Outside the Ring: Kathy Duva

By Jill Diamond on July 18, 2014
Outside the Ring: Kathy Duva
“We think of our company as a boutique, as compared to some of our larger competitors."

Kathy Duva’s apprehension about the fate of boxing is fueled by her concerns about its diminishing fan base…

Sports and Philanthropy: A series of articles dedicated to those who’ve given their all and still give more. Each article will feature a different community champion; no belts, no medals, no ratings… just good people passing it on.

A few weeks ago, a sleek, honey-haired blonde in a business suit addressed the North American Boxing Federation at their convention in Chicago. As she took the podium, she seemed relaxed and responsive. No one was prepared for her speech. Yes, it included all the boxing do’s and don’ts, the long ladder up, and the usual predictions, but there was something else in what she said that simply stunned the room. Maybe it’s because she’s a woman, maybe it’s because she’s so passionate, or maybe it’s because she spoke what others only think. Armed with facts and figures she attacked a system of classification she considered destructive, accepting friendly fire when necessary, and applause when she was done. Kathy’s apprehension about the fate of boxing is fueled by her concerns about its diminishing fan base. The focus of her distress is the big guys, or as Kathy might say, the “too” Heavy Weight division. She hopes that fixing this will refresh our audience, appeal to a younger demographics, and bring the sport back to the days of Tunney, Ali, Frazier, Dempsey and Marciano, most of whom spent their careers fighting at weights below 220 and at 6’2” or under. The discrepancy in size and weight in the heavyweight division is unlike anything else in the sport, and some feel produce boring and predictable fights. She has a solution and we should take her assessment seriously. Kathy Duva is a seasoned promoter and advocate of the sport. She’s held her house together, created a team of formidable allies and etched out a deal with NBC, bringing boxing back to the networks. She runs Main Events much the way a person runs their household, employing a diverse and dedicated group of people who equal her commitment to her boxers. They are family, she would say. And from what I’ve heard from those she represents, she treats them as such. She goes to the mat for them. She takes figurative punches for them. She gives them back just as hard. And she does it, not just with emotion, but with a clear eye to what is and what isn’t possible in this business. As a woman in boxing, Kathy’s faced specific obstacles. So far, none have thwarted her. And I believe, none ever will.

How did you get involved in boxing?

I promoted local club shows in Northern New Jersey. As a journalism student, I began to help out with the publicity. A year after Dan (Duva) graduated from Law School in 1977, he incorporated Main Events. I worked part time as the publicist. Eventually, I left my “day job” as a publicist for a local college and came on as a full time employee in 1981.

At your level, do you think it’s tougher for a woman? If so, how do you bridge the gap?

I think that just about everything is tougher for a woman in business! You must be better than your competitors at everything in order to succeed. But working with a staff that includes many women executives makes my job very easy in other ways. We work together seamlessly and I never cease to be amazed at how much we accomplish every time we face a seemingly insurmountable challenge. I would not trade my situation for anything. I suppose I try to bridge the gap by working harder and trying to be better than the competition. And the unconditional support of my staff makes it all possible.  We are a team.

Who’s on your team?

As you know, there is a lovely group of ladies, here at Main Events. And now we have brought on a few fantastic men, as well. Jolene Mizzone is our director of boxing and matchmaker, Kim Newman is our CFO, my daughter, Nicole Duva is our general counsel and director of marketing, Ellen Haley, who began working with Main Events before Evander Holyfield was champion, handles our publicity, Alexis Mann handles all of our video services, Lisa Meyer is a newly minted attorney who graduated from my alma mater, Seton Hall Law, in May. She handles various legal, financial and digital marketing matters, Matt Delaglio is our travel coordinator who also assists Jolene and Joe Rotonda is our senior intern. There are three other interns and, of course, Patrick English, our longtime attorney, is still very much involved with the company on the legal side.

What make Main Events different than other promotion companies?

We like to think of our company as a boutique, as compared to some of our larger competitors, who I would compare to Walmart. Our goal is not to sign every fighter in boxing. We prefer to work with a small, hand selected group and do our very best to make the system work for each and every one of them. 

A rising star?

We have several rising stars here at the moment! First and foremost is Russian light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev, who I have no doubt will go on to unify all of the world titles in his division and become known as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. He is one of the most exciting and compelling fighters I have ever seen in any weight class.

A great moment?

There have been a few great moments in such a long career. The one that always jumps to mind is the moment that Evander Holyfield upset Buster Douglas with a third round knockout to win the heavyweight title. Nobody gave him a chance to win that fight. It was awesome!

What do you look for in a fighter?

When I see a fighter perform for the first time, I usually spend more time watching the audience than the fighter. I want to see if that fighter has the ability to have a personal relationship with each and every person in the room. There are many examples of very good fighters who simply cannot catch on with the fans. Because we are in the business of selling tickets, I must find someone who can build a rapport with the audience. Without that, all the boxing ability in the world is not going to make somebody a star.

What’s important to you outside the ring?

My children. My friends.

Do you think it’s every successful person’s obligation to give back? Why?

Yes. Of course, I do believe that everyone should give back however much they can. Even the smallest gift can help someone in need. It is our responsibility as humans to do what we can for those who are less fortunate.

What charitable programs are you involved in?

I work with the Seton Hall School of Law, where I sit on the Board of Visitors. I am also a member of the Foundation Board of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson, NJ.

What do you see as the main issue facing the sport today?

The heavyweight division of yesteryear is now called the cruiserweight division. Most of the iconic heavyweight champions, those beautiful men who were big enough to hit hard and yet small enough to move fluidly, were the same size as those who fight in the cruiserweight division today. Marciano, Tyson, Frazier… And fights like Ali vs. Frazier, Tunney vs. Dempsey, Louis vs. Schmeling,  were fought by men who would be considered undersized today and who either made or could have made today’s 200-pound cruiserweight limit. Right now I feel we are losing our audience by overlooking the greatest boxers on earth: Cruiserweights. Today we refer to men who stand 6’3” as small-heavyweights—and they don’t stand a chance against super-sized, well-conditioned athletes. Times have changed and our sport has done a disservice to the very men who helped to make it great by leaving them behind. It’s a branding nightmare and these great athletes can’t make a living. I challenge anyone to take the first steps towards doing something about it. Let’s make the title Heavyweight Championship mean something again. The best, most action packed fights featuring big men who hit hard. I believe this is the most exciting place to be and the most iconic title in the world. I want to bring it back!

What keeps you involved in the sport?

I do not believe my life would be as interesting as it is had I chosen another path. At this stage of my life—with my children all grown up and moving away from home—my goal is to keep life interesting and have some fun. While I certainly experience a lot of stress in my job, it is never boring!  And right now, we are having a lot of fun!

Outside the Ring: David Berlin
Outside the Ring: Sam Hadfield
Outside the Ring: Steve Farhood
Outside the Ring: Kathy Duva
Outside the Ring: Comanche Boy
Outside the Ring: Margaret Goodman
Outside the Ring: Allen Furst
Outside the Ring: Lonnie and Muhammad Ali
Outside the Ring: Bruce Silverglade

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Evander Holyfield vs. James 'Buster' Douglas

Fight of Titans: Muhammad Ali VS Joe Frazier 1. great quality

Louis Vs Schmeling -The Real Story (Documentary)

Gene Tunney -vs- Jack Dempsey II (Rare 16mm Long Count Film)

Sergey Kovalev Greatest Hits (HBO Boxing)

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  1. nicolas 10:57pm, 07/24/2014

    ERIC: Thanks for the nice plug, but when Ali ruled the root, they were saying that men like Marciano, Dempsey would beat Ali. During Frazier’s reign, and after Frazier beat Ali, Nat Fleischer had men like Jim Corbett, Bob Fitzsimmons and even Schmeling ahead of Ali. Fleischer wrote that Marciano would take Ali out in 10. Your comment about prejudice against white fighters though is an interesting one. think about this though, from the reign of Louis to the reign of Vitali and Wladimir, only twice, and that was in the 50’s, did you have two white fighters in the same ring fighting for the heavyweight championship, and I mean the real one. Since then, and I won’t include Vitali’s second WBC reign, you have had six times where two fight boxers have been in the same ring fighting for that title.

  2. Eric 05:53am, 07/23/2014

    When the larger breed of heavweight officially came on the scene with Sonny Liston, everyone just accepted the fact that a man under 200lbs would never become heavyweight champ again. With the exception of the 198lb Leon Spinks, this proved to be true. A couple of generations later, it is probably safe to say that a a man under 230lbs will never be heavyweight champion again. Athletes continue to become bigger, stronger, and faster in all sports, so why should boxing be any different. One of the reasons why athletes like Dick Butkus and Jim Brown excelled back in the day was their superior size, but Butkus and Brown would be of average size in today’s NFL and maybe a tad light for their positions even. As nicolas mentioned, the size of heavyweights stayed pretty steady in the 200-220 range from Liston to Tyson, after that, Bowe and Lewis ushered in the era of the big man. People were saying back when Ali ruled the roost, that fighters like Marciano, Dempsey, and Tunney were just too small to compete with the modern heavy, which made sense to me. Then when the Klits became dominant, the boxing world scoffed at their large size, often claiming a 215 Ali would have his way with the brothers, or that even a 187lb Marciano would pound them into oblivion. All of a sudden the 5’11” and 187lb Marciano, who was too small for Ali & Holmes, was capable of destroying a man 3” taller and 30lbs heavier than Ali or Holmes. Baffling.

  3. raxman 04:18pm, 07/22/2014

    Eric - my point is the HW weight class would be the prestige weight class . it just wouldn’t be the top weight class. that baddest man on the planet BS is exactly why cruiserweight exists - this need for Heavyweight to be the top weight class.  I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for 6ft6 240 pound boxers if that is your thing.  we’d still have the big boring guys, who throw 30 punches a round but they’d be called super heavies. no one watches cruiserweight fights, there seems a stigma attached which I feel is largely due to the name. And its a shame because those guys - largely white and European - put on great fights. if the weight class were called heavyweight they would get a much great following. its either do that or shift the light heavy limit up to 200 pounds and be done with the cruisers
    as for talking about late career ali - that has nothing to do with weight - your point there is about past it fighters. as for holmes his career is renowned as a low point in HW boxing made worse as it followed the golden era.
    as for Basketball I would have the ring raised. 12ft sounds about right. its ridiculous not to change with the times. if you were going to invent basketball today, given the average height of man you would never set the ring at 10ft

  4. Eric 07:25am, 07/22/2014

    There are no restrictions in weight in the heavyweight class.  Putting a weight restriction on boxing’s top division is lame. Sounds pretty good to say I’m the baddest man on the planet at under 220lbs. What about restricting the height of basketball players to 6’5” and under. Kind of boring seeing a 7’ behemoth stretch his orangutan arms up and touch the top of the rim while standing flat-footed. How about require that all players in the NFL be under 6’4” and weigh less than 250lbs so they won’t appear much better than those legendary Packers and Steelers teams. Ali was extremely boring to watch at the end of his career. Does anyone remember the Ali fights after Manilla? Talk about snooze fests. What about Larry Holmes’s title fights for David Bey, Bonecrusher Smith, Lucien Rodriguez, Scott Frank, etc.? Were those lousy, boring fights are what? Large Americans, and particularly large African Americans don’t dominate the heavyweight boxing scene or even 160-hvy anymore. Get over your prejudices against Eastern European and white fighters.

  5. raxman 05:20pm, 07/21/2014

    The mistake was not following the amateurs and capping the HW’s and having a Super Heavy weight class. the desire to have HW mean the biggest guys and be the cherry on top of boxing back fired; those guys, lewis, the klits, now fury, wilder etc, are just too big to provide good looking fights. they should have just called those guys super heavyweights, let them have their freak fights in Germany and have Heavy weight capped at 220 - or maybe 215. then you would have a situation where guys like kovalev and Stevenson would be able to move up which they would never do to fight as a dirty rotten bad stigma no money cruiserweight - hell b-hop too - even andre ward could probably push up to say 195pounds and be able to fight as a heavy.

  6. Eric 06:21am, 07/21/2014

    nicolas….Most young big men from the United States will gravitate to more common team sports like baseball, football, and basketball. Rural or small towns often have no outlet for kids to box even if they wanted to learn the sweet science. Plenty of high school wrestling teams but how many high schools have boxing programs? And face it, not many kids with other opportunites are going to want to take boxing serious enough to attempt making a living from it. Boxing has always been a poor man’s sport, and always will be, that is why the Eastern Europeans and Mexican fighters are so dominant today. Gerry Cooney had all the physical talent in the world but he grew up in realtive comfort. Cooney probably could’ve played power forward on the basketball team or tight end on the football team, but a persistent father persuaded Cooney to box instead. Additionally, boxing is near as popular as it used to be, especially with younger people in the United States. I would venture to say that the average 25 year old male knows more about the big name UFC fighters than he does the Klits or some other boxing champions.

  7. nicolas 09:34pm, 07/18/2014

    JILL: I think that the idea of creating an exciting division can only be realized when more young big men decide that they want to be boxers. People like Joe Louis in the 30’s, and Ali in the 70’s and 80’s may have inspired some of the people who later on became champions. In this case in the USA, African Americans primarily. However, throughout history, the heavyweight division has gone through a period of when it was not exciting. After Jim Jeffries retirement, no one has looked upon the Tommy Burns years, or even of that matter Jackson years as a terribly exciting time in the heavyweight division. What about after Tunney, also not an exciting time, until Joe Louis. Floyd Patterson years were kind of abysmal, that I think when Johansen won the title, for that brief year it looked like the heavyweight division was saved. Hear some of the comments at the time by supposed boxing experts in the 60’s when Ali had his reign. Only in the 70’s, with Ali fighting so much, and that being for some four years only, did one perhaps feel the heavyweight division was never more exciting. But in most cases, when one has someone who is considered an all-time great, a division is not considered so exciting. think about the Bob Foster years. He was sometimes defending his title for only 15,000, yet later, during the Mathew Saad years and Galindez years the division became quite exciting, but I think one would be hard pressed to suggest any of those fighters between Foster and Michael Spinks would be in the all time top ten. If Fury beats Chisora again, and Deontay Wilder beats Stevene, I could see a Klitschko against one of those fighters being something of a massive event. Perhaps the first in England,and the second in the USA. Also think about this, Wladamir Klitschko has been world champ for over eight years, second only to Joe Louis. interesting when you consider those Louis years, except for the Schmelling fight, because of its politics, the Billy Conn fight because of how close Louis came to losing the title, heavyweight championship boxing was somewhat humdrum. I don’t mention Joe Walcott, because before the first one, there were fears that the fight would not sell. Yet both Klitschko’s in Europe have had a very big box office at the live gate. Clearly, if one saw some of the crowds for heavyweight action in Germany, England, Poland, Russia, heavyweight boxing does not seems to have some excitement. I don’t recall there being massive crowds to see Larry Holmes fight.

  8. nicolas 08:58pm, 07/18/2014

    Through time, heavyweights have gotten bigger and bigger. In 1892 Jim Corbett was only some 179 pounds when he stopped a way past his prime John L Sullivan, who I think weight 210 pounds. For the next 68 years, heavyweights kept pretty much the same. Even in the 50’s, Marciano became heavyweight champion fighting under 190. Then he was followed by Floyd Patterson, the last man to hold the title who was under 190. But then he faced a man named Sonny Liston, who outweighed hiim by 25 some pounds, and who would knock him out in one round twice. Ali followed, also not just fast but big at the time scaling some 210 pounds. He would be followed by similar weight champions like Frazier, even big George Foreman. But then in the early 90’s, came Ridick Bowe, 230 pounds. then he was followed by Lenox Lewis, and of course the Klitschko’s. Also look at the heights of the Klitschko’s, the two tallest legitimate heavyweight champions of all tie at 6 ft 6 and 6 ft 7. I don’
    t consider the 300 pound 7 ft Valuev as a heavyweight champion.

  9. Clarence George 01:21pm, 07/18/2014

    I think Mrs. Duva is correct.  As the heavyweight division goes, so goes the sport.  And the heavyweight division has been in an abysmal state for some time.  Part of the problem is indeed the gigantism.  It used to be that behemoths were anomalies—e.g., Jess Willard, Primo Carnera, and Abe Simon—but they’ve become the norm.  The way they move!  Deontay Wilder plods about the ring as though on a chain gang.  But it’s not just the size; it’s also the training.  A rhino, massive as he is, runs like a pony and can turn on a dime.

  10. jill diamond 12:51pm, 07/18/2014

    Ms. Duva spoke of many things, including the use of social media to reach a younger demographics, but this is where her passion stood strong. She didn’t speak against the current champs, but rather for creating a more exciting division. As for unification, it’s currently being discussed by the WBC, IBF and WBA. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Clearly you care about the sport.

  11. nicolas 12:31pm, 07/18/2014

    Her comment about heavyweights as the main issue facing the sport today is puzzling. Certainly in the USA it is more puzzling how heavyweight boxing declined after over 100 years of dominance. But when you go over to Europe, you see the Klitschkos fighting before huge crowds, crowds that remind one of the huge stadium crowds that went to see Joe Louis fight in outdoor ball parks. The real problem I think lies in not only the multiple boxing organizations, but more so that in a county like the United States, we allow several world champions to exist that can fight in the USA.  If the USA were to have it that since the IBF is based in the USA, and only world champions front he group were allowed to fight in the USA, could you imagine even today the repercussions in the boxing world? Whether this would be legal is another mater, but most likely a Mayweather-Pacquiao contest would have been held a long time ago.

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