Canuck boxer KO’d by life it­self

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Ge­off Kirbyson

CANADA’S great­est-ever heavy­weight boxer has been dealt some of the most crush­ing blows imag­in­able. But none of them came from Muham­mad Ali, Ge­orge Fore­man or Joe Fra­zier in the squared cir­cle. In­stead, it was Ge­orge Chu­valo’s own wife and sons who floored him. The man with the great­est chin in box­ing his­tory comes ever-so-close to reach­ing the top of the sport­ing moun­tain while also bot­tom­ing out with the low­est lows in this en­ter­tain­ing and even­tu­ally gut-wrench­ing au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. When talk­ing about his life in the ring, Chu­valo, now 76, is not short on con­fi­dence. He has good rea­son. InI his 73 pro vic­to­ries,ie he knocked out 64 op­po­nents, a ra­tio of 87.6 per cent, the fourth-high­est of all-a time. (He also had 18 de­feats and two draws.) And even though he went toeto-toe with some of the great­est fight­ers ofo all time, he never oonce hit the can­vas. Ar­guably his great­est sport­ing mo­ment came in his na­tive coun­try when he fought the leg­endary Ali for the world heavy­weight ti­tle at Maple Leaf Gar­dens in Toronto on March 29, 1966. He went 15 rounds but lost a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion, all for a pay­day of $12,500. “He was the tough­est guy I’ve ever fought,” Ali said at the time. The Great­est had no idea how tough Chu­valo ac­tu­ally would be fol­low­ing his re­tire­ment in 1978. His youngest son, Jesse, a heroin ad­dict, com­mit­ted sui­cide in 1985. His third son, Ge­orgie Lee, died in 1993 of a heroin over­dose. A cou­ple of days af­ter his death, Chu­valo’s wife, Lynne, un­able to bear the pain of los­ing a sec­ond child, took her own life by swal­low­ing a bunch of pills. Three years later, Chu­valo’s sec­ond son Steven also died of a heroin over­dose in 1996, just days af­ter get­ting out of jail. (Their re­main­ing son, Mitch, be­came a teacher in Toronto, and Chu­valo also has a daugh­ter, Vanessa.) Some read­ers might be dis­ap­pointed so much of the book is ded­i­cated to Chu­valo’s fights — he fought an av­er­age of nearly five times a year dur­ing his ca­reer, an un­heard of sched­ule to­day — and just 30 pages de­tail­ing his per­sonal hell. De­spite Chu­valo’s hav­ing ab­sorbed so many punches dur­ing his ca­reer, the writ­ing in this mem­oir is clear-headed — no doubt thanks to his co-au­thor, vet­eran Ed­mon­ton Jour­nal sports­writer Mur­ray Greig. The book takes the reader back in time. (A lit­tle more de­tail about the first Ali fight would have been ap­pre­ci­ated, though.) It has some sim­i­lar­i­ties to Su­gar Ray Leonard’s 2012 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring, with a blow-by-blow de­tail of many of his fights. Chu­valo, how­ever, never lived any­thing close to the Hol­ly­wood life­style Leonard did. Chu­valo beats him­self up for not be­ing more aware of the de­mons his boys were fac­ing and for not be­ing able to do more to pre­vent their deaths and that of his wife. He says the hurt from his “per­sonal holo­caust” never goes away.

“When you’re awake and fully con­scious, your mind kind of shields and pro­tects you,” he writes. “But once I stop, once things slow down and the TV is off, the lights are off and I’m alone in the dark with my own thoughts, I have a hard time. A very hard time. Al­ways. It’s like an anx­i­ety at­tack that takes your breath away. I think, ‘How can you even live af­ter all that? How the hell did it all hap­pen?’” It’s a ques­tion deeper thinkers than Chu­valo have failed to an­swer. Free Press reporter Ge­off Kirbyson is an

am­a­teur boxer.

Chu­valo A Fighter’s Life The Story of Box­ing’s

Last Gla­di­a­tor By Ge­orge Chu­valo with Mur­ray Greig HarperCollins, 357

pages, $34

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