George Chuvalo Vs. Joe Erskine - October 2nd, 1961 - The Greatest Win Of Erskine's Career

03.10.06 - By James Slater: Exactly forty-five years ago yesterday, Canadian heavyweight legend George Chuvalo engaged in a fight that, if he’d won it, would have earned him his first crack at the heavyweight championship of the world. In the opposing corner was the Welshman, Joe Erskine, a boxer who was about to achieve a victory that has to go down as the finest one of his entire career. If the twenty-four year old Chuvalo had won he would have fought heavyweight ruler Floyd Patterson two months later. He didn’t. Disqualified, somewhat controversially, in the fifth round due to head butting, George would have to wait some five years before challenging for the world crown. When this opportunity came, however, it would not be against Floyd.

As for the erstwhile Erskine, despite his shock win over the rugged and hard punching Chuvalo he was not rewarded with anything quite as glorious as a heavyweight world title fight.

Instead, he fought the fifth and final fight in his series with British boxing legend Henry Cooper. He lost by stoppage in nine rounds. His five meetings with “Our ’Enery” were memorable encounters though. In fights one and two, Joe out pointed Cooper. While in the next three bouts he was KO’d - spectacularly on one occasion. By beating Chuvalo, however, he had topped any win that Henry had achieved, or would achieve. Still, his win was something of a one off at world level. George on the other hand, would go on to feature prominently at the highest level.

The loss to Erskine must rank as one of the biggest upsets of George’s entire career. It had also left him feeling very disappointed. One win he was away from a crack at the championship, and Chuvalo was set back. For a while at least. The fight with Patterson would eventually come off, but not in a bout that would contest the world title. Floyd you see, had boxed his last successful title defence against George’s replacement. Not against the man who had upset Chuvalo, but against the drafted in Tom McNeeley. After this fourth round stoppage, Patterson met one Charles “Sonny” Liston. The rest is history. Still, when the eventual meeting between George and Floyd came off it was more than worth the wait. Okay, it wasn’t for the title - by 1965, the time of their fight, Muhammad Ali was the new king, having embarrassed Liston one year previously. But what George and Floyd did together in the ring at Madison Square Garden in February of ’65 was truly unforgettable, a battle worthy of receiving Ring magazine’s fight of the year award. Perhaps they were destined to meet after all. Certainly the fans were more than happy that they did collide that night.

As for Chuvalo’s world title chance, his one and only crack at the “real” title (with respect to Georges’ fight with Ernie Terrell for the WBA version in a 1965 contest) came the following year - against Ali. With the loss to Erskine now all but forgotten, George’s big chance arrived. Possibly supplying the blueprint that Joe Frazier would use in becoming the first man to beat The Greatest some five years later, Chuvalo pushed the champion all the way. Eventually losing a hard fought fifteen rounder. In this fight the legendary status of George’s chin and stamina was brought forth for the boxing world to see.

Actually, George would become a boxing legend period. For more reasons than his toughness. Although it is probably due to this ( to Mr. Chuvalo’s displeasure) that George is so well known today. Chuvalo knew he was more than just a durable catcher, as he makes clear in his recent movie, “The Long Round.” But his toughness was such that former king, the late, great Rocky Marciano, was moved to remark that if all heavyweight title fights were scheduled for fifty rounds George would have been unbeatable. “The Rock” may well have been right in his assumption. After all, George was never once knocked off his feet in over ninety pro fights. That’s some record.

But what of the man who so sensationally defeated Chuvalo back in 1961? Well, Joe went on to be KO’d by not only Cooper, but by the German Karl Mildenberger and then by another Brit in Billy Walker. His career was over in 1964, only three years after gaining his finest win. In comparison, George’s career saw him battle on, in many high profile and super fights, right up until the year 1978 - some twenty-two years after making his pro debut.

George may have been deflated after losing to Joe Erskine, some thirty-five years ago, but that fight, despite being a fine win for the Welshman, was to become nothing more than a footnote in the career of a Canadian heavyweight hero.

Article posted on 04.10.2006

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