The face seems to start somewhere down around the gold jewelry that separates his belly button from the top of his head, with several formidable chins rising out of his chest in a great pink floe. Chins ooze over his unbuttoned shirt collar and grow steadily in size until at last they wash up onto the shoals of a jaw-line, the blunt prow of a head the size of carry-on luggage. His lips are thin and pink, and they, too, seem to move in a northerly direction, so that when his mouth is open—which is most of the time—only the brilliant hand-tooled grillwork of his upper plate shows. The eyes are heavily hooded with scar tissue and bracketed by thick black eyebrows that appear to ascend into a cloud of snowy white hair.
This fleshy eminence is Lou Duva's face, a bouquet of cauliflowers set in a bucket of blood. Oscar Wilde once said, "Intellect destroys the harmony in any face," but not even Duva could be that smart. Intellect and a lot of hard-knuckle guys named Vito account for this face.
On his left hand Duva wears a pinkie ring that says REAL DEAL. Duva is the real deal: Accept no substitutes. His legs are short and bandy, not the sort of support structure you would expect for a body that The Ring magazine once described as having "the most recognizable profile since Hitchcock." Duva is everywhere, sometimes even when he is standing still. Two months ago he managed welterweight Mark Breland's victory over Seung Soon Lee of South Korea for the vacant WBA title in Las Vegas on a Saturday night, and then caught a red-eye to New Jersey so that he could be in Darrin Van Horn's corner the next day in Atlantic City, where Van Horn defeated Robert Hines for the IBF junior middleweight championship. "Nobody ever won two titles on opposite coasts within the space of 24 hours before," says Duva. "Sometimes this chubby little body's in demand."
Duva makes sure it stays that way by being an entourage unto himself. To the fighters he handles, he is spiritual adviser, deal maker, tactical guru, cut man and living proof of what can happen when you let yourself go. "In our organization, everybody has his job," says veteran cut man Ace Marotta. "It just happens that Lou does everything." And he does it for a dozen current and former titleholders. Among them are IBF junior welterweight champion Meldrick Taylor, former undisputed cruiser-weight champ Evander Holyfield and IBF lightweight titleholder Pernell Whitaker.
April 9, 1989
"Lou has more main-event fighters than anybody," says Ronnie Shields, a trainer who works for him. "Every time you turn on the TV, who do you see in the corner? Lou Duva, that's who. Maybe the reason people don't like him is they're tired of seeing his face."
Duva's face and body would probably be a lot less recognizable if they didn't keep barging into the ring every time he thought one of his fighters had been treated less than civilly. For instance, last November in Las Vegas, Duva nearly touched off a riot during the Sugar Ray Leonard-Donny Lalonde under-card by exchanging blows with WBC super lightweight champion Roger Mayweather. Mayweather had just won a unanimous decision over Duva's fighter, Vinny Pazienza, when Duva went barreling into the ring to have a word with Mayweather for having hit Pazienza several times after the bell.
Duva threw a flurry of wild punches at Mayweather, although he now says he merely lost his balance and was trying to right himself on the champion's face. Mayweather tried to help him up with a whistling right cross that caught Duva under the eye and sent blood coursing the long journey down his face. Duva seemed to be on the verge of losing his balance again, when several members of his corner wisely tackled him and dragged him away. The Nevada State Athletic Commission fined him $750 and suspended Duva's manager's license until he apologized.
Duva was still largely unknown outside of New Jersey club-fighting circles when he threw his first nationally televised tantrum, on ESPN in 1981. In that one he shoved everyone, including his own son, who got in his way after his fighter, Diego Rosario, lost a controversial decision to Johnny Carter in Atlantic City. Duva caused pandemonium in Buffalo nearly three years later when he charged a referee who had stopped a bout between Gene Hatcher and his man Johnny Bumphus. The decision cost Bumphus the WBA junior welterweight crown. When Bumphus met Marlon Starling in 1986, Duva tried to charge Starling's corner during the fight. In Breland's bout with Starling the next year, Duva threw a punch at Starling's former manager, Donald Bowers, before the fight.
Duva's popularity actually grew after each new outburst, partly because he fit the image of the underdog battling the powerful, and partly because that's exactly what he was. His language was so vile that the television networks removed their microphones from his boxers' corners. "I'm cursing only in Italian now," says Duva. When Whitaker was deprived by the judges of the WBC lightweight title after having clearly outboxed Josè Luis Ramírez in Paris a year ago, Duva tried to curse in French. When that didn't work, he leaped into the ring and—here's a surprise—nearly started a riot by trying to fight anyone who stepped into his line of sight. Soon after, he was sued by the WBC. for having suggested—in Italian—that the judges were on the take. The case was quietly dropped 11 months later.
Duva's most memorable eruption took place a year and a half ago in Atlantic City, moments after his first shot at a heavyweight title ended when Mike Tyson knocked out Tyrell Biggs in the seventh round. Promoter Don King was seated at ringside with other equally well-coiffed spectators, the Rev. Al Sharpton. Donald and Ivana Trump, and New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean. As the fight ended, King shouted something rude at Duva. who soon enough was hanging between the ring ropes like a sausage, screaming sulfurous blasphemies at King. Only after it became apparent that Duva was trying to climb through the ropes to hurl himself bodily onto King's head—as if it were a grenade about to explode—did security guards step in and drag Duva away.
"I've been fighting all my life, so I know what it's like to catch a punch," says Duva. "You don't think I got this face being a ballet dancer, do you?"
Which is not to say that the 66-year-old Duva won't dance. A few years ago he took a prospect to Allenlown, Pa., to face a local club fighter whose stewardship had been undertaken by a specimen named Beer Can Joe. The referee's prefight instructions to the two pugs were picked up by the ring announcer's microphone and played on the public-address system. "Look, I don't need no instructions." snarled Beer Can. "All I want to know is what corner my fighter goes to when he knocks this guy out."
"Oh, yeah?" Duva snorted.
"Yeah!" the Can replied.
Well, you get the idea. At some point during the exchange. Beer Can began backpedaling, and Duva started chasing him, threatening bodily harm. "The ring announcer wasn't quite sure what to do," says Dan Duva, Lou's eldest son. "He wasn't sure if this was all part of the instructions, so he was following my father and Beer Can around, holding the microphone out between them. The fighters just stood there with their mouths hanging open, while those three danced around the ring."
Until he and his family became one of the most important organizations in boxing five years ago, Duva spent most of his life managing no-hopers in places like the ballroom of the Allen-town Holiday Inn, usually with several of his kids in tow. Lou and his wife, Enes, had five children and a tendency to stutter when they named them: Donna, Danny, Denise, Dino and Deanne. Dino was with his father on one of those nights in Allentown when Duva came face-to-face with the promoter's nightmare—a sold-out house and a local opponent who had taken a powder. The promoter asked Duva if he could think of a way out of the bind.
"My dad said, 'Don't worry, I got somebody,' " Dino recalls. Dino, who was 16 at the time and had never worn a pair of boxing gloves in his life, was about to learn, to his horror, that he was this somebody. "He said he would pay me $200," says Dino, now 30. Duva finally thought better of the match, explaining to the promoter that even in the unlikely event that his son survived the bout, his marriage might not. A stand-in was eventually plucked from the audience, and he came surprisingly close to upsetting the established pro. Dino spent the entire fight muttering darkly to himself that for $200 he would have murdered the bum.
Duva has lived in the same house in Totowa, N.J., for 35 years. Even now, the kids, years after they moved out, drive over in their pajamas on Christmas morning to open presents together. Before the kids were married, their dates had to come over in pajamas too.
When Donna was divorced in 1980, she and her daughter, Casey, moved in with Lou and Enes and have never left. Since then, Casey, who is 14, has spent many an evening sitting around the kitchen table making matches with her grandfather. As a six-year-old she haggled with Duva over whether it would be better to match Leonard against Roberto Duran or Thomas Hearns first. "She knows styles," says Duva. "I'll bring up a fighter, and she'll say, 'Grandpa, not him, he runs too much.' "
Duva always relied heavily upon his family to sustain him during the lean years. When his children were little, he often would come home from work, pile them into the family station wagon and roam New Jersey, hanging fight posters in shop windows and on bulletin boards in taverns and supermarkets. Even now, in an era of satellite broadcasts and global promotions, he believes that boxing matches should be promoted with those yellow posters that have the little oval pictures of the fighters' faces on them. "We can mount a $5 million ad campaign," says Dan's wife, Kathy, "and he'll still come in and say, 'Where the hell are the posters?' "
Duva refined his knowledge of boxing with the help of his older brother, Carl, who was a Jersey club fighter in the late '20s and early '30s. Carl used to let Lou carry his gym bag and, on a big day, his spit bucket. When Lou was 17 he won the New Jersey Diamond Gloves welterweight amateur championship. "That was a hundred pounds ago," says Duva, trying to see his feet.
He learned to fight at 15, when he dropped out of school, forged a birth certificate that said he was 18 and went off to Boise, Idaho, to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps. "That's where I learned how to drive a truck, learned how to fight in smokers and learned how to shoot craps," he says, his point evidently being that a mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Once he returned to New Jersey, Duva's biggest problem as a fighter, the one that would account for much of the scar tissue that gives his face its distinctive ridges and valleys, was that he rarely had time to train. He worked every afternoon as a shoeshine boy on a Paterson street corner, and at night he set pins by hand at a bowling alley and peddled newspapers. While stationed Stateside during World War II, Duva began his career as a cornerman by managing the boxing team at what was then called Camp Hood, in Texas. After his discharge in 1944, at age 21, Duva bought a truck and eventually built a fleet of 32.
"I used to knock myself out trying to get the first load to the garment district [in Manhattan]," he says. "Then I'd work through the coffee breaks and lunch just so I could finish early and go to Stillman's Gym [on 8th Avenue and 54th St.] and watch the three-ring circus there. I'd watch the managers' moves, watch the trainers work, always studying. When I started, sometimes I'd make a $5,000 profit in the trucking business, and then I'd blow it all on some boxing show."
After he married, in 1949, other jobs may have kept the wolf from the door, but their most important function was to provide him with enough money to put together his boxing shows in places like the Elizabeth (N.J.) Armory and what is now John F. Kennedy High School in Paterson. Still, Enes always encouraged Lou to stick with boxing, even when it was draining the family treasury.
While selling off his trucks in the early '60s, Duva began working as a bail bondsman. For 10 years he tracked down offenders who skipped town while awaiting trial. "I was a bounty hunter," he says, "which is another way of saying I was stupid." Duva once followed a bail jumper to an apartment in Puerto Rico, where neighbors in the building threw disposable household items at him as he fled with his quarry.
When Duva suffered a major heart attack in 1979, Enes knew him well enough to realize boxing wasn't what was killing him, so she suggested that he give up his day jobs and concentrate full-time on the ring. The job that had probably given him the heart attack was being president of Teamsters Local 286, which represented mostly minimum-wage earners in Clifton, N.J.
In 1972, Duva took over the stewardship of the small local, which had been controlled by Tony Provenzano, whose enemies had a habit of disappearing suddenly and permanently. In 1978, Tony Pro, as he was known, was convicted of having murdered a union rival 17 years earlier. Provenzano died in federal prison in December, while serving time for a previous racketeering conviction. Duva acknowledges that he was friendly with Tony Pro and his brother Sal, who was also a Teamster official, but says they never asked him to do anything improper. "All I care about is what a guy does for my boxers," says Duva. "Outside of that, he could be the devil, I don't care."
Suggestions that Duva was involved in organized crime have always infuriated his family, mainly because they are based on nothing more substantial than his association with some shady characters. The family points out that while Duva was the head of Local 286, it was composed mostly of nursing-home and hospital workers. "Every now and then, Lou would get the nurses together and they would rough people up," says Kathy.
Duva says his real strength as a union boss lay in his ability to recruit new members, and it didn't hurt that he could swell the ranks by hiring members of his family. During a contentious nursing-home strike in 1980, Donna—not Lou—was arrested when she got into a fight on a picket line. Duva also used his position as a union leader to sponsor neighborhood sports teams. In fact, it was his Local 286 football team that was playing in the Paterson Touch Football League when Duva nearly sparked a riot by running onto the field to dispute a call.
When it came to boxing, Duva treated family members like business partners and his fighters like family. "There were times when his fighters' kids didn't have Christmas presents," says Donna, "so he would take ours and give them to them." Every Sunday, 15 or 20 members of Duva's extended family—many of them black or Hispanic—would show up at the Totowa house for dinner, and Enes would cook huge quantities of pasta to feed them all.
"He brought Hurricane Carter to the house for dinner once, and I almost died, he was so scary looking," says Dan of the former middleweight contender who served 19 years for murder in a celebrated case. "Until about 10 years ago, all the important boxing decisions had to be made around his kitchen table."
Shortly after graduating from Seton Hall Law School in 1977, Dan decided to move the family business out of the kitchen and, more to the point, out of his father's pants. "The first thing we had to do was stop the left pocket, right pocket accounting method," says Dan. He did that by forming a promotional company called Main Events, by renting a house in a residential neighborhood of Totowa to serve as the company's offices and by installing Donna as the office manager, Dino as the comptroller and Kathy as the publicist. The offices had partitions that didn't extend all the way to the ceiling, so instead of using the intercom system that had been installed, the Duvas communicated with one another the way any family does—by yelling back and forth at the top of their lungs. The only time they seemed to get tongue-tied was during strategy sessions, so Dan went out and bought a table like the one in Lou's kitchen. They've been the busiest promoters in boxing ever since.
Main Events did stumble, though, when Dan decided to diversify. In 1975, he decided that Main Events would promote a martial-arts show at Ice World, a converted skating rink in Totowa that seated 3,000 people. The exhibition drew 67 fans, and a lot of them might not have come had it not been for a typesetting error on the posters, which promised a "marital arts" show. But when Main Events stuck to boxing, the Duvas prospered. During one stretch, they sold out 18 straight monthly cards at Ice World.
Duva was finally a person of importance in boxing. "It took him nearly 60 years to find himself," says Kathy. "Not until seven or eight years ago could he actually support himself from the fighters."
To help make ends meet during one of the lean years, he worked a few shows for promoter Bob Arum. Duva says that the relationship ended disastrously in 1977, when he paired a heavyweight from Wayne, N.J.. named Lou Esa against John Tate in Las Vegas. "Esa would have given Tate a good fight." says Dan, "but he got arrested the day before the fight and didn't tell anybody. He spent half the night in jail, then got stopped in the third round." When Arum was criticized for promoting a mismatch, he blamed Duva and cut his paycheck to drive home the point. Arum claims the incident never happened, but Duva insists that he tore the check into pieces. In any case, he and Arum remain bitter rivals.
Duva's resourcefulness was frequently tested during his years at Ice World, which is now a Rickel Home Center. Esa made his pro debut there on a night when his opponent vanished after the weigh-in. Duva once again went into the audience, this time finding a retired New York City policeman who was willing to stand in, if not up. The cop, whom Duva dubbed Angelo Garafolo, was balding and overweight and had little boxing experience, so Duva told him just to dance around and try not to get hit. But Esa knocked Garafolo out in four rounds.
A reporter for the Passaic Herald News, Augie Lio, thought he smelled a 260-pound rat and started asking Garafolo questions—once he had regained consciousness. Duva told Lio that Garafolo was Italian and spoke no English, so Lio began questioning him in perfect Italian. Garafolo, whom by this time Duva had taken to calling Angie, just stared off into space because he spoke no Italian. Duva insisted that for generations the Garafolos had spoken only an obscure regional dialect. Lio finally threw up his hands and went to press with an account of his suspicions.
In the wake of Muhammad Ali's 1974 bout with George Foreman in Za‚Äö√†√∂‚àö√≤re, Duva sensed that heightened awareness of Afro-American culture had created a demand for a fighter descended from African royalty. "Suddenly every black guy you met was from Zaire," says Duva, who was looking for an opponent for an Irish pug he was managing named Christy Elliott. "I knew of a guy down in Camden who worked on a garbage truck and passed himself off as an African prince. He was fighting prelims, so I offered him a main event with Christy if he would fight as Prince Nitika Tarharcker."
The prince informed Duva that His Highness not only would take the fight, but he also would throw in the Tarharcker royal court—his bongo-playing brother, and his sister, who could dance up a storm. Duva arranged to have six bagpipe players march into the ring at the Teamsters Hall in West Paterson with Elliott. Irish fans turned out in force—dock-workers from Kearny, policemen from Parsippany—to support Elliott. Tarharcker's entrance lasted 15 minutes and was followed by an equally clamorous procession featuring Elliott and his wheezing entourage of bagpipers and leprechauns.
When everyone was finally in the ring, Duva played some music—he still doesn't know what it was—that he identified to the audience as the national anthem of Zaire. The bell rang, and Elliott knocked the prince out with one punch. "People left the arena saying. 'What a great fight!' " says Duva, still as proud of that match as of any he has made for the big casinos and their TV pit bosses.
The Duvas might never have made it out of the world of upwardly mobile garbagemen and off-duty cops if they hadn't won the promotional rights to the Leonard-Hearns bout in 1981, thereby delivering a stunning blow to Arum and King, who had seized virtual control of boxing. "The only people the networks would talk to were King and Arum," says Kathy. "Before that fight we couldn't get them to return our calls."
Duva got $13 million in financing by shrewdly forging an alliance with rock promoter Shelly Finkel, who got involved only after people who knew the fight business vouched for Duva's honesty, a scarce quality in boxing. "Scarce would be an improvement," says Finkel. "It's a rough sport, and there are very few honorable people in it. The people who control the limited quantity of champions want to keep it that way."
The Leonard-Hearns fight made $34 million from the live gate and closed-circuit locations. At the time no other sporting event in history had grossed as much money. "The month before that fight and the month after it, we promoted shows at Ice World for $20,000," says Kathy.
That first triumph was also one of the last Duva shared with his wife. Enes had been bedridden with multiple sclerosis for six years. Duva took her to see specialists at the Mayo and the Scripps clinics. He took her to any hospital that held out any hope of a cure. When it became clear that conventional medicine could not help her, he flew her to Miami for snake-venom treatments. "He spent every penny he had, taking her to see every doctor who supposedly had a cure for MS," says Dan. Enes died 2½ years ago. "She never deserved to be sick," says Duva, "and she never deserved to die."
When Enes died, Duva was already reeling from the loss of his first superb fighter, the one he says came closest to being like another son to him. Tony Ayala was undefeated and the top-ranked junior middleweight contender in the world when he was arrested for rape on Jan. 1, 1984. "He was my father's dream fighter," says Dan. "He was tough and mean, and he would do anything to win." Ayala was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and is serving a 35-year term in Trenton State Prison, in New Jersey.
"He always believes in the fighter," says Donna of her father. "The fighter can do no wrong. After Tony got arrested, he lived at our house for three weeks, with my daughter and me and my mother, who was bedridden at the time." Not until after the trial did Duva accept that Ayala had been lying to him all along.
"That's what really hurt." says Duva. "I thought this kid was my son. I wanted to be part of his life. This was a kid I was going to do something for."
Duva has handled more than a dozen boxers who have been arrested or done time, but the Ayala episode was unusually painful. Duva hasn't spoken to Ayala since his conviction, and the family stopped inviting fighters to Sunday dinner. "After that we kept our distance." says Kathy.
Keeping their distance has helped the Duvas to run Main Events more like a business and to soften the blows they take from rivals about apparent conflicts of interest in both promoting boxing shows and managing fighters. When Main Events is promoting a bout. Duva will often be negotiating on behalf of his fighter with Dan. But Duva insists that all his boxers have attorneys and accountants, so, he says, there is no impropriety in his dealings with his son.
"Danny and I fight like cats and dogs sometimes," says Duva, "but I'm not going to lie and say I never talk to him [about the family business]. I participate in the decisions." Duva comanages top-ranked heavyweight contender Evander Holyfield with attorney Ken Sanders, but Sanders negotiates all of Holyfield's contracts with Main Events. "If I'm negotiating with Dan Duva, I'm going to have an easier time of it than Lou because I can say no." says Sanders. "You know they're going to agree to something."
In the 1956 boxing melodrama The Harder They Fall, the press agent played by Humphrey Bogart delivers a withering description of boxing to a group of managers: "All you do is spot a strong kid, buy him a license for $10, rent a towel for a dime and toss him in the ring. For that you grab a third of his purse. You steal another third by padding the expense account. Then you cheat half of what's left by giving him a fast shuffle. You're the managers, that's for sure."
Even though he is in an ideal position to give his fighters a fast shuffle, Duva can't do it. He's an old-fashioned alchemist, taking kids from the amateur ranks and transforming them into champions. He has spent the last two years trying to change Holyfield from a cruiserweight champ into a heavyweight worthy of challenging Tyson. The rest of the family has dubbed this mission the Omega Project, although Duva refers to it as the Amigo Project. Last month. Holyfield took a step closer to a date with Tyson with a brutal 10th-round knockout of Michael Dokes.
Whatever the outcome of the Omega Project. Holyfield will remain part of Duva's extended family. (He also has a restaurant, whose chef is one of his sons-in-law.) "I'm the patriarch of this here whole organization," says Duva. Of late, he has been squiring Darlene Baldinelli. the 36-year-old manager of a sports bar in Baltimore, but he says he still misses Enes too much to consider remarrying.
Duva doesn't come home as much now that Enes is gone. When he does, he spends most of his time dreaming up matches with Casey. When she was still small, she went to him one night and said. "Grandpa, tell me a story." Duva pulled her up on his lap and began.
"He said he was going to tell her the story of the Littlest Angel." says Dan. "We were all kind of amazed and pleased that they were finally talking about something other than boxing, so we tiptoed out of the room and left them alone. The next day Casey told us about the story. It turned out the Littlest Angel was Angel Ortiz, a bantamweight from Newark."