When it comes to a certain distinction, Hilmer Kenty is in a class of his own. For it was Kenty, who in defeating Ernesto Espana to win the WBA lightweight title on this day in 1980, who became the very first world champion trained by the one and only Emanuel Steward. With Kenty’s win, the soon-to-be world-famous Kronk Gym had picked up its first gold. In time, the gold shorts donned by all Kronk fighters would be celebrated, admired, and looked up to by all.
Fighting Espana at The Joe Louis Arena, Kenty, with his ninth round TKO win, also became the first fighter from Detroit since the beloved Joe Louis to win a world title. And Kenty was a fine talent. A superb amateur who defeated, amongst others, Aaron Pryor (who stopped a young Tommy Hearns at amateur level), Kenty was a tall, slick and gutsy boxer/puncher.
Retaining the WBA 135 pound belt three times (included here a second stoppage win over Espana), Kenty was dethroned by Sean O’Grady over 15 rounds in a terrific fight, this on April 12 of 1981 (coincidentally the death date of the aforementioned “Brown Bomber.”)
But Kronk’s long list of world champions was only just being compiled. How many Kronk/Steward fighters followed Kenty in ruling the world? Too many to be able to recall off the top of one’s head; that’s how many.
- Thomas Hearns
- Milton McCrory
- Jimmy Paul
- Duane Thomas
- John David Jackson
- Michael Moorer
- Gerald McClellan
- Dennis Andries
And so many more.
Hearns was/is, of course, The Big Daddy as far as Kronk fighters go, and for a while, Hearns and Kenty reigned together, the two stars being known as “The Motor City Cobras.” The Kronk legend lives on of course, with Sugar Hill Steward successfully teaching the Kronk style of fighting style and approach – “always go for the KO, that way the fight’s over and done with” – to heavyweight king Tyson Fury (who Emanuel said would be a dominant heavyweight champion years before the fact).
But Kenty, who we all hope is doing well and is enjoying life today at age 67, was the man who started that reign of dominance. Has there ever been a boxing gym more synonymous with success, with greatness, than the simply legendary Kronk gym?