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Louis "Lou" Duva (born May 28, 1922) is a boxing trainer and manager who has handled some of the most famous boxers in the world including 19 World Champions. The Duva family have promoted boxing events in over 20 countries on six continents. He is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame, National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, and the Meadowlands Sports Hall of Fame.
Duva was born in New York City to Italian immigrants, the sixth of seven children. After spending time growing up in Little Italy, New York, his family then moved to Paterson, New Jersey. Duva's childhood was an impoverished one and he had to do many jobs to try to help his family.
Duva's 23-year-old brother, Carl Duva, introduced young Lou to boxing when the boy was only 10 years old. Lou polished his own boxing skills and by age 12 was both an amateur and ballroom brawler. However Lou as a boxer did not have much luck, although that might have been due to the fact he barely had time to train, having to go out to the street and perform many types of jobs to try to help the Duva family make ends meet.
In 1938 Lou went to try to join the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). He had problems getting in because applicants were required to be at least 18, but Duva was only 16 years old when he applied to join. He went and changed his birth certificate and all his personal information and they accepted him, thinking that he had been born two years earlier, in 1920. The CCC sent him to Boise, Idaho, and then to Walla Walla, Washington, where he learned to drive trucks.
Duva went to the US Army after World War II broke out. He went to Jackson, Mississippi, to train but he was dismissed from the base after many fistfights with fellow soldiers as well as an altercation with two Lieutenants when he defended a black woman being harassed on a public bus. After that, he was sent to Camp Hood in Texas, where he was named boxing instructor.
He went back home in 1944 to help run a restaurant and to begin a professional boxing career, as a boxer. But he could only compile a record of 15 wins and 7 losses as a professional fighter, and he retired soon after, going back to his days as a trucker. He started a trucking company and met his wife Enes soon after. He had met her while he was performing as a clown at a ministry and they married in 1949.
Lou spent a good portion of the early 1950s at a gym named Stillmans boxing gym. Stillmans gym is known by two things: its legendary fame as a filthy gym where windows were kept closed so that the smell of sweat would not escape, and the large amount of celebrities, both from Hollywood and the boxing world that the gym attracted. It was here that he began friendships with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frankie Valli, among others. Duva, already enamored with the world of boxing, felt his passion for that sport increase every time he visited Stillman's.
Duva's trucking business was doing well, so he decided to open, with the blessing of Enes, his own gym, named Garden Gym. After he sold his fleet of 32 trucks, he became a bail bondsman, and he tracked offenders who jumped bail to avoid trial. Around this time he also worked as a union representative in North Jersey.
By 1963 Duva had become close friends with former world Heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano, one of the people who rejoiced when Duva crowned his first world boxing champion, Middleweight Joey Giardello, who dethroned Dick Tiger that year to become world Middleweight champion. Duva was one of the last persons that Marciano spoke to before Marciano's plane crashed in 1969.
Lou's son, Dan Duva (died 1996), was a lawyer who graduated in 1977. When Leon Spinks' management came for help in 1978, Dan gladly helped them. With his earning of $500,000 dollars, Dan formed Main Events in April of '78. The company still runs, now managed by Dan's widow, Kathy Duva.
Also during that period, Main Events would put boxing cards at the Ice World facility in Totowa, New Jersey. The Duva's used to resemble tactics used by the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) when promoting a card, once even going as far as selling a truck driver from New Jersey as a Prince from Zaire just to hype the show and sell tickets.
In 1979, ESPN became interested in showing Main Events shows from Ice World, and they began to do so soon after. The shows and presence caught the eyes of future world champions such as Rocky Lockridge, Bobby Czyz and Livingstone Bramble, all of which signed up with Main Events. However, trouble came with success: as a result of all the work Lou was putting in as a trainer, bail bondsman and everything else he was doing, he suffered his first heart attack during that year. Doctors told him he needed to step off some of his activities, so Lou decided to get off anything that wasn't related to boxing. This, after he had talked with wife Enes about which activities to drop. He became a full-time manager and trainer.
Dan Duva then formed a friendship with Shelly Finkel, a powerful boxing power broker who convinced Alex Ramos, future world Jr. Welterweight champion Johnny Bumphus, future world Heavyweight champion Tony Tucker, troubled prospect Tony Ayala Jr. and future Mike Tyson rival Mitch Green to join Main Events. Lou was trainer and manager.
In 1981, Main Events became the promoter of the first bout between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns, won by Leonard by a knockout in round 14. It was the largest grossing non Heavyweight bout until then, making $40 million dollars. Duva, however, could not celebrate long, as wife Enes had been diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis.
1984 was a highly successful year for Duva and Main Events. He had Bumphus, Lockridge, Bramble and Mike McCallum crowned as world champions, and he signed future world champions Mark Breland, Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker and Meldrick Taylor right after their participation in the Olympics in Los Angeles. He also signed Olympian Tyrell Biggs.
In 1985 he was named manager of the year by the American Boxing Writer's Association. Holyfield was the next to be crowned world champion, when he beat Dwight Muhammad Qawi in 1986. That was the year that his wife Enes died after fighting her disease for five years.
Breland and Vinny Pazienza followed the championship route for Main Events, winning their first world titles in 1987, year in which he was named Trainer of The Year by the WBA. Taylor followed Whitaker and Pazienza by beating Buddy McGirt in 1988 for the world's Jr. Welterweight title.
In 1989, he was another triumphant year for Duva and Main Events, when Whitaker, Darrin Van Horn and Puerto Rico's John John Molina crowned themselves champions, adding to the Main Events line of world champion boxers.
Holyfield gave Main Events another championship, when he knocked out Buster Douglas in three rounds to win the world Heavyweight title with Duva as his co trainer along with George Benton.
After that, Duva attained mainstream fame, appearing in cameos at different television series and even visiting the "Late Night with David Letterman" show as a guest. He also acted as wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper's trainer at the World Wrestling Federation's WrestleMania 2 pay-per-view in 1986. In 1992, Eddie Hopson became Duva's 13th world champion.
In 1996, Dan Duva (his son) died of cancer and his widow, Kathy, became chairman of the Board and Dan's brother, Dino Duva, became president. After four years Dino left the company and Kathy Duva became the Chief Executive Officer. Dino went on to form Duva Boxing.
Lou has worked with such other former or future world champions as Michael Moorer and Arturo Gatti among others. On the night of the infamous riot after the first Andrew Golota-Riddick Bowe bout, Duva was crane-lifted out of the ring on a stretcher after his defibrillator went off. He was found out to be ok after testing was done to his heart later that night.
For a period during the 1980s Duva was involved in a restaurant named "Lou Duva's Place" in Totowa, New Jersey.
Duva was inducted into the International Boxing Hall Of Fame in 1998 and currently lives in Wayne, New Jersey, just a few miles from where his poor family once lived in Paterson, New Jersey. As of 2012 Duva continues active as an advisor and manager for a few select fighters and is also involved in his son Dino's company, Duva Boxing. He remains an outspoken advocate of fighter's rights and of helping inner city kids get "off the streets and into the ring".
Always in support of the local boxing community Duva attended the 2007 New Jersey Diamond Gloves Finals held on November 2, 2007 in Linden, New Jersey at Linden High School. When introduced, Duva said a few words to the crowd and spoke kindly about one of the bouts that took place comparing it to a Hagler/Leonard fight. Duva was also seen signing autographs and taking pictures with some of the fans at attendance.
Darrin Van Horn
John John Molina