Lou Duva was the quintessential boxing lifer: Gruff, hard-boiled on the outside and lovable and caring on the inside.
The legendary boxing cornerman/manager, who was the patriarch of the boxing family that turned Main Events into one of the sport’s most successful promoters, died Wednesday at 94 of natural causes, according to his son, Dino.
Duva, who spent more than 70 years in boxing is a 1998 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
His son, Dan Duva, died of cancer in 1996 at just 44 and followed his father into the Hall of Fame in 2003. When Dan Duva was alive, he would promote the shows along with his wife, Kathy, and his brother, Dino, while Lou often managed and worked the corner of several of the boxers on the show.
He was known for his fierce devotion to his fighters and often got into scuffles as a result of his passion and advocacy for his fighters. He once got into a brawl with Roger Mayweather at the Sugar Ray Leonard-Donnie Lalonde fight.
“One thing about Lou, you didn’t mess with his fighters,” said Ronnie Shields, who trained many Main Events fighters in the company’s heyday in the 80s and 90s. “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.”
He worked the corners of many great fighters, including Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Lennox Lewis, Meldrick Taylor and Mark Breland.
Promoter Lou DiBella was an HBO Sports executive fresh out of Harvard Law School and working on boxing when he first encountered Duva.
“I really was a little kid when I started at HBO,” DiBella said. “I was in my 20s and I would talk to that guy every day. He was like your favorite uncle. He had great stories and could make you laugh, but he cared about people and he was always there for you. He was our Yogi Berra. He was boxing’s Yogi Berra. He was beloved and was recognized wherever he’d go. I have so many great memories of times with him.
“In those days, no matter what side of the ring you sat on, when you were on the road, everyone, the writers, the promoters, the trainers from all sides, got together and ate and told stories and had a few drinks and a hell of a lot of laughs. And Lou was in the middle of so many of the good times and so many of the stories.”
Duva was close with comedian Lou Costello of the Abbott & Costello team. Both were natives of Paterson, N.J., and Duva was instrumental in having a statue erected of Costello in 1992.
Long-time boxing writer Tim Smith, who got to know Duva well when he covered the sport for the New York Times and New York Daily News, was the ghost writer of Duva’s 2016 autobiography, “A Fighting Life: My Seven Decades in Boxing.”
Smith, who is now an executive with Haymon Boxing, recalled Duva’s kindness and his devotion to boxing.
“Lou was a national treasure,” Smith said. “He was active in boxing for seven decades, which means that he was involved in some of the greatest eras in boxing history. Lou trained 19 world champions and promoted shows in more than 20 countries. More impressive than that was his devotion to his family, which included all the boxers that he worked with over the years. He was an affable ambassador in a sport that is often brutal and unforgiving. There was only one Lou Duva. There won’t ever be another.”
Shields said Duva was a throwback in the sense that he encouraged the top fighters to meet each other. That happened with regularity in the past, but is not so common in today’s boxing.
But even when Duva had a hotshot fighter, he wanted to challenge him by putting him in with tough opposition.
“Lou loved boxing so much and he only wanted the best for boxing and the people in it,” Shields said. “He loved the competition part. He lived to see the best fight the best. He wanted the best to fight the best all of the time, and he worked hard to make that happen. During that era when I was with him, everybody wanted to be with Lou because of how he was. He was the man at that time.”
Viewing will be held at Festa Funeral Home in Totowa, N.J., on Sunday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET. A funeral mass will be held at St. Mary’s Church in Paterson, N.J., Monday at 10 a.m. ET.
Duva is survived by his son, Dino; his daughters, Donna Duva Brooks, Deanne Duva Boorman and Denise Duva as well as by 11 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.