Lou Duva ‘The Face of 1000 Punches’: A Biography

Lou Duva

DOB: May 28, 1922 – March 8, 2017
Gym: ‘Stillman’s Boxing Gym’ and ‘Garden Gym’
Location: New York City
Boxing Background: Boxing trainer, manager and boxing promoter and a little bit more!
Notable Fighters: too many to mention! But how about Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and Pernell Whitaker to start – amongst 19 total world champions!

Lou Duva Boxing Background

Louis ‘Lou’ Duva was another of a legendary era of trainers who was born to Italian immigrant parents. One of seven siblings, Duva was no stranger to poverty, stating he had to ‘stuff newspaper into his shoes’ (to fill the holes) whilst growing up. Introduced to boxing by his brother Carl at the age of 13, Duva began boxing as an amateur in ‘bar-room smoker fights’ that were held in the back rooms of restaurants and bars.

Lou was not a great boxer though this was not through a lack of talent, but rather from a limited time to train. Indeed he stated, ‘When I wasn’t boxing, I was hustling as best I could’. Lou was delivering newspapers, shining shoes and setting up pins in a bowling alley until three in the morning before falling asleep in class the next day.

After a stint with the CCC – the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938, as well as with the army in World War 2, during which ‘an altercation’ with some lieutenants saw him spend some time in the ‘Brig’. Duva was transferred to ‘Camp Hood’ where he was appointed as the boxing instructor!

Lou Duva’s Rise to Fame 

Lou Duva returned home in 1944 to help with the family business and at the same time began a professional boxing career. Probably for the same reason he did not do well as an amateur (no time to train properly), Lou Duva was not particularly successful as a professional and with a record of 15 wins and 7 losses as a fighter, he soon retired.

On retirement, Lou Duva started a successful trucking company whilst also spending increasing time during the 1950’s at the Stillman’s Gym – famously known for 2 things: 

  • Its fame as a legendary ‘filthy gym’ where the windows were deliberately kept shut so the smell of sweat could not escape.
  • The large number of celebrities from the boxing world and Hollywood who frequented it.

Duva became great friends with Rocky Marciano and other notable names in the industry. Increasingly enamoured with the sport, Lou Duva sold his trucking company and decided to open his own gym; ‘the Garden Gym’. In 1963 he crowned his first world boxing champion; Middleweight champion -Joey Giardello. More would follow.

Lou Duva the promoter 

Inspired by success, Lou Duva flourished in the business by promoting his own fights at Ice World in Totowa. Furthering his career exponentially, when along with his son Dan, he set up ‘Main Event Boxing Promotions’ in 1978. 

The real breakthrough however, came for Duva when ‘Main Event’ staged the massive Welterweight unification title fight between ‘Sugar Ray’ Leonard and Thomas ‘the Hitman’ Hearns in September 1981. 

Lou Duva’s notable fighters 

Johnny Bumphus would become ‘Main Event’s’ first signed fighter and would go on to win the WBA Junior Welterweight Championship with a victory over Lorenzo Luis Garcia.

In 1984, Duva and his company would enjoy their most impressive year to date with Mike McCallum, Johnny Bumphus, Livingstone Bramble and Rocky Lockridge all winning world titles.

The company also signing amateur sensations, Tyrell Biggs and Mark Breland, after the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles as well as future world champions: Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, and Evander Holyfield. 

‘Main Event’ and Duva’s star attraction however was Evander Holyfield. Duva personally overseeing Holyfield’s transition from Cruiserweight to Heavyweight Champion of the World as his trainer. Evander the ‘Real Deal’ Holyfield crushing James ‘Buster’ Douglas in 1990 to become the first fighter in the world to win titles at both Cruiserweight and Heavyweight.

During Lou Duva’s career as a boxing trainer, manager and promoter, Lou would handle 19 World Champions!

Some of the fighters (not already mentioned but who would go on to be Champions and great things) are cited below. You’ll recognise a lot of the names!

Lou Duva’s other notable trainees

  • Lennox Lewis
  • Michael Moorer
  • Tony Tucker
  • Mike McCallum
  • Arturo Gatti
  • Fernando Vargas
  • Hector ‘Macho’ Camacho
  • Vinny Pazienza 
  • Bobby Czyz
  • Egerton Marcus
  • Darrin Van Horn
  • John John Molina
  • Eddie Hopson
  • David Tua
  • Andrew Golota
  • Alex Ramos
  • Lance Whitaker

Rocky times!

Like much of Duva’s life, the ‘road to riches’ was not all plain sailing and his boxing career was thrown into jeopardy following a family dispute shortly after the Holyfield success. Duva’s son Dan died from cancer in1996 and this caused a fall out within the family. Dan’s brother Dino forming a breakaway company named Duva Boxing whilst Kathy, Dan’s wife, became CEO of ‘Main Event’.

Lou Duva has gone down as one of the most revered yet irascible characters in boxing history. Indeed throughout his career, dull moments were few and far between.

In 1996 for example, Lou was involved in a brawl inside the ring at Madison Square Garden after Andrew Golato, his fighter, was disqualified in a fight against Riddick Bowe. Duva climbing through the ropes and arguing with Bowe’s team before punches were thrown by both sides! Not so bad you might think given Boxing’s nature – but Lou was 74! And collapsed after his defibrillator went off! Fortunately, though Lou had to be carried out of the arena, he only spent a night in hospital.  

This was not the first time though Lou Duva had seen fit to take measures into his own hands. In 1988, after a fight between his fighter Vinny Pazienza and Roger Mayweather, he also was involved in a brawl. Departing the ring afterwards with blood dripping from his cheekbone.

Lou Duva’s quieter years!

In his later years, Lou took more of a backseat to his career. He even helped his son Dino with ‘Duva Boxing’ prior to his demise and became a foremost advocate of fighter’s rights. Moreover, such was the man’s character, he put back into his local community with a ‘get kids off the streets and into the ring’ campaign that he promoted. Lou Duva passed away in 2017 aged 97 from natural causes but left his own unique indelible mark on the sport.

A quote from the man himself perhaps best sums him up;

“I love what I’m doing. It’s my life. 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.”

Lou Duva – The Legacy

  • Lou Duva was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1998 

Other Accolades: 

  • Voted ‘Manager of the Year’ in 1985 by the Boxing Writers Association.
  • Member of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame. 
  • Member of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame.
  • Member of the Meadowlands Sports Hall of Fame.