Canuck boxer KO’d by life itself
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
Chuvalo A Fighter’s Life The Story of Boxing’s
Last Gladiator By George Chuvalo with Murray Greig HarperCollins, 357