George Chuvalo is a Canadian boxing legend who stood as our country's national champion for twenty years. Ranked as high as Number Two in the world, Chuvalo stayed in the top 10 for most of his career and appeared numerous times on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Incredibly, in 97 professional fights in a sport where toughness is part of the job description, Chuvalo was never knocked out or knocked down.
From the first time he picked up Ring magazine, Chuvalo knew he wanted to become a boxer. He trained hard and moved quickly up the amateur ranks, turning professional in 1956 at the age of 18. In 1954, Chuvalo had been the first boxer chosen to represent Canada at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne; in those days, however, amateur athletes received no financial backing and Chuvalo had to make the decision to bypass the Olympics and go pro in order to support himself.
Chuvalo was young, tough and the hottest up-and-comer in Canadian boxing. Most experts agreed he had a bright future ahead of him and he emerged as the top contender for the Canadian Heavyweight title. "I used to dream of being champion," Chuvalo said at the time. "The thrill of combat, the thrill of winning, it's just something I know I want to do."
On September 15, 1958, three days after his 21st birthday, Chuvalo realized his dream of winning the Canadian Heavyweight title after knocking out James Parker just two minutes into the first round.
But Chuvalo had bigger dreams. He wanted to be Heavyweight champion of the world. Chuvalo racked up an impressive record against formidable opponents and by 1962 he had achieved Number 2 in the world. Chuvalo's first big break came after he KO'd high-ranking Doug Jones on October 2, 1964 in New York's Madison Square Garden. Two bouts later, on April 30, 1965, Chuvalo was back in the Big Apple, only this time against Floyd Patterson, former two-time world champion, with the winner getting a shot at Muhammad Ali's title. In this bout voted "1965 Fight of the Year" by Ring magazine, Chuvalo and Patterson went head-to-head all twelve rounds with Patterson winning by decision.
Later that year, on November 1, 1965, at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Chuvalo got his first shot at the title against World Champion Ernie Tyrell. Again, Chuvalo forced the fight through a full fifteen rounds. After the bell, media swarmed Chuvalo's corner, eager to be the first to interview the new champion. They and most boxing experts were shocked when the referee announced that Chuvalo had lost the match by decision.
On March 29, 1966, Chuvalo fought the first of his two famous title bouts with Muhammad Ali, again at home at Maple Leaf Gardens. With only 17 days notice, Chuvalo was fearsome in the ring and forced Ali to defend himself through 15 long rounds. Midway through the 15th round, Chuvalo landed four vicious blows to Ali's jaw and a wicked right to the head, but was unable to put Ali down for the count. Although Chuvalo lost the fight on decision, Ali later said, "He was the toughest man I ever fought." And Chuvalo quipped, "Guess who went to the hospital and guess who went out dancing with his wife!"
Chuvalo would face off again with Ali in 1972 in Vancouver, and also take on the rest of the best of his era including Joe Frazier, Jerry Quarry, George Foreman, Manuel Ramos, Alex Miteff and Willie Besmanoff.
By the time he retired as undisputed Heavyweight Champion of Canada in 1979, Chuvalo's professional record was an impressive 73 wins (64 by knockout), 18 losses and two draws.
After Chuvalo retired, he remained in the public eye in numerous films, television shows and commercials, including a turn as the barroom bully on the wrong side of a famous arm-wrestling match with Jeff Goldblum in David Cronenberg's The Fly.
Since 1995, Chuvalo has taken on a new role - as a tireless and inspirational anti-drug advocate and public speaker. Tragically, Chuvalo has lost three sons to drug abuse and suicide; overcome with grief, his first wife took her own life after the death of their second son.
Chuvalo has made over 1,000 appearances in Canada and the U.S. to students, Young Offenders and youth-at-risk, support groups and many others to talk about what happens to a family when one of its members uses drugs. Through his program, Fight Against Drugs, Chuvalo also encourages youth to respect themselves and make prudent choices like staying in school and loving one's family. In 1998, Chuvalo proudly received the Order of Canada for this work
In 97 professional fights, George Chuvalo was never knocked down or out once. On March 29 1966, Chuvalo fought the incredible Muhammad Ali. Although Chuvalo lost the fight due to decision, Ali later said that that "He was the toughest man I ever fought." In 1995, Chuvalo took on the role as a tireless and inspirational anti-drug advocate and public speaker.
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