Leg­endary Canuck boxer Ge­orge Chu­valo out­lasts other ring greats – he’s 80 to­day

24 Hours Toronto - - Front page - SIM­MONS

Muham­mad Ali, struck by Parkin­son’s dis­ease at the age of 42, whis­per­ing and shak­ing in his final years, died be­fore his 75th birth­day.

Joe Fra­zier mum­bled for most of his post-fight­ing life, dif­fi­cult to hear, some­times dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand. He passed away at the age of 67.

Floyd Pat­ter­son, the heavy­weight cham­pion be­fore ei­ther of them, was later di­ag­nosed with brain dam­age. He lived un­til 71.

So many of the names that mat­tered most on Ge­orge Chu­valo’s defin­ing win-loss record of 93 pro­fes­sional fights — al­most every­one ex­cept the grill sales­man Ge­orge Foreman — are gone. Jimmy El­lis at 74; Ernie Terrell at 75; Jerry Quarry, with se­vere brain dam­age, at 53. Cleve­land Wil­liams at 66. Buster Mathis at 69. Zora Fol­ley at 41. Os­car Bon­avena, just 34. Yvon Durelle at 78.

And here is Ge­orge Chu­valo, still stand­ing, still speak­ing to schools, still sign­ing all the au­to­graphs, out­last­ing al­most all of the champions he fought over the years, all those who pounded on him and he pounded back, all those who never were able to knock him off his feet.

He is still up­right, fists out, al­ways in po­si­tion to pose for a pho­to­graph and about to do some­thing the great­est of champions of his life — Ali, Fra­zier, Pat­ter­son and Sonny Lis­ton, whom he never fought — could never claim.

Ge­orge Chu­valo cel­e­brates his 80 birth­day on Tues­day with a clear mind and a soft­ened voice, and Toronto will cel­e­brate this mon­u­men­tal event in style.

A night hosted by Michael Wek­erle of Dragon’s Den fame planned by some of Chu­valo’s friends, will be held at the Cadil­lac Lounge on Queen St. West, with tick­ets listed at $40 and a chance to rub shoul­ders will some celebri­ties and some who think they are celebri­ties. The mu­si­cal guests in­clude Goddo’s Greg Godovitz — one Toronto leg­end play­ing for an­other.

It’s also ex­pected that the un­der­stated Don Cherry will be there along­side his side­kick, Ron MacLean, and the wannabe Toronto mayor, Doug Ford. But the night is less about the mu­sic and the pseudo-celebri­ties and more about the multi-time Cana­dian cham­pion who has de­feated time and cir­cum­stance and the brain dam­age that has af­fected so many of his op­po­nents and ath­letes of our sports.

Some­how, they’ve gone down for the count. He’s still stand­ing.

Chu­valo has had a re­mark­able and crush­ing life, both sides of it hav­ing been doc­u­mented so many times over the years. The most hideous de­feats were not in the ring — the loss of two sons to drugs, an­other son to sui­cide, his beloved wife to sui­cide. Some­how, he kept on liv­ing; I have no idea how.

In the ring, he was of a gen­er­a­tion so dif­fer­ent than this cur­rent one, when the heavy­weight cham­pi­onship of the world was the great­est ti­tle in sport, when box­ing was main­stream and truly mat­tered.

He fought 20 times at Maple Leaf Gar­dens, nine times at the famed Madi­son Square Gar­den. Imag­ine that by to­day’s stan­dards. “There was noth­ing like (the old) Madi­son Square,” Chu­valo once told me. “That walk to the ring. I don’t think any­thing in sports com­pares to it.”

He fought for the WBA world cham­pi­onship at the Gar­dens — once Terrell, who be­came an al­pha­bet cham­pion in Ali’s protested ab­sence. He wasn’t close in go­ing the dis­tance twice with Ali, but he was close with Terrell, and in maybe his great­est fight, his 1965 clas­sic with Pat­ter­son, he de­feated the for­mer cham­pion ev­ery­where but on the score­cards.

That bout was Ring Magazine’s fight of the year. At a time when ev­ery­body fought ev­ery­body and we all knew their names.

Chu­valo took some aw­ful beat­ings — most no­tably against Fra­zier and the young slug­ger Foreman, who was 12 years his ju­nior. But he al­ways came back. He won 12 of his next 13 fights af­ter last­ing just four rounds with Smokin’ Joe. That was Chu­valo — he just kept on keep­ing on.

All the while he was be­ing urged to quit, to get out be­fore he got hurt. All of that seems so ironic now.

“They’d write that I was ‘punch drunk,’ ” Chu­valo wrote in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. “Or that I should quit be­fore I got brain dam­age. To them, I was a freak of na­ture, a hu­man shock ab­sorber. Read­ing the old clip­pings, you’d think I never did any­thing ex­cept get hit.”

Be­fore Ali died, he ad­mit­ted to hav­ing a cer­tain love for Chu­valo. It was the same with Fra­zier. The same with Pat­ter­son. Love and ad­mi­ra­tion and re­spect.

Re­cently, in Las Ve­gas, I ran into the old ref­eree Joe Cortez. I told him where I was from. He asked me the ques­tion I’ve been asked so many times be­fore: How’s Ge­orge Chu­valo do­ing?

“Still stand­ing,” I said, “still stand­ing.”

Ge­orge Chu­valo’s 80th birth­day will be cel­e­brated in an event on Tues­day night at the Cadil­lac Lounge in Toronto. Tick­ets start at $40.



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