By Kieran Mulvaney
When referee Richard Steele ruled Meldrick Taylor was unfit to continue with just two seconds remaining of his sensational 1990 junior welterweight clash against Julio Cesar Chavez – two seconds of a contest which, had it gone to the scorecards, Taylor would have won – the first response of HBO’s Jim Lampley, calling the fight alongside Larry Merchant and Sugar Ray Leonard, was to exclaim “Unbelievable!” Moments later – showing an uncanny predictive ability based on years of experience, and on the sight of a short, squat man, Taylor’s trainer, racing toward Steele with a speed and venom unexpected in a nearly 70-year-old man – Lampley declared: “You’re going to watch Lou Duva go crazy now. You’re going to watch Lou Duva go absolutely berserk.”
That fiery combativeness, coupled with a kind, generous and garrulous spirit outside the heat of battle, was the essence of Duva – manager, trainer, scion of one of boxing’s great families and patriarch of the Main Events promotional company – who died on Wednesday morning. A 1998 inductee to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, he was 94 years old.
In an appreciation for the Boxing Writers Association of America, matchmaker Eric Bottjer recalled a card in New Jersey in 1991 (on which a certain Arturo Gatti made his professional debut) during which a fight broke out in the crowd. “Lou left the corner of one of the undercard boxers and broke up the fight,” Bottjer wrote. “Forcefully (not excessively). He was 69 years old then.”
But if Duva’s actions sometimes seemed crazy, he was crazy like a fox. In December 1998, he was in the corner of heavyweight David Tua when the powerful New Zealander took on Hasim Rahman in an eliminator for a title belt. Tua was a fearsome puncher, but the undefeated Rahman was taking him to the woodshed through nine rounds until Tua scrambled the American’s senses with a left hook that landed just after the bell. Rahman was in bad shape as he staggered back to his corner; meanwhile, observed Larry Merchant, “Lou Duva is in the middle of the ring, arguing with the referee. I have no idea why.” Or, as Bottjer put it, “Lou leapt into the ring and starting jabbering at the ref, waving his arms, pointing his finger. He was literally talking gibberish.” As a result, instead of taking time to check on Rahman or give him five minutes to recover from an illegal blow – or indeed disqualifying Tua - the inexperienced referee “spent most of the 60 seconds hustling Lou back to the corner and trying to calm him down.” When the tenth round began, Rahman was still unsteady, and a Tua barrage early in that frame was enough to prompt the referee to step in and halt the contest.
That fight was on HBO, and Duva was one of the most recognizable faces on the network’s boxing programming throughout the 1980s and 1990s, at the side or in the corner of a host of stars including Pernell Whitaker, Evander Holyfield, Mark Breland and the aforementioned Gatti.
He had had a brief pro career in the 1940s, before joining with two of his brothers to open a boxing gym in Paterson, New Jersey in the 1950s. By 1963, he had his first world champion: Joey Giardello, who dethroned Dick Tiger to take the middleweight crown.
In 1978, Duva, his son Dan and Shelly Finkel founded Main Events, with Dan running the company, Finkel acting as manager and Lou serving as co-manager and cornerman. His was an almost ubiquitous presence ringside, or so it seemed, for two decades; age and ill-health (he had his first heart attack in 1979) eventually forced him to withdraw from the front lines, but his presence and influence remain in the sport he loved, with Main Events now run by his daughter-in-law (and Dan’s widow) Kathy, with his granddaughter Nicole a prominent part of the company.
We send our deepest condolences and fondest wishes to Kathy and Nicole, his other children Dino, Donna, Deanne, and Denise, and his 10 other grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.