The scrappy boxing manager who trained champs
Lou Duva 1922–2017
Lou Duva was a boxing kingmaker. Over a seven-decade career as a trainer, manager, and promoter, he mentored 19 champions, including the heavyweight Evander Holyfield and the welterweights Meldrick Taylor and Pernell Whitaker. His passion for the sport often bubbled over during big fights. TV networks turned off the microphones in his corner because of his habit of motivating his fighters with strings of profanities. When his lightweight Vinny Pazienza lost to Roger Mayweather in 1988, the 66-yearold Duva rushed Mayweather after the final bell. The boxer punched him in the face, drawing blood. After another post-fight brawl in 1996, Duva suffered a heart problem and was carried from the ring on a stretcher. “I’ve been fighting all my life, so I know what it’s like to take a punch,” said the pug-nosed Duva. “You don’t think I got this face from being a ballet dancer, do you?”
Born in Manhattan to Italian immigrants, Duva grew up in Paterson, N.J. His older brother, a club fighter, let him “carry his gym bag and spit bucket,” said The New York Times, and by age 15, the younger Duva “was boxing in barroom smokers for $5 a bout.” After serving in the Army during World War II, he “had a forgettable career fighting professionally as a welterweight.” Duva started a trucking business to support his family after he hung up his gloves, “but he was not prepared to forsake the boxing world.” In his spare time, he began working with fighters, “learning every facet of the trade from wrapping hands to stopping cuts to promoting fights in small clubs,” said The Washington Post. Then in 1963, he persuaded middleweight champ Dick Tiger “to give a title shot to an aging fighter Duva was promoting.” When the 33-year-old Joey Giardello unexpectedly beat Tiger, Duva had his first world champion.
“The biggest moment of Duva’s career came in 1990,” said ESPN.com, when Holyfield knocked out James “Buster” Douglas to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Duva never retired and in his late 80s helped train Chinese amateur boxers preparing for the London 2012 Olympics. “I love what I’m doing,” he said. “When it’s time to go, I’ll probably be fighting to get out of the casket. I’ll be yelling at the priest instead of a referee.” ■