George Chuvalo took all the punches his opponents had, but losing his family to drugs is a pain he can't shake off
By JOE WARMINGTON TORONTO SUN
No one ever knocked him down.
It's amazing how many tough rounds George Chuvalo has fought. It's equally as impressive how the Canadian icon is still out there fighting -- to keep our kids off the dope that resulted in the deaths of three of his sons and the eventual suicide of their mother.
Tough punches. Most would have been knocked to the canvas long ago. Not George Chuvalo. If he can save one kid from going down the path of drugs, he'll stand in there for whatever punishment the competition brings.
"You try to make the best of a bad situation. I am doing okay for not being okay," he said. "It's a private hell. You can't lose three sons and all of a sudden say it's all right. It's never going to be all right. I live with it and do the best I can."
And helping other parents avoid the same tragedy is part of that. There's not a week that goes by where Chuvalo is not speaking somewhere.
FIGHT AGAINST DRUGS
Take tonight, May 9, 2006, when about 1,000 friends and fans will pack the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for the George Chuvalo Canadian Tribute Dinner -- a black-tie affair to help raise money for the Fight Against Drugs charity.
Lots of big names are expected at the $500 a plate dinner -- including Dickie Duff, Darryl Sittler, Bert Sugar and Fergie Jenkins.
Last minute tickets are available at 416-224-9990.
This is a big night for George who has had some big ones before.
The Canadian heavyweight champ from 1958 to 1979 fought George Foreman, Floyd Patterson and Joe Frazier.
But the biggest one was March 29, 1966 -- 40 years ago -- that the Canadian heavyweight champion George Chuvalo squared off against the world heavyweight champion, the Louisville Lip himself, Muhammad Ali.
It was a classic billing at Maple Leaf Gardens and was, really, the movie Rocky before Stallone could even spell "Yo, Adrianne."
What you had here was the high profile, big talking, flashy champ against the loveable ethnic kid with a strong work-ethic, a big heart and an even bigger punch.
What a script! Where the heck are the Canadian movie makers? "I believe it was the most electric night in Toronto ever," says boxing expert and radio personality Spider Jones. "The city was on fire and everybody was there -- including Joe Louis."
The 40th anniversary of the legendary fight kind of got past the local media, where we tend to focus on the Maple Leafs and Raptors. But there was no second billing on that night four decades ago.
"You couldn't get a ticket for that thing," says Spider, who sparred with Ali at Sully's gym and snuck in with the champ's entourage.
But he was pulling for his friend, the Canadian.The whole country was.
There was also a lot of controversy about Ali at that time -- mostly about him not going to Vietnam.
George said he didn't know what all the fuss was about. "I said I am not American, I am Canadian, so I guess I was sympathetic to him."
Ali appreciated that and they are friends to this day. "I like him and I think he likes me," said Chuvalo.
But there was no love lost in the ring. George took his fair share of jabs but he landed a few, too -- mostly to Ali's mid section.
John Gold of the New York Evening News wrote: "Cassius Clay came to play and was forced to fight.
"George Chuvalo is the hero of international boxing."
Ali agreed, joking though, "George's head is the hardest thing I ever punched."
"George is tougher than Terrell, tougher than Patterson, tougher than Liston. Look at these hands -- they're so bruised, I can't shake hands with anyone."
George fired back: "He was very quick but he was not a hard puncher. But he was tougher than he looks. I always said he was too good-looking to be that tough."
Love that stuff. At the end of the fight the decision went to Ali and years later when people say to George, "Hey, you made it 15 rounds with The Greatest" his answer is always the same. "You mean, he made it!"
And he's not kidding. "He's the guy who went to the hospital after that fight," Chuvalo said. "He had problems with his kidneys. I heard he was passing blood for 16 days."
Now you see why whether it's 1966 or 2006, you just can't knock George Chuvalo down.