1976, Part 17 – May 23, Erie, Pennsylvania (County Field House) – ROBERTO DURAN KO 14 LOU BIZZARRO/Don King Productions
There he is, on the ring apron, the “greatest man in the world,” as my surrogate father, Jack Obermayer called him.
Don Elbaum stood in Lou Bizzarro’s corner, looking across an expansive ring at the great lightweight champion Roberto Duran. Elbaum, then of bushy black hair and mutton-chop sideburns, had maneuvered to get Duran’s first U.S. title defense to Erie against local Lou Bizzarro, who was 22-0 and never beaten a soul.
The 25-year-old Duran was 55-1 and approaching his prime. Nobody was yet calling him the greatest lightweight who ever lived – and Duran’s performance this Sunday afternoon wouldn’t change anyone’s mind. The great Duran doesn’t even mention this fight in his autobiography.
The Duran crew drove to Erie four days before the fight and got lost on the way. Once there, they found no friends and couldn’t even get in contact with the boxing commission.
Duran trainer Ray Arcel saw the ring the day before the fight and judged it the biggest he had ever seen. He told Elbaum he should be ashamed of himself. Elbaum was so proud that as years have passed, that ring has grown to 30 by 30 inside the ropes. Not true, says Bizzarro, who kept the ring and displayed it at his Erie bar/restaurant. It was a large, but regulation, 24 by 24.
Bizzarro needed every inch. The Italian-born local, who had followed older brother Johnny into boxing, moved as fast as possible backward, pausing occasionally to potshot the champion with quick rights, bringing life from the curious crowd.
Duran stalked patiently, keeping his cool as he realized after the opening moments his title was in no danger. Elbaum, the eternal optimist, dreamed of Bizzarro winning. “He (Lou) could go backward faster than anyone could go forward,” said Don during fight week, perhaps the only true statement he made that week.
But if Bizzarro shared Elbaum’s fantasy of winning, he’d eventually have to slow and bit and punch. Bizzarro realized early in the fight, after feeling Duran’s power, he had no chance. “It was all a bit too much for me,” he admitted.
Duran finally caught the flying Bizzarro in the tenth, flooring him twice. Lou had his best round of the fight in the 11th, showing that his biggest asset was heart. The end was brutal. Bizzarro fell twice more in the 14th, finishing the fight on his back. He earned every penny of his $15,000. (Elbaum liked to tell people it was $100,000, but he must have mixed up his man’s purse with Duran’s).
Lou fought six more years, losing just once more, but never seriously contending for a title. He retired and enjoyed success with his bar and an auto dealership.
Ironically, later in his career, Duran was managed by Mike Acri, a lifelong Erie resident. That brought Duran to Erie at times and once he visited Bizzarro’s Ringside Restaurant, home of the infamous ring and other memorabilia from the fight. Bizarro found a completely different Duran from the snarling champion of 1976. Duran was fat and happy and he got tipsy with Bizzarro.
“You were a good fighter!” Duran said at one point.
“Thanks. So were you,” replied Lou Bizzarro, still quick with a counter.
Duran nearly fell out of his chair laughing.