Heaven knows, there have been, over the years, some superb heavyweights who never managed to win a world title, not even a version – and plenty of them are still living. Think of excellent heavies such as David Tua, Donovan “Razor” Ruddock, Ike Ibeabuchi, Gerry Cooney, and plenty more. But it just might be – in fact it is (in the opinion of this writer at least) – that the man who was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on this day back in 1937 deserves the distinction, the honour.
George Chuvalo, born Jure Chuvalo, could easily be given another distinction: that of the great survivor. For a long time, both in the ring and then, after having retired to the “safe side” of the ropes, Chuvalo appeared all but bulletproof. Never once knocked down in a single fight, Chuvalo traded bombs and fistic skills with giants Ali, Frazier and Foreman. And nobody could put George down. Not even in sparring.
But later in life, having retired with a 74-18-2(64) record that earned him yet another distinction, that of being one of the finest fighters ever to come out of Canada, Chuvalo was dealt too many cruel blows to comprehend. Chuvalo lost three sons to drugs, his wife unable to cope, taking her own life. George later found himself in financial distress, his life about as tough as anyone could imagine. Chuvalo battled depression the way he had once fought his ring foes. This too failed to fell the great man.
A spell in acting came, before George put all of his energies into a battle against the evil of drugs, this a campaign that would consume him for many years. Travelling and giving passionate, heartfelt speeches that all-but begged young men and women not to fall into the trap that had devoured three of his children, Chuvalo had found his true calling.
Living into advanced age, his faculties intact, his popularity and fame enjoying a new boost due to the internet age and a fine autobiography along with a couple of superb documentaries, Chuvalo seemed to have come out the other side in one fine, magnificent piece. But then, in the cruellest blow ever, George was struck down by the early stages of dementia, this around the time of his 80th birthday.
A messy divorce from his second wife followed, with George also battling, and defeating, Covid in 2022. Chuvalo today has a “volunteer army” looking after him, the army comprised of family members, fans and long-time friends. Who knows how much Chuvalo knows of things today, but if the recent photos that have been released are anything to go by, George, on a good day, can still be found to have the old charm, the glint in his eye, and the lovable quality we fans, well, love him for.
Chuvalo was/is far more than a fighter in the ring. George is a man who never, ever knew how to quit. Even today, at age 86, Chuvalo is fighting the good fight. As unwinnable as it may be.
Happy birthday, champ!