The doors of the Kronk Gym in Detroit were abruptly closed this past October following the death of Hall of Fame trainer and owner Emanuel Steward, leaving its future resurrection very much uncertain. However, it lives on in the form of the many athletes who were privileged to have developed their skills at the legendary facility over the years, including the amateur fighters who represent the lifeblood of the sport. Ronnie Austion is one such member of this Kronk family.
The 18-year old Austion was born and raised in Detroit. Although he did not have an interest in boxing as a young child and had not yet met Steward, he grew up always knowing who the legendary trainer was and the impact the Kronk Gym had on the community. It was only after football season ended that Austion first gave boxing a try five years ago so he could keep active. Without the knowledge of his parents at the time, who initially believed their young son was enrolled in gymnastics, Austion began to box at Adams Butzel Recreation Center.
It did not take long for the then 13-year old to develop a passion for the sport after he sparred for the first time with a more experienced boxer without getting hit. Unlike football, Austion was drawn to the independence that his new-found passion provided and the opportunities to travel outside of Detroit for various amateur tournaments.
His experience became even greater once he began training at Kronk in 2008. Austion's father, whom the young fighter credits for always pushing him to be great and to give a professional effort at all times, recognized that his talented son would benefit from being at the legendary gym after Austion won his first gold medal at the 2007 Junior Olympics in his very first fight.
While there, Austion trained with older fighters who have since turned pro such as middleweight J'Leon Love (14-0, 8 KO's) and light middleweights Domonique Dolton (13-0, 7 KO's), Tony Harrison (11-0, 8 KO's) and Leandre White (3-0, 1 KO). Although he initially considered himself to be an outsider from a competitor gym, Austion quickly found a new family.
"Those guys took me under their wing when I was at Kronk. They would always talk to me about boxing, about how I've gotta’ be motivated and can't be slacking," shared the young fighter.
"At the same time, they showed me what they were doing and where they were going…..They took me out, we hung out all the time so it felt like I was a part of the team. They always looked out [ for me ]."
Steward, the head of this family, was equally as inclusive. Austion fondly recalled moments he spent with the famed trainer, including watching fights at Steward's home with other fighters from the gym. The gatherings were a casual, relaxed and leisurely evening of boxing with the amiable Steward making his predictions.
Austion also reflected upon time spent at one of Miguel Cotto’s training camps in Tampa, Florida where Steward frequently talked about a fight scene from the 2002 movie "Undisputed", a prison boxing film where stars Wesley Snipes (who was trained by Steward for the role) and Ving Rhames fought over a Kronk jersey.
"He was a real cool dude," Austion simply stated of the late Steward.
Several past and present Kronk family members, including Austion, were among the over 2,000 attendees at Steward’s funeral last month. The fallen trainer was honored further in a smaller tribute with the placement of candles and flowers outside of the gym.
As if the beloved father figure’s death was not a big enough loss for the sport and those whose lives he touched, the sudden closure of Kronk was the final blow. While driving to the gym soon after Steward's passing, Austion noticed that the large Kronk sign once displayed in front of the building was gone. At the direction of Steward's sister, family spokeswoman Diane Steward-Jones, all contents of the gym were dismantled "to safeguard the legacy" of her brother and the facility was soon locked.
There would be no hostile or chaotic ring work on this day. Instead, Austion and his family of fighters gathered together to quietly absorb the once very lively gym they considered home.
"We went in there the last day it was open and basically just kind of stood in the ring, just looked around and sat and talked with friends before we left," Austion recollected.
The 152-pound Austion, given the nickname "Teflon Ron" by his father, and dozens of other fighters who were displaced from Kronk are now training at various gyms in the Detroit area. With close to 90 amateur fights and several tournament championships under his belt, including 4 gold medals at the Junior Olympics and two Silver Gloves, the young fighter who was stylistically inspired by the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr., Pernell Whitaker, Roy Jones, Sugar Ray Leonard and Meldrick Taylor is hopeful he can turn pro in the near future.
A freshman at Wayne Community College, Austion is currently studying dentistry as a professional alternative. However, boxing is his true love and he holds onto hope that the Kronk family will one day be reunited.
"We don't have a gym now, but we're still going to other gyms and we're dominating those gyms. We might not be together as a whole but we're still a family. Every time we see each other, we're happy and excited to see each other," explained Austion.
"Hopefully, hopefully, Kronk Gym will be reopened to everyone and everybody can come back home."
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