current landscape of boxing in Michigan?
Bronco McKart: The landscape of boxing in Michigan is a little different from our heyday. You have had some major Showtime boxing shows here in the past few years, featuring former world (junior middleweight) champion (Cornelius) K-9 (Bundrage), and now current two-time Olympic gold medalist, and women’s world champion Claressa Shields. But that’s about it. The biggest difference that I see is that no promoters here seem to be building fighters towards world championships. They seem to be putting on shows just to make money, and not build a product. I hope to see that change.
JL: For most of your career, you were promoted by Bill “Fight Night” Kozerski, who was the promoter of the Kronk team, for the Golden Years, and was a part of so many of the great promotions we grew up watching. You were in his stable at the time he was promoting heavyweight champion Michael Moorer, Chris Byrd, Derrick Jefferson, and even working with your stablemate James Toney on occasion. What are some of the things you saw back then in the promotional business that are different than you see today?
BM: As in my first answer – the major difference was Bill was building champions. He knew he was going to lose money on these early shows but, in the end, the champions would make the money back. Also he locked in with USA TV and was airing these fights on national television, which helped launch all of our careers!
JL: As I always tell people, nothing was handed to you. You fought tough guys from day one, under the Fight Night banner. Matchmaker Tom Vacca matched fights for hundreds of Kronk cards throughout the ’80s and ’90s. What are your reflections on how that matchmaking helped develop you as a fighter?
BM: Those fights made me real! When I fought for my first world title, I was ready. I wasn’t a guy who had his record built up off of pretenders. I fought legitimate, tough guys! When I fought Skipper Kelp, there were five people who thought I’d win: Me and my team! (laughs) Then my first fight at 154 was against the WBC international champion Alain Bonnamie, a tough guy. I wasn’t supposed to win that either. It goes on and on.
JL: You were managed by the “First Lady of Boxing” Jackie Kallen, who got her start doing PR for the great Emanuel Steward, and the original Kronk team. Emanuel was never one to duck any fight offered to one of his fighters. Considering Jackie was mentored by Emanuel, in many ways, what was Jackie’s approach to managing boxers, and your career in particular?
BM: I love Jackie. She took a risk on me and made me who I am! Jackie’s attitude was the same; she felt we were the best and we’d fight anybody! She believed in us, and we believed in her.
JL: Now to James Toney. When Jackie was managing you and James, you both trained at her Galaxy Boxing Gym. James took a liking to you early on. What are some of your memories about James, and what are some of the things you learned training with him on a daily basis?
BM: James was my mentor, treated me like a brother! He took a liking to me early because the first time we sparred, I was gunning for him, not because I didn’t respect him – I was scared to death – I just knew he was going to kill me (laughs), so I figured I might as well make it count but he never took advantage of me in that session. I was James’ attack dog in the gym. (laughs) If you came to box, and were lighter, James would have me get you! (laughs) I learned a lot from him. He taught me how to train like a champion, and early on, that shoulder roll defense.
JL: Is my memory correct; didn’t James shave your dad’s head once in camp?
BM: Yes, he did. It was a bet. I won a fight against a Canadian amateur star, who, as a pro, I wasn’t supposed to beat.
JL: Now during your times training at Galaxy, you were being taught by the legendary Bill “Pops” Miller. For those who do not know, Mr. Miller is boxing royalty, and is being inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame this year. He was one of Emanuel’s original mentors in the early days of Kronk training before he went with Billy Gutz, to train Lindell Holmes, and then Jackie to train James. What can you share with our readers about how Mr. Miller taught boxing?
BM: Pops was a real teacher! He never held pads, and wasn’t crazy about the heavybag, but the art of boxing, he was a genius! He knew all the tricks, and loved to teach them. I grew up in the pros under him. He was a kindhearted man but tough as nails. He always wanted to win, even in sparring.
JL: What were some of the things you picked up from Mr. Miller that you do not see being taught these days?
BM: Old-school things, hitting a guy on the hip, punching him in the muscles of his arm, controlling a man just by the way you hold his elbow, dirty tricks on the inside. Not all this pretty padwork, and pretty things in the ring. Just taught us how to win, at all costs.
JL: Mr. Miller was a real teacher! Everyone today sees what Floyd Mayweather Jr. does with the Mayweather family version his dad teaches. What can you share with the readers about how Mr. Miller taught it?
BM: Mr. Miller was from the old school of Sugar Ray Robinson, Ezzard Charles, Archie Moore. Moore was a slick guy, who used subtle shoulder rolls in his fights, and was very successful. Pops loved the in-fighting game, staying in the pocket, making a guy miss at close range aka the shoulder roll, and making him pay! Everyone thinks Mayweather is such a defensive wizard, which he was, but nobody stayed in the pocket like James Toney and made people miss! Toney could fight in a phone booth, and make you miss. That was a Bill Miller technique. Who teaches that now?
JL: Surely not these wanna-be trainers who watch YouTube pad work videos today! Now fast forward years later, and you eventually ended up training with Walter Smith, the man who was in Thomas Hearns’ corner from day one,, along with training countless other Kronk fighters over the years. Before we get to training with Walt, can you describe your first time walking down into the basement entering the original Kronk Gym?
BM: I walked in; I heard someone screaming “Fresh meat! Fresh meat! Kill this F’n white boy!” I was like, “Yeah, baby…I’m home!” (laughs)
JL: Mr. Miller and Walt were great friends, and both great teachers. What were some of the adjustments Walt made with you at the “veteran” stage of your career?
BM: Walt just kept me sharp, and said I’m already developed, so the one thing he did was have me spar less, and not beat my body in the gym. Was brilliant on his part, helped prolong my career.
JL: You also got to spend time in the gym with Thomas Hearns. How was your time around the “Hitman”?
BM: Tommy was my boxing idol, loved and love that guy! I am great friends with him to this day. Sometimes at dinner, I’ll tell him how surreal it is to me that I’m blessed enough to call him friend.
JL: You are one of the few people who had the distinct honor of being trained by both Toney’s and Hearns’ trainers, training in the gym with both, and fighting on both of their undercards…Now you know where I am going with this: I won’t put you on the spot because I know you are friends with both men but, if they matched up, how do you think each would measure up with their distinct boxing skill sets?
BM: Man! Now THAT would be a fight for the ages. A prime Tommy and a prime James; wow, I could discuss this for days!
JL: OK, we will save that discussion for another day! Back to your career. You faced some very tough opposition. Who are some of your memorable fights and why?
BM: Skipper Kelp, used to watch him smash people on ESPN; never thought I’d fight him, was able to fight him and beat him. People knew I was real then. Aaron Davis, former world champ, great, tough fighter, good win! Hall-of-Famer Winky Wright, three fights with him. I personally think I’m 1-2. (laughs) Biggest win was for the (vacant) WBO world title over Santos Cardona because I promised my grandpa on his death bed I’d win the world title for him. That win meant the most to me.
JL: Three fights with Winky, one of the most avoided fighters of our era. Shout out to my man Winky, and much respect once again. You ducked no one! Is there any fight you came close to getting that you did not secure or anyone you wish you had a chance to face in your career?
BM: Fernando Vargas, almost had that fight, wanted it bad! So many fights fell apart, not on my end. I wanted them all. I was begging to fight Daniel Santos, was even calling him out at his gym in Florida.
JL: I was working with both Bill and Frank Warren back then, and I know you sure did try to get that Santos fight! And the Vargas fight, wow! That would have been a war. If anyone wants to get in touch with you, what are your social media accounts?
JL: I want to thank you for your time, ol’ friend! It is always great catching up, and, just like I always tell people, you were a guy who truly was an overachiever, who worked his ass off and earned everything, answered the phone every time a fight was offered, and were a class act in both victory and defeat. Thank you, Bronc.
BM: Thank you, my friend. Thank you for the kind words. God Bless.