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Bruce Newman
April 10, 1989
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April 10, 1989

We've Crown Accustomed To His Face


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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.

"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 Jos� Luis Ram�rez 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.

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