The Kronk Khronicles: A chat with Harold “Shadow” Knight”
In this edition of the Kronk Khronicles, I have a discussion with a man whom I’ve had the distinct honor and privilege of working with and against, on so many occasions over the years, in the world of boxing. He is one of a handful of people who ever got to work close and personal with Emanuel Steward in training camp, and in his corner for several years. In fact, other than Thomas Hearns, I would argue the greatest run Emanuel ever had working with a fighter would be with the last undisputed heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, and the man in that corner, of whom I am speaking, is my friend Harold “Shadow” Knight.
John Lepak: Shadow, you had a very respectable professional career that spanned from 1983 till 1988. Along the way, you compiled a record of 19-1 (15), captured the USBA junior lightweight championship, and eventually retired, after going 15 rounds against Rocky Lockridge for the IBF world championship. Fighting out of New Jersey, there were some tough fight towns – yours included – back then. How was the competition back then in the gyms?
Harold “Shadow” Knight: Newark, Trenton, Paterson, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Camden, as well as Plainfield, were cities that you could and would hone your craft at, as well as get your behind handed to you, on any given day. I loved what I did, and I always studied and trained, so it was second nature to me.
JL: Speaking of tough fight towns and tough gyms, those could easily be considered the prime years of the famous Kronk Boxing Team in Detroit. What were your memories of the Kronk Team, back in those days?
HSK: I always loved Tommy Hearns and Emanuel Steward. I was always amazed when I used to see the Kronk Team, and the yellow, red and blue colors at the Ohio State Fair or the Nationals…That team could fight! Back in 1977, Manny and Tommy came to Plainfield, to our boxing banquet, before Tommy even won his first world (welterweight) title against Pipino Cuevas. My coach/trainer/mentor, the late John Davenport and Manny were good friends (Davenport was Lennox Lewis” first professional trainer), so when Tommy and Manny came, that’s when Tommy became my favorite fighter, of course after (Muhammad) Ali!
JL: Was there ever talk of you fighting anyone out of the Kronk stable?
HSK: Well, me and Stevie McCrory was around the same weight but he was so good but we never fought. He was beating everyone. I did lose to John Johnson at the Ohio State Fair. There were three Johnson Brothers from Detroit. I don’t think they were from Kronk though. I think it was Joe and John Johnson, if I recall, from the stories at Kronk. Man, that Ohio State Fair was like the Olympic Trials, back in those days.
JL: After retiring from the ring, how did you get into training fighters?
HSK: I was asked to be the assistant for Lennox Lewis and (promoter) Frank Maloney’s other fighters, in the U.K., and can you believe I turned the job down? After being forced into retirement (due to a benign cyst on the brain), I didn’t want to have anything to do with boxing but, after a while of not doing anything, I decided to take the job and relocate to the U.K. in 1990. and the rest is history. One of the best moves I have made in my life.
JL: You eventually linked up with Lennox Lewis. How was that in the early stages?
HSK: Lennox has always taken boxing seriously, and trained accordingly…He wanted the best trainers and people around him to make him better, and, if you wasn’t “cutting the mustard,” you was replaced, so it makes me feel good that I survived three dIfferent head trainers and still been aboard, when the train pulled into the last stop of retirement.
JL: This leads me to the first of many times we would be working either in the same camp or in opposing camps, for years to come. The first time was when you were training Lewis, and I was working with Emanuel, when he trained Oliver McCall for their first meeting. You were in Lewis’ corner, with Pepe Correa, and, in the opposite corner was Emanuel. As a trainer, you had matched up against many legends to date but how was it going up against Emanuel the first time?
HSK: Going up against Manny was my first and last time because, when McCall KO’d Lennox, we literally grabbed Manny and said, “You’re coming with us!”
JL: Next thing I know, one afternoon I was sitting in my office in Emanuel’s home, and, on the other end of the phone, I heard “This is (promoter) Panos (Eliades) ringing from a mobile in Greece. Is Emanuel there?” and the rest, they say, is history! I’m getting old but wasn’t the first fight we had camp together was when Emanuel came in to train Lennox for the tune-up versus Justin Fortune?
HSK: Can’t remember where that training camp was but I vividly remember that fight was in Dublin, Ireland against Justin Fortune.
JL: What are some of your memories about working with Emanuel that first time?
HSK: Many memories about Manny, I was more happy than Lennox, when Manny became head trainer because Manny was not only my friend and mentor but he was someone I always admired and looked up to from a young age. So all I did was look, listen and learn from a legend, a guru, a sage, so I had the best of both worlds, learning from the best, getting paid to do it and making history along the way.
JL: The next time we were together was only maybe a month later, when we started training camp for Tommy Morrison. The one thing that stands out most in my memory for that fight was how Emanuel, like with so many of the established fighters he came in to train, he did not try to “change” Lennox. He spent time working with him on his footwork, balance and leveraging his punches. What are your memories about this training camp, and how Lennox performed, as a result versus Morrison?
HSK: Manny was not only a genius but also a motivator, and one of the greatest strategist artists, when it came to boxing and life. He was a psychologist, as well as a good damn cook. Manny corrected Lennox Lewis’ balance, as well as taught Lennox how to fight as a big man, use his arms to control people, to fight smartly and work through the tiredness, which was a great advantage for Lennox Lewis, being that he was a big man.
JL: (laughs) Yes, Shadow, Emanuel was a damn good cook, and I used to pack those big steamer trunks for camp, with all those hot plates and pots and pans. (laus) I thought Lennox gave a career-best performance to date, versus Morrison. Next we linked up again, in the Poconos, to prepare for Ray Mercer. Before we get to the training, I always liked the old-school training camp set-up we had up in the Poconos. Emanuel was never one to over-train his fighters after the first Hearns versus (Sugar Ray) Leonard bout but he did believe in tough sparring. Tough sparring, something a lot of people want to debate with me on Twitter about all the time! You guys brought in tough sparring like Darnell “Doc” Nicholson, Shazzon Bradley, Gary Bell, Jeremy Williams, the one tough guy I forget from Nigeria? Many more. What is your take on Emanuel always wanting tough sparring, and guys who would push Lennox in the gym?
HSK: It brought the best out of Lewis, so I was all for it and Lewis was all for it. It made Lewis a beast, come fight time.
JL: That was a great night in the Garden, when Lennox fought Mercer. That was maybe the first of many times to come where you got to see Emanuel respond in the corner to high pressure situations in the ring, as Mercer was giving Lennox all he could handle that night. How was it seeing Emanuel work, when Lennox was getting as good as he was giving?
HSK: We actually thrived under pressure. It brought the best out of all us. We won the Mercer fight by one point. Manny was a genius. Going into the 10th round, he told Lewis he was losing. “You need to win the last round big,” while the late Tommy Parks was telling Mercer he was winning, to more or less, coast, and that was the difference in that fight.
JL: Well, my old friend, ironically, in the very next fight, you and Emanuel trained Lennox to rematch versus McCall, and I was working with Sterling McPherson, at that time, so I was now, I guess you could say, in the opposite camp. Lennox was very focused going into that fight. It was Emanuel, who laid out a great game plan for McCall in the first fight. What did Emanuel work on to prepare Lennox now, for the rematch, versus the only man then to beat him as a pro?
HSK: In the second fight against McCall, we purposely came in a little bigger but maintained the speed and to dog him. McCall wasn’t mentally there but he still was going get his ass whipped anyway. Lewis is like a perfectionist, and, in rematches, he was superb!
JL: After beating McCall, you guys went on one of the greatest title defense runs in modern history, beating guys like Henry Akinwande, Shannon Briggs, Evander Holyfield, Andrew Golota, Michael Grant and others, all of whom were legit challengers and contenders, at the time. You guys were firing on all cylinders, as a team, during this time. What were some of the things you and Emanuel worked on?
HSK: During the span of fight, we just wanted to be consistent, and to not only master the jab, control opponents with the upper body/arms and to fire back immediately after the opponent stops punching, to catch them off-guard.
JL: I had to stop there, and just say thank you to Team Lewis because the next time we faced each other, I was still working with Sterling and, despite how great a team you guys had, I think Sterling deserved “Manager of the Decade” for even landing Frans Botha a shot! Respectfully I didnt think we had a snowball in hell’s chance that night but thanks for the payday, Shadow!
HSK: No problem with the Botha payday because we got paid too!
JL: Moving forward, you guys suffered a shocking upset loss to Hasim Rahman. There was a lot of distractions leading up to that fight, if I recall. What was camp like after dominating the division for so many years? Did even Emanuel get a bit comfortable?
HSK: Not at all. Making no excuses but we were filming “Oceans 11” in Vegas, and didn’t get to South Africa about 14 days before the fight. Not enough time to get acclimated but no excuses; Rahman caught Lewis backing up and on the ropes.
JL: You guys smashed Rahman in the rematch, making Lennox the only heavyweight champion I know of who avenged every loss he ever had. And of course, that leads us to the next time we faced off in opposing camps for the fight with Mike Tyson. How was training camp leading up the Tyson fight?
HSK: We won the fight at the press conference. Mike tried to intimidate Lewis by rushing across the stage, swung, missed and got tagged. He bit Lewis’ leg, and that just put fuel to fire. We went to the cold Poconos, while Mike went to train in Hawaii. We were on a mission on the road to cement our legacy.
JL: There was, what most saw, as a lot of bad blood leading up to that fight, but it was just business, nothing personal. It is how the legends show respect, in many ways, giving each other a great payday. After I worked on Mike’s next fight versus Clifford Etienne, there was talk about doing a double-header in L.A. or remote sites., with both guys fighting leading up to a rematch. I ended up working with Bill Kozerski and Gary Shaw on Lennox’s fight versus Vitali Klitschko and it was truly an honor and relief, in many ways (laughs), to be reunited, and be a part of Lennox’s last night in the ring. There was a last-minute change up in oppoonents. How did Emanuel change up training and strategy, in that situation?
HSK: Well, it’s not much you can do , when you train for five weeks for one guy, Kevin Johnson, and then, three weeks out, you have a completely different opponent but adjust, adapt and fight your fight.
JL: Lennox decided to hang them up after that, and stayed retired. Emanuel went on to train Wladimir Klitschko for another great heavyweight title run. Although he lacked the big-name rivals that Lennox had, I saw many of the Steward trademark adjustments being made. What were your impressions of Emanuel’s influence on Wlad?
HSK: Same as with Lewis, they trusted and believed in Manny. I believe they felt Manny was the greatest.
JL: Looking back, in closing: What are some of the things, as a young trainer, you learned working with Emanuel all those years?
HSK: John, it still hurts that Manny left us too soon but I will never forget that he said to me I was the only assistant trainer that never tried to undermine him or tried to go behind his back to the fight, about trying to take over. That meant a lot to me to hear him say that but, more importantly, that meant a lot to him to know I was loyal to not only the fight but to him.
JL: Shadow, thank you for your time, and it has been great catching up in recent weeks, and I am looking forward to working on new projects in the near future. If anyone wants to stay current on what you are doing these days, what are your social media accounts?
HSK: John, I thank you once again, and I’ve always thought of you as a stand-up type of guy, who I respected from day one. My Instagram is @usbachamp87; my personal Facebook page is usbachamp87 and Facebook fan page is ShadowBoxingAcademy and my Twitter page is @usbachamp1.