SugarHill Steward and Stitch Duran recall the incredible intensity of being in Tyson Fury’s corner. They speak to John Dennen
IT was a fight of extraordinary brutality. Even for a battle at the top end of heavyweight boxing, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder subjected one another to a degree of punishment that has rarely been matched when they concluded their trilogy in Las Vegas this October.
Fury had put the American down in the third round only for Wilder, who possesses explosive one-punch power, to drop the Briton twice in the fourth. From the stands these looked like heavy knockdowns. But his corner knew Fury could cope.
“I expected an early knockout by Tyson in the third round. It was looking like that and, then the fourth round, Tyson got a little bit… he forgot,” SugarHill Steward, his trainer, laughed faintly as he recalled those ferocious rounds. “He was still very alert and everything like that. I wasn’t concerned with him in the fourth round. It was just – the bell’s going to ring eventually, getting him back and he did everything he was supposed to do in that fourth round. He held for a moment and then he fought back. He wasn’t that hurt, it was just that time where you’re just shaken a little bit and Deontay’s got so much adrenalin and so much of a push off of that knockdown. So just trying to calm that man down and gain control back. I thought Tyson handled himself very well. He came out in the fifth round and continued to do what he was doing in that third round, and that fourth round until he got caught, and continued to do that for the rest of the fight.”
Jacob “Stitch” Duran was alongside SugarHill in the corner. The cutman, his sole task was to take care of Fury. “I’m looking and I’m keeping my composure, and Jorge Capetillo’s yelling and Sugar’s excited, and I have to keep my composure because I still have to stay focused. When Tyson got dropped those two times in that round, first thing, I always make the eye contact. The eyes will tell you everything and as he’s walking in, he’s regrouped pretty well and as he sits down of course I’ve got eyes on him right off the bat and he relaxed and he refocused that quick. So I knew he was okay,” Stitch remembered.
Fury’s powers of recuperation are undeniable. “Eyes tell you everything. When you start working with so many fighters is that you learn that their eyes will telegraph everything that’s happening. He focused well,” Duran continued. “I’m sure going through his head was: ‘S**t, two times. S**t, two times. What am I going to do?’ I’m sure all of that’s running through his head. That’s why it’s important for us to kind of ground him, let him take a deep breath, then say, okay how do I beat this one now. He did good.”
SugarHill’s work in that corner was immensely impressive. He got Fury back on his jab and urged him to go for the knockout just when he needed to. “I don’t even know if those were instructions. That was a demand. It wasn’t instructions. It was like a command. It was either, listen Tyson you can go out there and knock him out, or you can go outside the ring and I’ll get in your seat and I’ll go out there and finish the job. That’s pretty much what it was about. So he looked at me, he was like, f**k it, f**k it, I’m going to do it. That probably what it was. All I was saying was that in a nutshell,” Sugar said.
Stitch described him imploring Fury to use his jab. “Because his jab was tremendous. You can’t read it. He knew how to pump him up. You can’t be nice with Tyson Fury in the corner. At that point you have to take charge and direct him to go after him, go after him – he’s going to do it anyway but you have to be in charge in that corner and Sugar does a good job doing that,” Duran said.
Fury sent Wilder back down to the canvas in the 10th round and finished the fight with a massive shot in the 11th. “I felt Tyson dominated the fight but there was still always that puncher’s chance in Deontay Wilder. You know from what happened in the fourth round, there was always the possibility of that happening again in that fight. Because you’re watching two big punchers. The two biggest punchers in the heavyweight division. Now I can say Tyson Fury is the biggest puncher in boxing now. He’s the biggest puncher in the heavyweight division. He just took that from Deontay Wilder, the same as he took the lineal championship from Wladimir Klitschko. That goes to his one punch knockout power. I guess people said you can’t teach it,” SugarHill said. “They don’t have to [believe you can], I teach it. I believe in it. It’s a technique.”
“Those are [Tyson’s] skills. His skills are to get it over with. Bang and get it over with. So that’s what I expect to see. I expect to see Tyson Fury walk through everybody in the heavyweight division,” he continued. “Just continue to be the best him. I can’t make Tyson Fury anybody else but him. I can just take him and make him better at what he is.”
“The more he is Tyson, the better he’s going to be and I don’t know if anybody’s going to beat him,” Duran added.
The team is infused with the spirit of Emanuel Steward’s Kronk gym. SugarHill is the great coach’s nephew. He only linked up with Fury as his coach for the second Wilder fight in 2020, but they’ve known each other for over a decade. “It’s the dynamic duo. This is the hottest thing in any sport, this duo right here,” SugarHill said. “He’s crazy as s**t, I guess I’m crazy as s**t too. So it’s the perfect combination. We both have a lot of similarities in our attitudes and things like that. We hit it off back in 2010 when he first come here, first got on a plane and came to Detroit looking for Kronk and Emanuel.
“It’s like one big family. They’ve taken me in the brotherhood as well and I enjoy it and I love it.
“That’s the way I was raised at Kronk. It was a team but it wasn’t really a team, and I keep saying it accidently – Kronk was a family. It was a family bond and everybody helped each other out and everybody felt that way. That’s why you had so many world champions from that one gym at one time. There’s never been anything done like that before in history. We had that many champions from that gym but at the same time. And they all sparred and helped each other out. Olympic gold medallists, world champions, from light-heavyweights down to lightweights, I mean they were always in the gym sparring and working out with each other just like an amateur team,” SugarHill continued. “When new fighters came they became part of that family. They felt it. The guys would spar hard in the gym but when they got done they’d go to that locker room, sit down and talk about it together.
“So it was great. They’re brothers. Everybody from that Kronk family is brothers no matter what.”
Duran knows the Kronk way well. He worked closely with Emanuel Steward for many years. In fact he was in Wladimir Klitschko’s corner when he fought Tyson Fury. “The thing with Wladimir is that he understands my job is to take care of fighters and that era with him and Tyson is gone,” Stitch noted. “Now if Tyson and Wladimir were to fight each other, I’d probably have to pull out. Just say, okay, I’ll recommend somebody of high calibre.”
When he met Fury, Duran had told him, “I just couldn’t understand how you beat Wladimir. I just couldn’t understand. I think we were just overconfident looking at you. But when I saw you fight Deontay Wilder, I understood your style of fighting… Bruce Lee would say, you move like water. I was really impressed with your defences.”
Stitch explained, “Nobody could teach Floyd Mayweather how to fight. You can’t follow what Floyd Mayweather does as a fighter and as a heavyweight you can’t do what Tyson Fury does as a heavyweight. Because that style is solely designed for him and it’s not really taught, it’s more just reflexes and reactions. That’s what makes him so good. But what a dynamite guy… It’s about the characters that I work with.
“Not only him but the whole team. The whole team are top professionals. Sugar, I know his style because I worked with Emanuel Steward for 10 years, 12 years so if anyone knows Sugar’s style, it’s me.
“We’ve already got that unity. Andy Lee, I worked with him when he was a fighter working with Emanuel Steward.”
That Kronk legacy is continuing. Lennox Lewis, one of Manny Steward’s most famous pupils, told SugarHill after the last Fury-Wilder fight that Emanuel would be proud. “It was good. Lennox had a relationship with Emanuel and for him to be saying that… it gets me emotional sometimes,” Sugar said.
Channelling emotion is part of their success. When under acute pressure, Fury can shrug it off and excel. SugarHill knew just what to say to him, and when he needed to say it. “Keeping your composure but still knowing when to bring out that anger so to speak,” perhaps that is the Kronk way, Stitch Duran suggests.
There are elements that make great fighters. “Composure that’s always been a key factor. These guys know what level of combat that they’re in,” he said. “Tyson Fury working every second of every round and you don’t see every fighter doing that. That’s what I see as the number one – composure, knowing where you’re at, the discipline and the sacrifice that they have to make.
“I know the lineage that goes at the highest level,” Duran added. “I see the foundation that he [SugarHill] is building.”
Fury and his corner had developed a bond, the kind of bond they needed to get through this final Wilder bout, a fight of almost unrivalled intensity. “It was high energy,” Stitch chuckled.
Sugar said it more simply, “I don’t think they have a word in the dictionary to describe that.”