It is a sad day for boxing as the Hall of Fame trainer and manager Lou Duva passed away on Wednesday at the age of 94 from natural causes. New fans might recognize the name from the film “Bleed for This”, where Duva was featured as one of Vinny Pazienza’s cornermen and manager, but veteran fans will know that Pazienza was just one of many in the legend’s stable.
Names like Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, Mark Breland, Lennox Lewis, and Fernando Vargas had all passed through Duva’s hands at one point of their careers, and that sort of resume doesn’t happen by chance. Perhaps the most infamous anecdote is when Duva cornered Mark Breland’s welterweight win for the WBA title against Seung-Soon Lee on a Saturday night in Las Vegas, then flew over to New Jersey to corner Darrin Van Horn’s win over Robert Hines for the IBF junior middleweight title on Sunday. It is perhaps the only example of a trainer cornering two championship wins in the span of 24 hours, and gave credence to why Duva had such a stellar cast of pupils. He earned it.
In 1984, Duva won “Manager of the Year” from the Boxing Writers Association of America, “Trainer of the Year” from the World Boxing Association in 1987 and 1994, and in 1998 Duva was permanently enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. In total he handled the careers of 19 world champions and went down as one of the most liked characters in boxing history.
Duva was also the definition of what it meant to be a “boxing guy”. Introduced to the sport at the age of 10, Duva had a mediocre run as an amateur before other obligations in life kept him from the ring. In his early 20s, Duva returned to the ring and spent three years as a professional, ending with a losing record of 6-10. While he perhaps was not meant to be a fighter, fighters certainly needed guys like him. According to Duva, he spent more time at the gym observing the trainers and managers work than he did training, and would later become the rare case of someone who understood the inner-workings of the sport, yet also knew what it was like to take a punch. In total, his professional involvement with boxing spanned seven decades, and he was one of the only people I’ve known to be in the role of fighter, trainer, manager and promoter, all within one lifetime.
"He was our father, but he was also larger than life. He accomplished a great deal in business and boxing, but the most important thing to him and what he taught us is the importance of family, it's everything,” said his son Dino Duva. “That's really what he was about, family and fighting for what was right."
For the Duvas, boxing is very much a family affair. The late son, Dan Duva, formed the promotional entity Main Events in 1978, and brother Dino Duva would help promote while the family patriarch would corner the fighters on the card. When Dan passed in 1996 from cancer, his widow Kathy took over and still manages the promotion today. Fighters managed under the Duva banner were treated as part of the family too.
“One thing about Lou, you didn’t mess with his fighters,” said trainer Ronnie Shields, who worked with many Main Events fighters. “It didn’t matter who it was: If you messed with one of Lou’s fighters, he was going to come after you and stick up for his guy.”
And such a statement is not necessarily hyperbole. In 1988, Roger Mayweather traded blows with Duva after the final bell rung against his charge Vinny Pazienza, where the trainer came away with a bruised eye and cut cheek from the altercation. When the riot broke out in the first bout between Riddick Bowe and Andrew Golota in 1996, Duva can be seen rushing around the ring, wrestling with various members of Bowe’s entourage. It was behavior that would make Duva famous, and also something fans adored. Here was a trainer that cared about his fighters, and he’d prove it inside the ring. Outside the ring, he cared about them too.
“Fighters today, when they’re done fighting, they got no place to go…Once you quit fighting, you gotta go to work, so you better get yourself an education so you know what you’re doing after you get done fighting,” Duva once said in an interview. “I’ll do almost anything for my fighters. They become part of my family.”
In a 1989 Sports Illustrated profile, Donna Duva talked about how her father would give away their Christmas presents if he found out his fighters’ kids didn’t have any. He’d let boxers share the dinner table with his family, and take them into his home if they fell on hard times. Though I’m sure there are still plenty of trainers, managers and promoters who have close relationships with their fighters, I’m not so sure there are many left that are of the same caliber of the man who passed away this Wednesday. Let’s hope there is some truth to the notion that a spirit spreads when a person goes, because these days, we could sure use more Lou Duvas in the world.
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