The state of Michigan has featured numerous hall of fame prizefighters over the past 125 years. Here is a look at some of the names who helped to establish this rich tradition.
Stanislaus Kiecal was born September 14, 1886 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was of Polish descent. The young man didn’t care much for school. He landed on the streets, running away from home in his early teens.
Like many others during the time period, Ketchel went west to find his way. “The Michigan Assassin” moved to Montana and gravitated toward fighting. He reportedly became a professional boxer at the tender age of 16.
The 5-foot-7 ruffian took on countless opponents in Montana and became more bloodthirsty as time went by. He was a knockout artist, one who seldom tasted defeat.
Yet his boxing skills left something to be desired. But he more than compensated for any shortcomings with a huge fighting spirit.
In December 1907, Ketchel defeated Joe Thomas by decision to win the World Middleweight title. Ten months later, he gave up the crown to Billy Papke. He would reclaim the championship soon after.
Perhaps his most infamous bout came in October 1909. Ketchel faced then-heavyweight champion of the world Jack Johnson at Mission Street Arena in Colma, California.
The Michigan Assassin dropped his much bigger rival in the twelfth round. Then, Johnson rose up off the canvas and returned the favor with a monstrous shot of his own. It put Ketchel down for the count.
Clearly, he battled some of the sport’s best. Among his opponents were champions of higher weight classes. In the process, he cemented his claim as one of the all-time greats.
Ketchel died tragically before his 25th birthday, not before he solidified his status as a true legend of the squared circle.
Heavyweight great Joe Louis, aka “The Brown Bomber,” was born May 13, 1914 in Lafayette, Alabama. As a youngster, his mom and stepdad relocated the family north to Detroit.
Louis began his boxing career as a teenager. He learned the basics at the Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center in Detroit. From that point, there was no stopping him.
The 6-foot-2 slugger saw great success as an amateur. In 1934, he captured the Golden Gloves light heavyweight crown of Detroit. Plus he added the Amateur Athletic Union title as well.
In June 1937, Louis secured a shot at the world heavyweight title. The Brown Bomber had arrived, as he blasted reigning champ James J. Braddock out in the eighth round.
Louis would become arguably the greatest heavyweight champion in the sport’s history. He recorded 25 straight world title defenses, keeping the crown for over 12 years.
Speaking of great champions, it is important to note “Sugar” Ray Robinson. Born Walker Smith, he lived down the street from Louis for a time in Detroit. Louis served as a role model for the young up-and-comer, who’s widely regarded as the greatest boxer ever.
Robinson won world titles at welterweight (147 pounds) and middleweight (160 pounds). He reigned as the welterweight king for half a decade. Then “Sugar” Ray won the middleweight belt an unprecedented five times. His name is synonymous with pugilistic greatness.
Emanuel Steward and Kronk Boxing
Motown would see another golden era of boxing starting in the 1970s. Decorated amateur boxer Emanuel Steward, originally from West Virginia, began coaching local youths at Kronk Gym in 1971. Steward would take the Kronk name global. He is credited with coaching no less than 41 of the sport’s world champions. Among them are native Detroiter Thomas “The Hit Man” Hearns and ex-heavyweight kings Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko. Steward sadly passed away at age 68 in 2012. Yet his shining legacy lives on through family.
Most notably, his nephew Javan “Sugar” Hill trains current WBC heavyweight champ Tyson Fury. No doubt Steward’s legend endures.
The Mayweather family
Now returning to Grand Rapids and modern times. From the same town as Stanley Ketchel comes the fighting Mayweather family. More specifically, Floyd Mayweather Sr., and his brothers Roger and Jeff. They planted a seed that would produce the famed second generation fighter Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Former world title holder Roger coached his nephew Floyd Jr. to multiple world boxing titles. Floyd Jr. retired undefeated at 50-0, he’s considered by many to be the greatest boxer of his time.
These are the Great Lakes State’s great names. Some of the greatest fighters in boxing history.