LOU DUVA LOOKS BACK ON A LIFE IN BOXING
By Doveed Linder
Exculsive interview conducted in December 2015
The 1980s and 90s saw a number of exciting match-ups in boxing, including Evander Holyfield-Dwight Muhammad Qawi I, Julio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor I, Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield I and Riddick Bowe-Andrew Golota I & II. All of these fights had something in common. In the corner of one of the combatants was an excitable, protective man with grey hair who loved his fighters as much as any trainer possibly could. Born and raised in New York City and later relocating to Paterson, New Jersey, Lou Duva was the first of the Duva family to make his mark in the boxing world. Duva fought professionally in the 1940s, compiling a record of 15-7 before retiring to devote more attention to his trucking company and bail bondsman business. He remained in the sport as a trainer and manager, with his first world champion coming in 1965 when middleweight Joey Giardello won a fifteen-round unanimous decision over Dick Tiger.
Duva handled a number of high profile fighters over the years, either as a manger and/or trainer, including Rocky Lockridge, Johnny Bumphus, Scott Frank, Alex Arthur, Tyrell Biggs, Vinny Pazienza, Michael Moorer, Andrew Golota, Jose Luis Lopez, Shaun George, Michael Marrone, Arturo Gatti, Zab Judah, Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor and Evander Holyfield, among others. He often worked with co-trainer George Benton, as well as trainers and cornermen Tommy Brooks (Duv'as son-in-law), Roger Bloodworth, Ronnie Shields, and Joe Souza.
In 1978, Lou Duvaís son Dan started Main Events, a New Jersey-based promotional company that gained significant recognition when it put on the welterweight super fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns in 1981. Main Events rose to prominence over the next few years with Lou and Dan working with many members of the fantastic 1984 U.S. Olympic team. Dan Duva passed away too young in 1996, at which time his wife Kathy Duva became more active in the family business.
In December 2015, I called Lou Duva and asked him how his family business came to be, as well as some of the legendary bouts he has been a part of over the years. At the time of this interview (late 2015), Duva was ninety-three years old and retired from boxing. Lou Duva passed away on March 8, 2017 at the age of ninety-four.
DL: What is your background in boxing and what led you to start training and managing fighters?
LD: When I was ten years old, I would go to the gym with my brother. I used to go down there and clean up, and some of the fighters there taught me how to box. I started boxing and I learned the sport from all angles. I went into the Army and I turned pro when I got out. I had to stop because there were so many other things I was doing. I was running a trucking company and I had a bail bondsman business. But I kept going to the gym and I eventually became a trainer. I put a stable of fighters together and I had former fighters working for me as trainers. George Benton was my top trainer. George was one of the top middleweight contenders from Philadelphia. He fought all the best and he beat all the best. He should have got a title shot, but he didnít because of politics. My fighters liked learning from him. They related to him. They listened to him. George did what a trainer does and he made champions out of these guys. My first world champion was Joey Giardello. Joey was a good fighter, and when he wanted to fight, nobody could beat him. I had close relationships with all my guys. They were part of my family and we all got along good. I was managing and promoting fighters and it got so big that my son Dan started Main Events. My brother, my wife Ė we were all part of it. It was a family affair. I spent time in the gym with the fighters and Dan handled the promotional end of it. Our first big fight was Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard in Las Vegas. It was a really big fight and it was good for the operation. We got lucky. We had the right people with us and we did the right things with everybody.
DL: You worked with a number of high profile fighters in the late 1980s and early 90s like Evander Holyfield, Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker, Arturo Gatti, and Andrew Golota. What stands out in your mind about the time you spent with them?
LD: Evander Holyfield was a great fighter and a great person. In the gym, he was tremendous at helping other fighters out. We had a really good relationship. He listened to me and he followed George Bentonís instructions. I remember his fight with Buster Douglas (1990) very well. I knew he would knock him out in the third round. He had the guts to beat him, he had the background to beat him, and I knew it would happen the way it did. After a while, you get a feeling for a fighter. When you have a lot of experience and a lot of love for them, you know when theyíre going to deliver. Evander sure as hell delivered. When you talk about a real fighter, he was as real as it gets. I also have the greatest of respect for Meldrick Taylor. The best fight he had was when he fought Cesar Chavez [their first fight]. He should have won that fight [Taylor was ahead on points but the referee stopped the bout in Chavez's favor with two seconds left]. When Pernell Whitaker was at his best, nobody could beat him. He trained good. He didnít enjoy himself, he trained and thatís why he became a great fighter. Arturo Gatti was a tough guy and he had a lot of tough fights. He was a playboy, but when he came to train, he trained. What he had more than anything was heart and guts. Andrew Golota was a good fighter who could have been a great fighter. He had a different mind. Before a fight, I would talk to him and say, ďThis guy likes to do this, he likes to do thatÖĒ He would say, ďI know, I know, I know, I knowÖĒ With Riddick Bowe, Golota was hitting him with low blows. I would tell him to hit the belly, hit him on the shoulder, but donít hit him low. He would say, ďOkay.Ē He goes out there and the first right hand he throws is a low blow. I had a heart attack that night! It was one of those little things in my career. I loved boxing. I STILL love boxing.
DL: Do you love the game now as much as when you were actively training and managing fighters?
LD: No. I loved the game before. I donít have that feeling like I used to. When you had the guys that I had, itís hard to watch boxing today. Tommy Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard, Holyfield and Bowe, Taylor and Chavez Ė THOSE were main events. Today itís Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Pernell Whitaker would put Floyd Mayweather in his back pocket! Some of the fighters today are overpaid. You have trainers who only want to train a guy if thereís enough money in it. Everything is about the money and it hurts the sport. If youíre going to work with a fighter, itís because you think theyíre the best in the world. It has to be like family. With my fighters, I would make sure they kept whatever money they made. I would cook them Italian dinners and make sure they ate right. Those were my guys out there and I had to take care of them. Thereís one fighter Iíll always remember in my heart and in my soul. Thatís a kid named Oscar Diaz [who was seriously injured in a fight]. He was a tough kid. Not the greatest like Pernell Whitaker, but lots of guts. When he fought, he fought hard and thatís all that mattered. I have a place in my heart because of my personal feelings for him and the way he handled things with my family. Sometimes you have to choose sides in life. Take the good side. Donít take the bad side. Take the good. I had the best guys ever. I still talk to Evander Holyfield and Meldrick Taylor. Iím spending time with my family, and if thereís something I can do, Iíll do it. Iím just making the most of life every way I can.
Doveed Linder is the author of RINGSIDE: INTERVIEWS WITH 24 FIGHTERS AND BOXING INSIDERS, a collection of in depth interviews with various fighters, trainers, corner men, promoters, and officials, including ďSugarĒ Ray Leonard, Roy Jones, Jr., Angelo Dundee, Emanuel Steward, Larry Merchant, Bob Arum, Steve Smoger, and Jackie Kallen. The foreword was written by Boxingtalk publisher Greg Leon.
This book is now available on Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Ringside-Interviews-Fighters-Boxing-Insiders/dp/1476664412
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