Houston’s “Big” Lou Savarese stands 6.5 and as a young man he trained out of the Cage Recreation Center in White Plains, New York, and originally from Greenwood Lake, New York. As an amateur he won the New York Novice Super heavyweight title in 1985 and the Open in 1986. In 1987 he was scheduled to fight Riddick Bowe when an injury prevented that match. Another New York heavyweight named Gerry Cooney was on a comeback in 1990 getting stopped by “Big” George Foreman, another Texan. At that time Savarese had a professional record of 7-0 with all knockouts.
Bob Spagnola was working for HBA (Houston Boxing Association) and saw Savarese in the 1986 Olympic Sports Festival in Houston, signed him and moved him to Houston. It was a bittersweet year for Savarese whose father passed away that year. He wasn’t crazy about his son being a boxer but drove him some 50 miles to the gym and was always there for him. Savarese was 13-0 with 12 knockouts when HBA folded. He would go onto improving his record to 36-0 and winning the USBA title stopping Buster Mathis, Jr., who was 21-1.
Next up Savarese met the same man that ended Cooney’s career, Foreman, for the WBU title in April of 1997 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He was a former sparring partner of Foreman’s. Savarese lost a split decision to the former world champion having a controversial point deducted in 11th that cost him. HBO judge Harold Lederman had Foreman ahead by one point due to deduction by the referee. Foreman got 4 million and Savarese $500,000.
Foreman’s brother and manager Roy Foreman said: Lou put up a good fight but I never thought it was a split decision. George best him as easy as he did (Shannon) Briggs. George knew I was friends with Lou who at the time trained in Houston under Bob Spagnola. Plus he was always willing to give the younger up and guys a chance (I think he wanted to show he could still compete which he could) and as you’ll see he never tried to knock those guys out as he said “never a punch thrown in anger” and it made them think they could take the old man out. I wish that fight would have been in Houston with both their popularity at the time could have been big.
Savarese’s next fight against David Izon, 18-2, it was even after 4 rounds when he got caught hitting the canvas twice when it was stopped in the fifth round at New York’s Apollo Theater. He bounced back with a couple of knockouts including stopping the former WBC, WBA and IBF champion James “Buster” Douglas, 3-5-1, in the first round after scoring 3 knockdowns for the vacant IBA title.
Next up was 6:08 Lance “Mount” Whitaker, 18-0, in Atlantic City. Whitaker was coming off a win over Alex Stewart, 43-8. It was the same Stewart that Savarese defeated to win the New York Open Golden Gloves in 1986. The fight was close with Savarese possibly having an edge until the 6th round when Whitaker scored with many punches until Savarese took a knee. Referee Steve Smoger counted to 8 and Savarese made it to his feet. He came back in the next round taking it to Whitaker who may have punched himself out. Whitaker was cut along the left eye brow. Both fighters seemed exhausted at the end. It looked like Savarese took six of the ten rounds minus the knockdown and ahead by a point.
Judge Al De Vito had it 95-94 for Whitaker while judges Alan Rubenstein 97-93 and Paul Venti 95-95 voted in favor of Savarese who was the winner by split decision.
Savarese was taking on all comers which included 6:07 Michael Grant, 29-0, at Madison Square Garden in June of 1999 losing a 10 round decision. Savarese seemed flat in this one while Grant got warning after warning from referee James Santa for holding and pushing down but never took away a point. Savarese suffered a cut on his left eye brow. Grant used an affective jab throughout. Savarese got 1.05 million. He later claimed he entered the ring with a bad left shoulder and a fuzzy left eye and admitted he should not have taken the fight. “I told Lou not to take the fight. He had a bad shoulder. His backers from NY wanted it to be a 12 round NABF fight and get $700,000 and I convinced Lou to make it 10 rounds and forget the title and got the purse jacked up higher,” said Bob Spagnola (Lou’s manager for most of his career).
Savarese announced his retirement but it was short lived when he came back almost a year to the day to meet former champion “Iron” Mike Tyson, 47-3, in Glasgow, Scotland in June of 2000. It was a short-lived fight as Tyson landed a left hook high on the forehead of Savarese who went down. When he got up he was on shaky legs. The referee John Coyle allowed Savarese to continue. He took a couple of hard blows from Tyson causing the referee to jump in between them waving it off. Tyson leaped over the referee trying to hit Savarese but fell short causing his arm to take down the referee. It was stopped officially after 0:38 of the first round. Savarese made $800,000.
Then HBO’s Jim Gray tried to interview Tyson who went off about his Muslim religion and how great he was as a fighter and how pertaining to his next opponent Lennox Lewis he wanted to “eat his children!” Some felt in the Savarese fight the referee could have disqualified Tyson if it were not for the fight already being stopped.
It would be eleven months before Savarese would fight again as he started a four fight winning streak with one over Tom Glesby, 26-2-1, who he stopped in the third round. Then a solid decision win over David Bostice, 26-4-1, for the vacant IBA Continental title over 12 rounds with all three judges scoring it 118-109.
I remember talking to “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon, 55-11-1, at an amateur show and he was making fun of my belly after he told me he was fighting Savarese and I told him “we’ll see what happens when you fight Big Lou!” I viewed the fight on TV and Savarese dished out a beating to the former 2-time world champion who held both the WBC and WBA crowns. Savarese stopped Witherspoon in the fifth round. It was Savarese’s first fight in ten months and his only fight in 2002. He took the vacant WBO Inter-Continental title with the win.
There was only one fight in 2003 when Savarese was doing quite well against Canada’s Kirk Johnson, 33-1-1, when suddenly Johnson landed an uppercut dropping Savarese who barely beat the count. Johnson jumped on him causing referee Laurence Cole to call a halt in the fourth round of a scheduled 12. Johnson would fight Vitali Klitschko the end of the year in a WBC elimination bout and get stopped in 2 rounds.
In May of 2004 Savarese would again only fight once in that year losing to Leo “Paco” Nolan, 21-0, over 12 rounds for the vacant IBA Americas title. “I didn’t realize that Nolan was as good as a boxer that he was. He was coming up from a lower weight class,” said Bob Spagnola. He would not come back for twenty-two months scoring three straight knockouts prior to his career ending fight with Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield, 41-8-2. Both fighters by this time were over 40 years old in June of 2007. Holyfield used both hands and “his head” in this one dropping Savarese in the fourth and ninth rounds to take a 10 round decision.
This fight for Savarese was just weeks after his mother at age 66 passed away. He and his wife Louisa have three children, Ciro 14, Luca 12 and Clara 3. They moved back to where Savarese grew up in Greenwood Lake, New York for several years but eventually returned to Houston. “Lou has a great wife and kids,” said Bob Spagnola.
For Savarese he ended up with a 46-7 record with 38 knockouts over an 18 year period in June of 2007. Wins over Douglas, Whitaker and Witherspoon highlighted his career. All his losses were to rated boxers. Being from New York he fought there 15 times. Since moving to Texas he fought in the Lone Star state 11 times. He fought in 13 states and had 2 bouts out of the country, in Canada and Scotland. All in all you knew when “Big” Lou was fighting there were going to be some heavy hitting with 41 of his 53 fights ending in stoppage!
“Lou is a wonderful giving person. I was proud to stand behind him. He had a very solid career and beat good fighters like Douglas, Whitaker and Witherspoon. Even his fight with Foreman could have gone either way,” said Bob Spagnola.
“Lou had great power and strength. I only worked with him several big fights like Tyson. If I’d have known then what I knew now about Tyson I would have not taken the fight,” said Jesse Reid (trainer).
Savarese has done some acting being featured in episodes of “The Jury”, “Guiding Light”, “The Sopranos”, “Damages” and “Rescue Me” as well as the movie “We Own the Night”. He also played a lead role in ESPN’s documentary “Cinderella Man: The James J. Braddock Story” for which he received excellent reviews for his portrayal of boxer Max Bear. Other recent works include the independent film “Nicky’s Game”, “A Matter of Honor”, and “Knock, Knock”, a horror film in which he plays Rico, the villain.
Savarese started his “second boxing career” as a promoter in August of 2009 at the Hilton Americas Hotel and has promoted 47 shows up until now. All his shows have been in the state of Texas with 36 in Houston, 7 in Texas City, 2 in Galveston, and 1 each in Arlington and Humble. “Lou puts his heart and soul into promoting,” said Bob Spagnola.
Savarese has developed some young talent like heavyweight Fred Allen, 14-0-1 (6) who had a shortened career from 2009-2012. Also, Joel Baglio, 9-0-1 (6), in 2011-12. There are four others active today such as featherweight Miguel Flores, 14-0 (7), who turned pro in 2009. Turning pro in 2011 light heavyweight Cedric Agnew, 27-1 (14), who I covered in his only losing bout in a WBO world title bout losing to current WBO, WBA and IBF champion Sergio Kovalev in Atlantic City. Two others are featherweights Juan Leija, 10-1-1 (3), turning pro in 2011 and Pablo Cruz, 11-0 (3), turning pro in 2012.
In June of 2013 the 47 year-old Savarese debuted in his first MMA match stopping Timothy Papp Jr. in the first round. Per Savarese “I have by far the best MMA coach in Saul Solis, Mui Tai coach Chase Corley and of course when it comes to a Boxing coach Bobby Benton.”
“Big” Lou Savarese could have been a world heavyweight champion in another era. Out of his 7 losses he lost to three of the greatest heavyweights of all time in Foreman, Tyson and Holyfield.
He defeated two former champions in Witherspoon and Douglas. Now he’s the busiest promoter in Texas keeping the sport he loves alive! He recently joined forces with Gary Shaw.
“Big” Lou Savarese was gracious enough to answer half a dozen questions:
KEN HISSNER: Were you part of the Abercrombe team that was HBA?
Yes I was. I started with the team when I turned pro.
KEN HISSNER: After you won the USBA title defeating Buster Mathis Jr you lost a split decision to “Big” George Foreman. What were your thoughts on the decision?
It was a close fight but he was George Foreman. One of the judges had it way out of line at 118-110 which I thought was ridiculous.
KEN HISSNER: You beat Lance Whitaker and lose to Michael Grant and Mike Tyson. Were there too many tough fights to close together?
No, my manager was Bob Spagnola who was a great manager. I had a bad shoulder going into the Grant fight but the money was too good to pass up.
KEN HISSNER: What were your thoughts when Mike Tyson jumped over the referee trying to hit you and hit him?
We went back to our corner and my trainer Jesse Reid who is a great trainer and I thought we should have won by disqualification.
KEN HISSNER: Was defeating former world champ Tim Witherspoon one of your greatest wins?
That was a big when but defeating Buster Douglas was a really big win.
KEN HISSNER: You fought Foreman, Izon, Whitaker, Grant, Tyson, Johnson and Holyfield. What fighter would you rate the best?
I would think Holyfield. George Foreman was also tough and in the amateurs Riddick Bowe.
Please send all questions and comments to Ken Hissner at: Kenhissner@gmail.com