Kathy Duva: The Greatest Hits
Main Events first came into existence in April 1978 and since then the company has been involved in some of the biggest and most significant fights in boxing history. The New Jersey-based promotional outfit has undergone changes in leadership and a variety of ups and downs but the success has remained.
Kathy Duva started at the bottom and worked her way through the ranks to CEO. She began dating Dan Duva at the age of 20 and her professional association with boxing soon followed.
“If you were around the Duva family, you were at the dinner table and they were always planning shows and you absorbed it if you were in the room,” said Duva, who was married to Dan until his untimely death in 1996.
“Lou [Duva] was putting on little shows and we would go. Dan and his friends would sell hot dogs and beer at the fights and end up making more money than Lou did (laughs). We would do a St. Patrick’s Day fight, and we got to go to Florida on spring break with the money we made.”
Duva was an only child and lost her mother at a young age, and she inherited a love of sport from her father. During her last semester at college she decided to take a journalism course. She was initially met with resistance from Lou Duva after asking to write press releases but convinced him it was a good idea after snagging a job at The New York Daily News. She later became the publicist.
After Dan passed away, his younger brother Dino Duva ran the company until 2000, then Gary Shaw stepped in and, finally Kathy assumed the mantle in 2002.
“The job found me when Dan passed away,” Duva admitted. “I wasn’t planning to take it over. I went to law school. I was going to get a job; find a way to make more money than I could as a publicist because I wasn’t getting along with my in-laws. They weren’t going to accept any authority from me and I wasn’t accepting it from them. It was a stand-off. I decided I’d become a lawyer and leave boxing. But boxing has a way of pulling you back and here I am.”
However, in 2008 Duva thought the end had come and was preparing to close the business down.
“It looked like there was no way forward and I was letting people go, but Tomasz Adamek landed on my doorstep and turned everything around,” she recalled. “His manager Ziggy [Rozalski] hired [lawyer] Pat English to get him out of his contract with Don King. Tomasz was going into an eliminator, he just needed a promoter to make the deal. Pat brought him to Main Events and we made the deal. I just thought we were doing Ziggy a favor.
“Later on the time came to make the fight with Steve Cunningham for the [IBF cruiserweight] title. [Tomasz] won the fight, against [a] Don King [fighter] by decision, something I thought was impossible.”
Duva believes the company would have been one of the biggest promoters in the world under her late husband’s stewardship but is happy with the job she and her staff are providing for their small but successful stable. Main Events currently works with rising heavyweight prospect Cassius Chaney, three-time light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev and current WBA titleholder Dmitry Bivol, who it co-promotes with Russian company, World of Boxing.
“We still have a company, we seem to be able to keep turning out these guys who become stars,” Duva said proudly. “We don’t do it the way the others do it. We’ve done it in a way that works for us. We don’t have to be the biggest promoter in the world but we are successful.
“We’re just trying to live in the moment for now and get ready for when things get rolling again.”
Here’s what Kathy Duva had to say about six of her most memorable nights in the sport:
Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Thomas Hearns
Date/ Venue: September 16, 1981/ Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada
Titles: Undisputed welterweight
“When it happened it was the biggest fight of all time. The back page of the Daily News said $40 million dollar fight and that is about what it did. We ended up promoting the fight because Ray Leonard’s manager, Mike Trainer, was mad at Bob Arum and Don King. He wanted to prove that any moron could promote a fight, so he picked Dan. [Dan] was 29 and I was 27, we had only done fights at Ice World or Atlantic City. We were just beginning to get our feet wet in the business.
“Dan hired almost a dozen people to consult, we were paid a straight up fee to do the fight, and he basically used most of that fee to pay these people. He decided, ‘I’m going to learn the boxing business through this.’ He figured when this is over, I’m going to know what I’m doing cause I sure as hell don’t know now.
“It was the fight everybody was waiting for. It was the perfect scenario for a fight. The matinee idol with the gold medal, Ray Leonard, against Tommy from Detroit, the big puncher. It had a little bit of everything.
“We showed up in Las Vegas looking like two kids, walked into Caesars Palace and announced we were in charge (laughs). Back then you would go to the site three weeks before the fight. The fighters would train on site and everybody would get to watch. I remember [Hearns’ trainer] Emanuel [Steward] had Tommy train right up until two days before the fight. My husband was standing there watching the training sessions, holding his breath, praying that Tommy wouldn’t get hurt. I think, in the end, it’s one of the reasons Tommy didn’t have the stamina to go the whole 15 rounds; he clearly left something in the gym.
“I remember Ray’s eyes, like two coals burning, as he looked across the ring at Tommy. Seeing it all up-close was incredible to me. I’d never been to a big fight before, let alone promoted one and there I was in a privileged seat getting to see so much.
“They had this amazing fight where it looked for all the world like Tommy was going to win and Ray, every round, started trying something different until he hit on what worked. It was a 15-round fight, had that been a 12-round fight Tommy would have won, but Ray stopped him toward the end.”
Result: Leonard TKO 14
Ray Mancini vs. Livingstone Bramble
Date/ Venue: June 1, 1984/ Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, New York
Titles: WBA lightweight
“Bramble was not favored to win, he wasn’t expected to be competitive by anyone but us.
“He wanted to unnerve Mancini because he was quite the game player, so he showed up with a guy who he identified as ‘Dr Doo.’ He said Dr Doo was his Rastafarian spiritual advisor or something. The guy showed up and he was carrying a medical bag, like a doctor’s bag. He was wearing this very colorful dashiki, a bowler hat, a stick that looked like a divining rod. He kept chanting and waving it. He made quite an odd impression. All done by Bramble on his own. We didn’t know who the guy was or where he came from.
“I remember Ray got very upset about this and he stopped doing interviews and that was a problem. My husband pulled Bramble aside and said, ‘Go out there in front of the TV camera and media at the workouts and say you heard Ray got so beat up in sparring that he has a big black eye. That’s why he won’t do interviews.’ Bramble did it and 10 minutes later Ray was doing interviews (laughs).
“Bramble used to enter the ring to the Bob Marley song Buffalo Soldier and I remember telling Pat Putnam of Sports Illustrated that Marley’s song was about black soldiers in the Southwest in the early part of the American frontier days. There is a line in the song, ‘Stolen from Africa, brought to America. Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival.’ Bramble clearly identified with the song and his Rastafarian heritage. I told Pat that Bramble said he’s going to fight this war to avenge all the Ethiopian followers of Haile Selassie (revered by Rastafarians) who were killed and defeated in the second Italy-Ethiopian War in the 1930s (laughs). Mancini got really upset because of his Italian heritage. It was fun and I’m friends with Ray now, he’s one of the nicest people in the world, but it wasn’t too hard to get him upset and Bramble was having a ball doing it.
“After the fight, Bramble and his team were about to leave the press room in the basement of the Convention Center and Jerry Izenberg from The New York Star Ledger looked up from his typewriter and said, ‘So Bramble, who’s Dr. Doo?’ Bramble said, ‘He’s my CYO (Christian Youth Organization) basketball coach (laughs). That was the first time we found out who Dr. Doo was. In these more politically correct times I don’t think we could have pulled that off, but it was 100-percent Bramble. It was all his idea. He conceived it. He executed it. He did the whole thing.”
Result: Bramble TKO 14
Pernell Whitaker vs. Julio Cesar Chavez
Date/ Venue: September 10, 1993/ Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas
Titles: WBC welterweight
“We chased that fight. That’s a fight Pete really wanted. King got put in a position where he couldn’t say no anymore. The two of them were so clearly the best. We had to go to Showtime for the fight, HBO was very upset about it. One of the HBO executives and Shelly Finkel, who was Pete’s co-manager, came very close to blows over it in a hotel lobby.
“We knew about the big crowd and what a hostile environment he was walking into. There was so much faith in Whitaker’s ability, and he wanted the fight so badly, so we had to take the risk. We talked to him about this while he was in camp and when we arrived. He said, ‘You’re going to know everything is going OK when the place gets really, really quiet.’ We started saying, ‘When you can hear a pin drop.’ That was the watch word, Whitaker, would go, ‘Pin drop, pin drop.’ That was the goal and he got it, that place was like a church!
“You’re sitting there watching him win almost every round. I don’t know if he did lose a round in all honesty, and you know how it always goes, and of course they did it. It was like a death. I know it was a draw but that draw was such a slap in the face, it felt like losing.
“I remember taking [Pernell] to LA after the fight to do a series of interviews. Martin Lawrence and Chris Rock came by to visit. Pete was friendly with them. Martin Lawrence took him out one night, and I remember, as they were leaving, Martin Lawrence said, ‘Don’t worry, I won’t get him in any trouble.’ I said, ‘I’m not worried about him, I’m worried about you (laughs).”
Riddick Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield 2
Date/ Venue: November 6, 1993/ Caesars Palace, Las Vegas
Titles: IBF/ WBA heavyweight
“All three fights were memorable, but I like to remember that one because we won. I kept telling everyone Holyfield was going to win and they all thought I was crazy. Everybody was worried about Evander after the way he lost to Bowe, and Bowe was so much bigger physically. There was this feeling that [Evander’s] career was over and people thought he shouldn’t fight the rematch. Nobody gave him a chance.
“It was one of the craziest nights I’ve ever had in a boxing arena. The fight starts and Evander is doing well and that’s when Fan Man flew into the ring [on a motorized parachute]. We’re sitting there watching the fight at ringside and Fan Man flew in toward where we were sitting. He’s coming toward us, I’m nudging Dan and looking at this thing coming towards us going, ‘What the heck is that?’ Dan was always very intent on watching the fight. I’m seeing this tiny speck, getting closer and closer, and finally made out what it was. I see he’s still coming and I’m saying, ‘This guy’s going to fly into the ring’ and Dan’s going, ‘Shut up, I’m watching the fight.’ By the time he got close you could hear the noise his fan was making and I pushed Dan and made him look at what was coming. That’s when Fan Man gets caught in the rigging. He came from behind Bowe’s corner. The people in Bowe’s corner were so startled because they didn’t have a chance to prepare. They started trying to beat the guy up. The Reverend Jesse Jackson set a land speed record getting out of there. He figured it was somebody coming for him. All this mayhem and chaos.
“There was a long break and Dan was yelling for blankets. Somebody brought them and the cornermen put them around Evander and told him to sit and keep his focus. They put blankets around Bowe too. They cut Fan Man down and proceeded with the fight.
“I think the rest did Holyfield more good than it did Bowe. He was certainly far better at focusing himself than Bowe. I remember Dan being pretty upset because when the action resumed, Bowe was doing pretty well at first, but then Evander turned it around and we got the win. It was just so bizarre, nothing about that night seemed normal or real.”
Result: Holyfield MD 12
Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson
Date/ Venue: June 8, 2002/ The Pyramid, Memphis, Tennessee
Titles: Ring Magazine/ IBF/ WBC heavyweight
“There was so much drama around that fight, it was like a soap opera. It took a long time to make the deal, particularly because they had to have Showtime and HBO work together, which they weren’t very good at. Putting that deal together was just torture. On both sides everybody wanted everything and nobody was budging.
“The deal finally gets made and we plan a press conference. Everybody kept pushing me to put Tyson and Lewis together to have a face-off. At that time, I wasn’t in control of the company, Gary Shaw was working for me. Everyone was so fixated on having the face-off that it scared me. I talked to Lennox and we both agreed it was a bad idea, that Tyson was nuts. I was so sure Tyson was going to pull some kind of stunt, I don’t know why but I knew it in my bones. I just kept saying, ‘No, they can stand five or six feet apart.
“I told everyone we should Photoshop a picture for the poster. I was not participating in the press conference, Gary was. [On the day], I went back to my seat and my last words to Gary were, ‘No way, no how, they’re not going to go near each other.’ Low and behold I sit down and they come out and walk right up to each other, face-to-face, and you saw what happened. Tyson went after Lennox. I saw Lennox afterward, there was a chunk of fabric chewed out of the leg of Lennox’s pants and bleeding on his upper thigh, which was also missing a chunk of flesh… and I suspect Tyson wasn’t aiming for his thigh. After all this chaos, we ended up getting sued. [Jose] Sulaiman sued us, he was in a wheelchair on the stage and he was caught in the melee. What I later pieced together, through a friend of mine, was that Gary went up to Lennox right before they were supposed to walk out. He whispered in Lennox’s ear, telling him, ‘Do the face-off, Mike assured us nothing is going to happen’ and Lennox did it.
“The late Dennis Dueltgen came up with this plan where he was going to line the security guards up from one neutral corner to the other so they couldn’t get near each other before the opening bell. We held press conferences separately, we kept them apart. I don’t know if we had them in the same room after that. Even the weigh-in was done separately.
“The fight started and it was exactly what I expected. If you look at the tape I was sitting there with a big smile on my face the whole time because Lennox beat the crap out of him.”
Result: Lewis KO 8
Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward 2
Date/ Venue: November 23, 2002/ Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey
“Their first fight was just three weeks before Tyson-Lewis. That was my life then. I remember the night of the first fight, when it ended our mouths were hanging open. They announced the decision and of course Micky won, so I turned to [then-senior vice president for HBO Boxing] Kery Davis and said, ‘We want a rematch.’ He said, ‘What? Are you out of your mind! You couldn’t put them through that again.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Are you kidding me? We want the rematch.’ He said, ‘How can you speak for him?’ I said, ‘That’s Arturo Gatti, I can speak for him, he wants the rematch.’ Thankfully, [then-president for HBO Boxing] Ross Greenburg understood in a way Kery Davis didn’t.
“Lou DiBella’s fighter had won the fight, so he had the upper-hand in the negotiations, but we had Arturo Gatti, so that kept it on an even keel. We had agreed we would each go out and get the best site deal we could and whoever got the best deal would get the event. Lou wanted it in Connecticut and we wanted it in Atlantic City. Lou went to Foxwoods and got an offer, and we got an offer from Ballys in Atlantic City. During a conversation with Lou a member of my staff had let on what Ballys had offered, so Lou knew. We get on the phone and Lou has the people from Foxwoods with him, which was odd. Lou said, ‘Here’s the amount Atlantic City has offered and Foxwoods is going to offer $50,000 more, so the fight is going to be at Foxwoods.’ I was not happy. I said, that’s not the only offer we have. There’s another bidder, it’s Main Events. I bid more than Foxwoods and Lou went nuts. We were arguing. I told Al Valente, who was the local promoter of Micky and Sal Lonano, who was Micky’s manager, that the fight didn’t belong at Foxwoods. At the time Foxwoods was holding fights in their bingo hall. I appealed to the promoter in Al. At that point Boardwalk Hall had just been refurbished. I said, ‘This fight deserves to be in a room with 10,000 people not a 3,000-seat bingo parlor, this is going to be another classic fight.’ That argument moved him and the Ward side, to their credit, went back to Lou and said, ‘We’re going to go to Atlantic City.’
“As it turned out we sold out in a matter of days and taking the risk was a very good move. And Gatti and Main Events didn’t have to share the profits above the price that we paid for the site rights with the Ward team. The second fight was better than the first to me because we won. I remember sitting next to Arturo at the press conference after the fight and looking at his hand that was all swollen. He went, ‘Yup, it’s broke’ like it was nothing. I don’t think he experienced pain like other people. After the press conference, they took Arturo and Micky to hospital and HBO followed them to the emergency room. There was that amazing scene of the two of them laughing together. Arturo never understood why people really loved him and that is sad. That night started this run of nine shows in a row in Atlantic City. All sold out.
“This all started when HBO decided to give Gatti a farewell fight if he would take the [Oscar] De La Hoya fight. The farewell fight turned into that fight with Micky Ward and that jump-started his career instead of ending it. Certainly the part where he was rewarded financially because up until then he was popular, but he never reached purses in the millions. After that they were all in the millions.”
Result: Gatti UD 10