"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?' "