They buried Arthur (Duke) Holloway last week, the big man with the big cigar and derby hat who for 60 years trained and nurtured some of the greats and not-so-greats of boxing.
Old-time boxers and others whose lives were touched by the fight game met once more, outside the ring, to say goodby to the man who had wrapped their fists, psyched them up, rubbed them down, but most of all, taught them to be champions.
Holloway, named last year to the World Boxing Hall of Fame, died of a heart attack. He was 87.
“He had a habit of calling everybody he came in contact with ‘Champ,’ ” said Sammy Sanders, one of Holloway’s early fighters. “He could take a guy who didn’t know a left hook from a fish hook and train him into a top fighter. He was the cream of the crop in boxing.”
Holloway was born in Milam County, Tex., on Dec. 14, 1900. He picked up his boxing savvy during a 20-year stint in the Navy, during which he won the Navy heavyweight and light heavyweight championships.
After his discharge, Holloway settled in Los Angeles, where he began training and developing young fighters. As his reputation as a top-notch trainer grew, he began to attract bigger-name fighters.
Holloway trained Joe Louis back into shape after the champion was discharged from the service after World War II. He trained Archie Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson.
Jockey Willie Shoemaker trained as an amateur under Holloway before embarking on a career in horse racing. Jazz musician Miles Davis, a former amateur boxer, would often stop by the gym to hit the speed bag and shadowbox under the trainer’s watchful eye. And former champion Muhammad Ali would go to Holloway for a workout and rubdown to keep in shape after his retirement.
“Duke expected his fighters to be well disciplined, and he was a stickler for the fundamentals,” said Moore, 73, who attended the funeral. “If he was in your corner, that is all a guy needed. He knew how to make a fighter feel important.”
Holloway made his boxing home at the Main Street Gym, a palace of pugilism where many boxers got their start. It was at Main Street that he could be seen, a towel slung over his shoulder, a cigar dangling from his mouth and a derby perched on his head, encouraging a stable of young amateurs and pros. The gym was demolished in 1984 because it did not meet earthquake standards.
“When Main Street Gym closed, that was the closing of Duke Holloway and the end of a chapter in boxing,” Sanders said. “That’s when he started to lose his interest in boxing.”
He would go to other boxing gyms at Hoover and at 108th streets and Broadway, but they were not the same.
More than 150 people packed the Crenshaw Boulevard funeral home where Holloway’s services were officiated by the Rev. Don (Big Red) Grant, a former light heavyweight. Joey Olmos, chief inspector of the state Athletic Commission, rang a bell 10 times in a final tribute to the trainer. Six former boxers were pallbearers. A veterans’ group fired rifles in a 21-gun salute. The burial was at Inglewood Park Cemetery.
“Duke was a master teacher, not just a trainer, not just a motivator, but a master teacher,” Olmos said.