Lou Savarese with a student

Image: Todd Spoth

Houston has a heavyweight champ in Lou Savarese,  the Bronx-born boxer whose decades-long career has featured match-ups with major fighters from Mike Tyson to Evander Holyfield. Savarese, who’s lived here since 1988, won 46 of his 53 fights—38 by knockout. Now, at 53, he’s focused on grooming the next generation of fighters, both at downtown’s Main Street Boxing, which he opened in 2009, and at new gym Savarese Fight Fit in West U.

When and why did you start boxing?

I always wanted to box, but my dad didn’t want me to. After senior year of high school, I started training during the summer. My dad didn’t know it. I was also working in the plumbers’ union in New York City. That was my biggest incentive to box, because I really hated doing that. Finally, my dad found out and, as much as he could, gave me his grace and said, ‘Go ahead.’ I started training in the Bronx at Wakefield Forum Boxing Gym.

How did a New York City fighter end up in Houston?

Promoter Josephine Abercrombie, she was a wealthy former debutante here in Houston—her family had old, old oil money. I was one of the guys she signed from the ’88 Olympics, so I moved down here and just kept fighting and kept winning. I could concentrate a lot more here. There were a lot of mob guys in New York that I didn’t want to be around, so it was better coming down here.

How does the fighting scene here compare to New York’s?

New York was always the epicenter of boxing, but when I first came down here it was really advantageous to me because there were so many heavyweights here, which is very hard to come by with sparring. This was maybe the best fight city in the United States at the time—between here and New York. George Foreman had a lot of guys down here, he was making his comeback, and Main Events—they were the biggest promoters in the world at that time—they had their camps down here, too, so there were a lot of transplanted guys. It stayed that way, too.

What’s it like to reach the point in your career where you’re now teaching other people to fight?

I love doing what I do. One of my favorite clients, we started out when he was over 400 pounds, and now he’s 180 pounds. I have a lot of clients where it’s just transformed their lives. Boxing is probably one of the best exercises in the sense that it’s a perfect integration between resistance and endurance training.

Do you remember the first time you got knocked out?

I was in a really ratty gym in Yonkers, New York. I got knocked down, but I didn’t realize I got knocked down. I looked in the ring, and my dad was standing over me; I said, “What are you doing here?” The guy was a way better fighter than me and probably should have taken it easy on me but didn’t. I’ve had a lot of injuries, it’s just kind of par for the course—broken ribs, broken tooth, broken jaw, you name it. I never got a bloody nose, though. I only got one bloody nose my whole life, and it was from my brother. We were doing fake WWE, and he hit me instead of faking it. That’s his claim to fame.

Which fight is most memorable to you?

I like yhe ones I won. Buster Douglas was probably the best fight for a couple reasons. I was a huge underdog, and just on paper I looked like I was gonna lose—like 20 sports writers out of 21 picked me to get knocked out, but I wound up knocking him out in the first round. My mom, who’s not with us anymore, she jumped in the ring.

How real is the aggression we see in boxing?

I’ve never really disliked an opponent. It’s sometimes hard—Mike Tyson, I didn’t like him, for obvious reasons, but we met afterward, and we’re friends now. All the guys, especially in boxing, probably 99 percent of them, are just really nice guys. Holyfield and I were friends when we fought each other, so that was a little bit awkward. But once you start fighting, you don’t think about it. I used to like to get angry. I had a lot of altercations and street fights and stuff growing up; I actually got thrown out of private school for fighting. Boxing helped me to get focused. It’s changed my life for the better.

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