Yet Canada’s Finest Is Still Fighting The Good Fight Today
Has there ever been a tougher fighter, indeed a tougher man, than George Chuvalo? If there has, there is no proof of his existence; at least in terms of film, or anyone still alive who can attest to the fact. No, Chuvalo is one of a kind – but not necessarily in a good way. Fans know all about Chuvalo’s famed, celebrated chin, his rock of a head; the fact that he was never once knocked off his feet in almost 100 pro fights:
“I kissed a lot of girls but I never kissed the canvas,” Chuvalo was too fond of saying. But by the time of his introduction to a new generation of fans, this due to internet articles and fine films such as “The Last Round” paying tribute to his life, the 66-year-old had more than earned the adulation of these people, who lapped up his famed, oft-repeated line. This iron man was also leaving many younger fans in a state of incredulity – how can a fighter, any fighter, be so tough!
But Chuvalo was more than tough; he was also unimaginably unlucky in life. The wars Chuvalo had to fight outside of the ring – his three sons becoming addicted to drugs and dying at a young age; his first wife joining them through suicide – were far harder than anything he had to take inside the ropes. Yet through all the bad times, Chuvalo remained stoic, he refused to buckle. He displayed immense strength and dignity where many lesser mortals would have given up on life. Chuvalo kept going, fighting for a cause.
But the fight Chuvalo is engaged in today is one he cannot come close to winning.
It was in the month of July in 1967 when a starving hungry Joe Frazier became the first man to stop Chuvalo; Frazier’s lethal handiwork busting Chuvalo’s eye up in gruesome fashion, the eye a slit, the eyeball feeling as though “it had been knocked out,” according to the fighter himself. After the fight in New York, the calls for Chuvalo to retire were, if not quite deafening, then more than enough to interrupt a good night’s sleep. But Irv Ungerman, Chuvalo’s manager, lost no sleep; instead looking to book further fights for his most famous fighter.
And so George fought on – for 11 years. Having taken all Muhammad Ali, Floyd Patterson, Zora Folley, Oscar Bonavena, and others could land on him, George went on to take the hard hits of Jerry Quarry (a win for Chuvalo), George Foreman, Cleveland Williams, and Ali again. Yet when he did call it a career, after a win that saw him leave the ring as Canadian champ once again, Chuvalo had all of his faculties.
Dabbling in acting (“The Fly” and a couple of other movies) George was then forced to accept his most honorable role: that of becoming a fierce and eloquently spoken anti-drug advocate. Chuvalo spoke to many thousands of young people in person and, hopefully, if they were listening, many more through social media and TV and radio and via his superb 2013 memoir.
But soon after, in the cruelest hand dealt with him, indeed, the most terrible dose of the bad stuff imaginable for someone who had already battled against so much, George was struck down by dementia. It’s tough to write about this. A genuine hero to millions, Chuvalo was for a long time looked at as an indestructible force, a super-human entity that had to and did fight and conquer all that came his way. Now, his cognitive skills deteriorating daily, Chuvalo has only a limited memory; only a foggy recall of his braver than brave fights.
George is still with us – having outlived Frazier, Ali, Quarry, Williams, Patterson and so many others – but he’s not really. He is no longer the George Chuvalo we all love and celebrate. Instead, Chuvalo is a great former fighter, a great human being – but one who gave way, way, way too much than is at all fair. And he is unable to talk about it anymore.
George Chuvalo – a pro from April of 1956 to December of 1978. 73-18-2(63). Never once knocked off his feet.