Philosophical Holyfield wears crown aided by father-son team

PHILADELPHIA — PHILADELPHIA -- Evander Holyfield shrugged when they disqualified him in the '84 Olympic semifinal bout for throwing a devastating punch at the precise moment a bumbling referee was mumbling "stop."

Holyfield shrugged when he was bypassed as a challenger for Mike Tyson's heavyweight championship while Tyson defended against 42-1 underdog Buster Douglas.


Holyfield shrugged (and even smiled a little) when he defended the title he'd won from Douglas against fat, 40ish, friendly George Foreman and Foreman hogged the prefight spotlight.

And then, when a $30 million payday got derailed because Tyson's ribs got damaged . . . and Tyson was replaced by Francesco Damiani, who hurt his ankle reaching for an excuse . . . and Damiani was replaced by a quintessential catcher named Bert Cooper . . . shrug, shrug, shrug.


Holyfield, who defended his title yesterday against Cooper, displays emotions that run the gamut from A to B.

"That's just his personality," said Shelly Finkel, Holyfield's manager.

"Henry Tillman [the heavyweight on that '84 Olympic team] is one of Evander's closest friends.

"Evander was in his wedding party. Yet, when he fought him, he tried to take his head off.

"It's all tied in with where Evander has come from, where he is, his attitude. He is very happy with life. He feels life has been good to him.

"He always feels that if he waits, things will work out. Years ago, I asked him about that bad deal in the Olympics and he told me he didn't shout, he didn't scream, because he knew that would turn people off.

"He had to wait for his shot at the heavyweight title. And when finally got it, he said he was a better fighter than he was two years ago.

"He is philosophical. Good to work with. He doesn't put the kind of pressure on you someone else might, hollering 'Get me a title shot.'


"That's how Don King grabs fighters. They say they want the title shot and King promises it to 'em and they sell themselves to him."

Finkel and the father-son team of Lou and Dan Duva took home more gold from the '84 Olympics than 27 nations.

So, how did this pale, balding, bespectacled New Yorker out-recruit the wealthier Josephine Abercrombie, the slicker Bob Arum, the gaudier Don King to sign Holyfield, Mark Breland, Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker and Tyrell Biggs?

"All of them," Finkel recalled, "except Abercrombie, came in the week of the Olympics and said, 'Here I am!'

"I had spent months and years cultivating relationships with the fighters.

"The only one I couldn't match in money was Abercrombie. And " while she had a lot of money, the fighters weren't comfortable with the idea she could make 'em into champions.


"She had one, Frank Tate, and he lasted only one or two defenses. The only three champions now from that '84 Olympics are the three we handle, Holyfield, Taylor, Whitaker."

Holyfield had a manager when he came out of the Olympics with a bronze medal and America's sympathy. Guy named Ken Sanders, an Atlanta auto dealer who had given Evander a sweet deal on a heap of a used car.

"He wasn't really equipped for the job," Finkel said. "He was a friend, an admirer, but he didn't know anything about boxing.

"He called me a consultant and I got half the fees. As the years went on, it became apparent he had no understanding of the sport.

"And then, Evander had some personal problems with him, a deal that went sour. Sometimes that's attributed to me being cunning. But it had nothing to do with me."

Sanders is gone from the scene. Finkel manages Holyfield, Dan Duva promotes his fights, Lou Duva co-trains the champ along with George Benton, who has grudgingly come to accept the high-tech entourage that has helped shape the fighter's physique and quicken his reflexes.


Depending on how the jury votes in Indianapolis in the Tyson rape trial, the battered ribs might have cost Finkel and the Duvas about $6 million.

Shrug, shrug, shrug.

"Without being arrogant," Finkel said, "I have enough so that I'll never have to worry again in my life.

"My personal greatest fear is that I grew up with nothing . . . and to end up back where I grew up.

"I'm very blessed. I have a lovely family. I don't know of anything I really want that I can't have right now."

He grew up in Crown Heights, that turbulent section of Brooklyn. He managed a nightclub, managed a group named Vanilla Fudge, survived the huggermugger of the music business.


"I learned two things," he said. "You shouldn't have your whole life depend on your musicians, because when you do you're at their mercy.

"And you shouldn't handle only one musician because then he's got you. I'm not a dictatorial person and I don't want somebody dictating to me.

"We backed King into a corner when we wouldn't accept his terms for Holyfield-Tyson. No one has done that to King before.

"And then Harold Smith whispered in Tyson's ear. He told him, 'Are you crazy, how could you not fight for the heavyweight championship of the world?'

"So Tyson spoke to King and King came around to making the deal. It was King's pride that was holding it up, nothing else.

"I want my fighters to trust me enough to when I say, 'This is not good,' and I get up to go, they go with me.


"I used to handle Mike McCallum. Bob Arum offered us $300,000 for a fight with Donald Curry. I said, 'Pass!'

"McCallum had never made more than $100,000. He was whispering, 'Let's take it.' I took him aside, told him if he trusted me, there was more money out there. We walked.

"Couple of weeks later, Arum called back and gave us half a million. We wanted a million and a half for Taylor to fight Julio

Cesar Chavez. King offered a million, we wouldn't take it.

"Offered a million and a quarter, we wouldn't take it. Finally, he gave us the million and a half."

Thus, when someone asks Finkel what a nice guy like him is doing in a sleazy sport like boxing, he replies, "Very well, thank you."


And if Finkel looks like a pianist, Lou Duva looks like a piano mover, who has had one or more pianos fall on him.

"Evander has taken all this in stride," Duva growled from Atlanta. "Me? What am I supposed to do? Jump off the George Washington Bridge?

"Guys ask me, 'Geez, how can you drop from $30 million to $8 million?' Well, $8 million [$6 million actually is Holyfield's purse for the Cooper fight] is a lot of money.

"He got disqualified in the Olympics and didn't squawk and that's when I fell in love with him.

"Everybody running around like chickens without heads and he's saying, 'Whatever's gonna happen is gonna happen. And I'll accept it.'

"I said, 'Holy Christmas, what mental strength this guy's got. If George Benton and me can get the talent out of him, we've got a champ.'


"He may have that passive attitude outside the ring, but not inside. Inside, he's a different person.

"He was getting ready to fight Foreman and they said, 'Evander, this guy is a reverend, how will you feel about punching a reverend?'

"And he said, 'This man is trying to take my title away, of course I'm gonna punch him.'

"I've known him eight years and I have never ever heard him curse. And that shows you what kind of man he is."

Lou Duva, of course, curses enough for both of them. It came with the territory, fighter, truck driver, Teamsters organizer, fight promoter.

"Boxing is my love," he said. "Since I was a kid. Some guys like to smoke, some guys like to drink. Me, my love was boxing.


"I had the heart attack in '79, the docs said I could die. So I got rid of everything else and went into boxing full-time.

"We'd promote fight cards at the Ice World [in Totowa, N.J.] and afterward we'd go to the Primrose Diner. Wind up, maybe 30, 40 people.

"Lots of fun, lots of laughs. Diner food. Sit there 'til 2 in the morning. Go home and count the money, maybe have $12 left.

"I didn't expect my kids to go into boxing. Dan studied to be a lawyer, but wound up back in boxing.

"Dino was gonna be a CPA, ended up back in boxing. Same with my daughters. Now, I say I wish I'd had 10 children.

"I was poor, I'm rich now. Everybody wants money, but I want to be successful and I want my fighters to be successful.


"I was so close with Rocky Marciano. And I always said that Rocky and I would get a heavyweight champion.

"We tried, we never did. But when Evander beat Douglas I looked up at the sky and said, 'This is for you, Rocky.' "

The stress, plus bypass surgery two months ago, are draining some of the romance out of the sport. Duva talks wistfully about a couple of pizza parlors.

And Dan sighs and longs for the more civilized action of a courtroom.

"John Madden says a coach can only last 10 years in the NFL and then that's it," Dan said.

"I don't know how Arum, King stay with it. I don't know how my father has lasted 30, 40 years.


"I have commitments to Evander, to Whitaker, to Taylor, to Vinny Pazienza [injured last week in an auto wreck]. When those commitments are over, I am looking to do other things."

It would have been easier to do other things if the Holyfield-Tyson fight had come off. At least Dan Duva had not earmarked his piece of the pie toward a condo in Boca Raton.

"Things can happen," he lectured. "You never count your money, you never spend your money until the guy gets in the ring.

"What am I gonna do about it? Cry about it?

"For Evander, that's part of being a professional. We'll find out how he's handling it Saturday night.

"I've got some concerns. Is he up for it?"


As a promoter, he's got some concerns about people caring about an opponent who is a substitute for a substitute, so if he sounds worried, maybe people will tune in, remembering Douglas, the 42-1 underdog, and what he did to a distracted Tyson.

"All this stress," sighed Kathy Duva, Dan's wife, who handles the publicity. "Legal seminars when Tyson was indicted. Then medical reports on Lou's bypass surgery. And Vinny's accident.

"And now, a sprained ankle?"

And how does Kathy Duva feel about the vanished bonanza that would have resulted from Tyson-Holyfield?

"We viewed all of this," she said, "beyond beating Douglas, as gravy. We were fortunate enough to sock away enough money from that fight to provide for our children's education.

"The Tyson fight money was for retirement. The important things are taken care of. Our lifestyle wouldn't have changed.


"I can remember when we once lost $5,000 on an amateur fight card. That affected our lifestyle.

"I can recall after some Scott Frank fights, where every $50 was life-and-death.

"There's a place in Scranton called Duke's Corner. It's in a Howard Johnson motel. Duke Stefano, the matchmaker, owned it and we'd hang out there.

"When all this turmoil was going on, we said, 'Let's move back to Duke's Corner and start over again.'

"My husband's 40th birthday fell on the day before the Tyson fight was scheduled. I know he wants to move onto other things.

"People like Arum, King, they're in it for control. They measure success by how much money they're making and not how happy their lives are.


"There have been too many nights lately where we've worked so late, we haven't seen the kids at all.

"Our daughter, Nicole, is in a gifted program. She's 8 and she's in a gymnastics class with high school kids.

"She's an incredible child. But she got an 80 on a test the other day and I know that wouldn't have happened if I'd been there to hover over her."

Is it all right for the promoter and his wife to feel the stress as long as the fighter doesn't catch the feeling?

"I'm not trying to hype the fight," Kathy Duva said, "but Evander is bound to be demoralized. Dan is worried that that could affect his performance.

"Evander's basic attitude is that everything happens for the best. The stress we feel, changing the advertising, sanctioning the fight, that's one thing.


"Staying motivated, that's a different kind of stress. Evander feels that he's got more money than he can ever spend. So this isn't about money.

"He's been looking for the next challenge. And Tyson represented that challenge."

She said she wasn't trying to hype the fight, but that's what she was doing. It's called being professional.

Evander Holyfield can shrug at adversity all he wants, he is a very lucky fellow to have Finkel and the Duva family and Benton working with him.