Anthony Dirrell’s voice rises in unison with the temperatures he’s speaking of. “It was a fire pit down there. Oh my god!” he exclaims of a jalapeno-hot boxing heaven that felt closer to hell. “One of the hottest gyms I ever trained at. It was burning up.”
Hand the man a towel, for the mere mention of Detroit’s famed Kronk Gym is enough to dampen Dirrell’s brow.
Beginning when he was an amateur, Anthony Dirrell (27-1-1, 22 KOs) frequently sparred at a previous incarnation of one of boxing’s most storied—and steaming—incubators of talent.
The old Kronk was notorious for its man-making sparring sessions, where the competition was as heated as the room itself.
Founded and overseen by legendary trainer Emanuel Steward, Kronk tested the mettle of dozens of world champions—Steward himself trained 41 of them—amid a grim setting of urban decay whose desperation seeped in through the walls, fueling the fighters who honed their skills there.
“What made the place great was Tommy Hearns, Michael Moorer, the Ice Man (Milton McCrory),” Dirrell notes. “You could keep naming fighters. You could go on and on.”
Kronk officially closed in late 2006, and when Steward passed away in October 2012, his sister gutted the gym over concerns that it would looted by vandals.
A new Kronk opened in May, and Dirrell is helping break the gym in as he trains for his fight with Marco Antonio Rubio (59-7-1, 51 KOs) on Sunday in Corpus Christi, Texas (CBS, 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT).
For the former 168-pound titlist, to return to Kronk is to come full circle. Dirrell fulfilled his dream of becoming a world champion, and now he’s back at the place where those dreams began.
Thinking of the past leads Dirrell to reflect on the hunger that the gym inspired in him when he was coming up in the sport, how Kronk and its gritty surroundings helped get the most out of a legion of notable fighters.
“You’re working towards something, you want to get out from where you’re at,” he explains. “If that’s the only way to do it, you’ve got to work, work, work at it to get there. That’s the key.
“Those guys did that,” he continues, referencing the aforementioned Kronk greats that came before him. “They paved the way for us.”
Now, Dirrell’s doing the same at the new Kronk.
“It’s a great gym,” he says. “There’s a lot of young talent down there. If they can get out, they can be something special.”
Dirrell has one knock on the Kronk’s fresh digs, though.
“It’s hot in there,” he says, “but it’s not as hot as we want it.”
Yeah, but isn’t bringing the heat kind of your thing?
“If we can get it hotter,” Dirrell assures, “we’ll get it hotter.”
For full coverage of Dirrell vs Rubio, visit our fight page.