"Tommy's eyes just sort of lit up when he saw it," Kallen says, "and then he sat down in it and gently ran his fingertips over the upholstery. That did it." The Rolls was priced at about $85,000, Kallen says—but, typically, she talked to the salesman a bit until "we determined that we were in the same area." But perhaps the clincher came when the salesman asked Hearns, as discreetly as possible. "Can you afford this car?"
It's to Tommy's credit that he took the guy-out with a look, not a right.
The sight of the building startles a visitor conditioned by war movies. My God, this place is under attack! Which is true in a not entirely metaphorical way: generations of good and bad guys have chipped away at the reddish brick and sandstone. The building has been shot up and hammered upon, and the floors and walls have been gouged. This was once a school, but the kids fled long ago when the neighborhood turned upon itself. The building is bordered by vacant lots strewn with broken glass. Some of the windows are boarded up and slabs of sheet metal cover the doors; over all is a splash of graffiti. Inside the main entrance, when the door swings open, marijuana smoke hangs in dense layers, stacked according to its age and quality.
This is Kronk Recreation Center. Kronk. What a strange name. It rings like a hit on the head. Yet there really was a Kronk, a fellow named John F. Kronk, a councilman of some yesterday, whose name is now hung on this structure on Detroit's upper southwest side. This building is the home of the Kronk gym, and it will make the councilman more famous than any civic deed he might have accomplished.
The gym is in the basement. You go down a set of scarred stairs to doors whose knobs have long since disappeared; you put your fingers into the hole and pull the door open. The room is low-ceilinged, and Steward, who operates the gym as coordinator of amateur boxing for the city, keeps it at 95°—partly because he wants his fighters to sweat heavily and partly because there's really nothing he can do about it, with the ventilation the way it is.
It's no contest—this is the toughest gym in the country. It survives on its own tension and the meanest sort of camaraderie. The Kronk amateurs, about 40 of them, have won the Detroit Golden Gloves as a team for seven years in a row. You survive the Kronk; indeed, you become a Kronk; you turn pro, and maybe Steward will get you fights, man. This is mathematics of the most elementary kind: you get fights, you get money, you get out of that part of town. You could become a Hearns or a Hilmer Kenty, the WBA lightweight champion until last Sunday, when he lost his title on a decision to Sean O'Grady in Atlantic City. Joe Frazier's or Gleason's or Dundee's Fifth Street Gym, they're all tough, heaven knows. But compared with Kronk, they are gentlemen's sporting clubs.
You'll note that we don't have any sparring partners," Steward says. "A luxury we can't afford, and I don't believe in them anyway." He slouches to one side of the grimy 18-foot ring. He's wearing black velvet jeans and a black velvet pullover shirt, and a single gold chain gleams at his throat. He is drenched with sweat. "Look," Steward says, "why get a guy whose job is to spar, a guy who'll take punches all day, and then you give him his $150 or whatever it is, and he goes out and gets drunk? Listen, we make our guys fight each other; it's not their job, it's their mission. Friendliness vanishes inside this ring. You jive around, they drive you out. Man, they would literally kill a sparring partner."
Here is the Gospel According to Emanuel. Whatever your weight class, you work out with somebody bigger. Well, it starts as a workout and most always ends as a fight; this is the Kronk style. The gym rats skipping rope or shadowboxing around the edges of the room stop to watch and yell, "Get it on, man!" After three regulation rounds, more or less, since the clock isn't quite right, the man being worked out stays in the ring and Steward sends in someone fresh and possibly bigger. Three more rounds, and in comes yet another big guy. "Even the champs fight for their tails in there," Steward says. Nine rounds of that sort of thing and the trainee is looking forward to his next fight, if only because it'll be with someone his own size and surely a hell of a lot easier than this routine.
On this sweaty afternoon Hearns is working out with Kenty, or possibly it is the other way around. Anyway, they are belting each other. Both men are tall for their weight classes—Kenty is 5'11"—and both fight in what might be called the Kronk style. Steward stresses the left hand carried a bit lower than looks safe—the better to counter quickly, he says—and the right hand cocked in a manner that is reminiscent of Joe Louis. When the right is thrown, the body comes around with it.