Lou Duva, a Hall of Fame boxing manager and trainer who guided more than a dozen fighters to world titles - including Kiwi heavyweight David Tua - and whose pugnacious personality and promotional savvy made him one of the most colorful figures in his sport, died at a hospital in Paterson, New Jersey. He was 94.

The New York Daily News reported that he was being treated for a respiratory ailment.

Duva worked at various times as a truck driver, bail bondsman and president of a Teamsters union local in New Jersey, but he was drawn to boxing from childhood, when he tagged along with his older brother to a gym.

New world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield is supported by his trainers Lou Duva, left, and George Benton, right. Photo / AP
New world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield is supported by his trainers Lou Duva, left, and George Benton, right. Photo / AP

He began fighting as an amateur in his teens and, according to boxing records, had 17 professional fights as a welterweight in the 1940s. He lost 10 of them.

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"I know what it's like to catch a punch," he told Sports Illustrated in 1989. "You don't think I got this face being a ballet dancer, do you?"

Duva first trained boxers and promoted boxers as a soldier at Fort Hood, Texas, during World War II. When he returned to New Jersey, he made a study of the fight game in his spare time.

He owned a fleet of 32 trucks at one point, but he always liked to be at the wheel to make deliveries to New York's Garment District because it was near the old Stillman's Gym, a sweat-stained cradle of champions on Eighth Avenue.

"Everybody in the bleachers was watching the fighters," he told the Newark Star-Ledger in 2002. "I was watching the trainers. I would go over when Ray Arcel and Whitey Bimstein and Chicky Ferrara were drinking coffee, and I'd just sit for hours and listen to them. That was my college education."

In his spare time, Duva began working with boxers in Paterson and Totowa, N.J., learning every facet of the trade from wrapping hands to stopping cuts to promoting fights in small clubs. He was sometimes called the "garbage collector" because so many of his fighters were second rate - and, in some cases, actual garbage collectors.

"Lou is the genuine article," Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist Jim Murray wrote in 1991, "the throwback - the old-fashioned, old-time fight manager. . . . He doesn't wear a tie. His pants look slept in. His face - well, his face looks like something hanging off a French cathedral."

In 1963, he persuaded middleweight champion Dick Tiger to give a title shot to an ageing fighter Duva was promoting. When Joey Giardello unexpectedly defeated Tiger, Duva had his first world champion.

But Giardello soon parted ways with Duva, who ended up back in smoky fight clubs, devising schemes to draw fans. One of his boxers was carried into the ring in a coffin.

He told one promising fighter to give up the sport because he bled too easily.

"It was like oceans of blood," Duva said in 2002. "It got so you'd swear he was bleeding on the way in. As you know, this could be a small problem to a fighter. I sent him to school to learn the construction business. Today, he's got real money."

Another time, Duva passed off a sanitation worker from Camden, N.J., as a prince from Zaire. He entered the ring accompanied by dancers and drummers, while his Irish opponent was preceded by bagpipers and people dressed as leprechauns.

The prince hit the canvas after one punch.

"People left the arena saying, 'What a great fight!' " Duva recalled years later.

After suffering a heart attack in 1979, Duva quit his job as a union leader to devote full time to boxing. One of his sons, Dan Duva, a recent law school graduate, had formed a promotional company called Main Events, and Duva's four other children all helped out.

The family firm promoted a 1981 title bout between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns at Houston's Astrodome, clearing more than $1.5 million. Duva went on to recruit a stable of promising boxers, including several members of the 1984 U.S. Olympic team.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he was in the corner as his fighters - Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, Mark Breland, Bobby Czyz, Johnny Bumphus, Vinny Pazienza, Mark McCallum, Arturo Gatti, Rocky Lockridge, Livingstone Bramble, Zab Judah - claimed one world title after another.

Duva's biggest moment came on October 25, 1990, when another boxer he managed, Evander Holyfield, knocked out Buster Douglas to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

During the heat of battle, the effusive Duva couldn't always control his impulses. Television networks turned off the microphones in his corner because of his constant profanity while urging on his fighters.

"I'm cursing only in Italian now," he said in 1989.

He argued with other managers, referees and even his boxers' opponents, sometimes coming to blows. After Pazienza lost in 1988 to Roger Mayweather, the 66-year-old Duva and Pazienza rushed toward Mayweather after the final bell. Mayweather punched Duva in the face, drawing blood.

In 1996, after taking part in another post-fight brawl, Duva had to be carried out of the ring on a stretcher.

"I feel every punch any of my fighters take," he said in 1980.

Louis Duva was born May 28, 1922, in Manhattan to Italian immigrants. He moved to Paterson as a child.

He lied about his age in the late 1930s to serve in the Civilian Conservation Corps in Idaho, where he learned to drive a truck. He served in the Army during World War II. He was named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1998.

His wife of 37 years, the former Enes Rubio, died in 1986. Survivors include four children; 11 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

His son Dan Duva died of brain cancer in 1996. His widow, Kathy Duva, took control of Main Events four years later amid a bitter family dispute. Duva joined another son, Dino, in launching a new boxing enterprise.

"Boxing has given the Duva name a good life," Duva told the Boston Globe in 1998. "I would have done it all for nothing. Hell, for a long time, I did do it for nothing."