When we take a look at the list of greatest Canadian boxers, certain names are going to pop up. You can expect to see George Dixon there, and you absolutely can expect to see George Chuvalo.
George Chuvalo was described by Muhammad Ali as the toughest guy he ever fought, and that is no exaggeration. He was a man who was never knocked out, and it was said he had the greatest chin in boxing.
Born to Croatian immigrants in 1937 in Toronto, Chuvalo’s family was incredibly tough. His mother plucked chickens in a factory, while his father, who only had one good arm, worked skinning cattle at the slaughterhouse. It was said that when he got his mandated two weeks off each year, he would go to work and sit and stare at the two men who replaced him for that week.
As for Chuvalo, he would become the Canadian amateur heavyweight champion at the age of only 18 in 1955 after he defeated Peter Piper in a tournament final in Regina.
Over the course of 16 fights in his amateur career, Chuvalo would finish with 16-0-0 record, all by knockout without four rounds.
In 1956, with the nickname of Boom Boom, he turned professional and kicked things off by knocking out four opponents in one night to win the heavyweight tournament at Maple Leaf Gardens on April 26, 1956.
On Sept. 15, 1958, only three days after he turned 21, he would claim the Canadian Heavyweight title after knocking out James Parker two minutes into the first round.
He would lose his title to Bob Cleroux in 1960, then regain it from him, then lost it to him again.
His dream was to become the World Heavyweight Champion, and in 1962 he would reach number two in the world.
In 1965, he would get his first chance at being World Champion when he fought Ernie Tyrell on November 1.
Chuvalo would take the fight to a full 15 rounds. When the bout was over, the media swarmed Chuvalo believing he was going be crowned the World Champion. Instead, the referees announced that he had lost the match by decision.
There have been many amazing fights in Chuvalo’s career, but he is best known for fighting Muhammad Ali twice, and going the distance in both fights before losing by decision. The first fight was on March 29, 1966 at Maple Leaf Gardens. Prior to the fight, Ali called Chuvalo “the washerwoman”, mocking his opponent who had only signed up to fight Ali 17 days previous. Chuvalo got his revenge for the insult by going a full 15 rounds, something no one had ever done to that point with Ali.
It was after that fight Ali would say that Chuvalo was the toughest man he ever fought.
Chuvalo would say following the fight, “when it was over, Ali was the guy who went to the hospital because he was pissing blood. Me? I went dancing with my wife. No question, I got the best of that deal.”
The two would fight again at Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver on May 1, 1972.
In 1968, he defeated Jean Claude Roy to reclaim his title, which he would hold until 1979.
Over the course of his career, Chuvalo would fight several notable boxers including Floyd Patterson on Feb. 1, 1965 in Madison Square Garden, Joe Frazier on July 19, 1967, also at Madison Square Garden and George Foreman in New York on August 4, 1970.
By the end of his career, he would finish with a record of 72 wins, which included 63 knockouts, 19 losses but never by knockout and two draws. In all, he was the Canadian Heavyweight Champion for 21 years.
Following his boxing career, he would make over 1,000 appearances across the continent, speaking to students, young offenders, youth-at-risk, support groups and more. He also runs the program Fight Against Drugs, and encourages youth to respect themselves and make good decisions like staying in school. His work with youth and against drugs comes from the fact that two of his sons sadly died from heroin overdoses, while a third killed himself while struggling with heroin addiction. His work with youth would get him awarded the keys to his hometown of Toronto.
The honours for Chuvalo are numerous in Canada and beyond.
In 1990, he was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. In 1995, he became a member of the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame and in 1997, he was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
Our Lady Peace would put a picture of Chuvalo on the cover of their 2012 album Curve.
In 1998, he was named to the Order of Canada. In 2005, he was awarded a spot on Canada’s Walk of Fame. In 2019, the George Chuvalo Community Centre, a 7,000 square foot facility in Toronto, was opened. A statue of Chuvalo is on display in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Maybe the biggest honour though, comes from Pancer’s Original Delicatessen in North York, which named a sandwich for him. The six-decade old restaurant has never named a sandwich after anyone, but Chuvalo, a long-time customer, was honoured for his charity work.
Information comes from Wikipedia, Canadian Encyclopedia, Canadas Walk of Fame, Ontario Heritage Trust, Irish Times and Sun Media.