Name: George Chuvalo
Birthplace: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Height: 6′ 0″ / 183cm
Boxing Record: click
Manager: Irving Ungerman
Trainer: Teddy McWhorter
Cut Men: Whitey Bimstein, Freddie Brown, Johnny Sullo
George Chuvalo, who was born to Croatian parents and grew up in a tough neighborhood called "The Junction" in Toronto, boxed professionally from 1956 to 1978. The Ring magazine described him as "a barrel chested, bullet proof heavyweight with killer instinct and hitting power."
In an interview with Graham Houston in 1998, Chuvalo said that although he is known mostly for being able to absorb punches, he could box a bit, too. "If I got hit with one-tenth of the punches that I was reputed to have been hit with," he said, "I wouldn't be able to talk to you."
Chuvalo won the Canadian Amateur Heavyweight Championship in May 1955, defeating Winnipeg's Peter Piper by a first-round knockout in the tournament final. Chuvalo was chosen to represent Canada at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, but he decided to bypass the Olympics and turn pro in order to support himself. His amateur record was 16-0, with 16 knockouts.
He turned pro in Toronto on April 23, 1956. He knocked out four opponents that night to win the Jack Dempsey Heavyweight Novice Tournament. Dempsey, who promoted the tournament with Frank Tunney and Deacon Allen, refereed the final between Chuvalo and Gordon Baldwin, which Chuvalo won by a second-round knockout. Chuvalo received $500 and a trophy.
Chuvalo defeated James J. Parker by a first-round knockout to win the vacant Canadian Heavyweight Championship in September 1958. Between August 1960 and August 1961, Chuvalo and Montreal's Bob Cleroux fought three times in Montreal for the title. Cleroux won the first by a hotly disputed 12-round split decision, Chuvalo won the second by a 12-round unanimous decision, and Cleroux won the third by a 12-round split decision. Chuvalo became the Canadian Heavyweight Champion for a third time when he scored a first-round knockout of Hugh Mercier to win the vacant title in the latter's hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan, in March 1964.
In November 1965, Chuvalo fought Ernie Terrell in Toronto for the World Boxing Association Heavyweight Championship and lost by a 15-round unanimous decision. Four months later, Chuvalo fought Muhammad Ali for the lineal World Heavyweight Championship in Toronto. Chuvalo took the bout on 17 days' notice after Terrell withdrew due to a contract dispute. Ali defeated Chuvalo by a 15-round unanimous decision. "He's the toughest guy I ever fought," Ali said after the fight.
"Henry Cooper would never take me on when he was British and Empire Champion. In his biography, he referred to me as a handful and the British Boxing Board of Control always protected him," Chuvalo said. "Also, the Canadian Boxing Federation would never take a stand on my behalf, and that remains a sore point. They were intimidated by England, which was the mother country, the leader of the Empire.”
When Chuvalo was training in England to face Joe Bygraves in 1965, he spotted Jim Wicks, Cooper’s manager, in the gym. "So I went over to him and said, 'Mr. Wicks, George Chuvalo.' He nods his head," Chuvalo recalled. "I said, 'When is Henry Cooper going to meet me in the ring?' And Wicks says to me, 'George, he doesn’t even want to meet you socially.' Wicks then laughed."
Chuvalo initially retired in 1973, but he returned to the ring in March 1977 to fight Bob Felstein for vacant Canadian Heavyweight Championship. Chuvalo knocked Felstein out in the ninth round to win the title for a fourth time. Chuvalo won his next two fights by knockout and then retired for good.
After Chuvalo retired from boxing, he remained in the public eye by appearing in numerous films, television shows, and commercials. His best known role was playing a barroom bully on the wrong side of an arm wrestling match with Jeff Goldblum in the 1986 movie The Fly.
Chuvalo also experienced a great deal of tragedy in the years following his retirement. Three of his four sons—Jesse, Georgie Lee, and Steven—got hooked on heroin. Jesse committed suicide in 1985, and Georgie Lee died from an overdose in 1993. Shortly after Georgie Lee's death, Chuvalo's wife, Lynne, committed suicide. Three years later, Steven died from an overdose.
"I only have my oldest son alive and my only daughter, who is my fifth child," Chuvalo said in 2010. "She is still alive and my oldest son is still alive."
Chuvalo's granddaughter passed away in 2013. "She was a beautiful girl, a school teacher, who spoke three languages," Chuvalo told The Ring. "In many ways, losing her almost sent me over the top. I loved her like crazy, and she had her whole life ahead of her. She was only 30 years old."
Since the deaths of his sons and wife, Chuvalo has been a tireless and inspirational anti-drug advocate and public speaker.
Chuvalo's autobiography, Chuvalo: A Fighter's Life, was published in 2014.
Honors & Awards
- Floyd Patterson vs. George Chuvalo was named 1965 Fight of the Year by The Ring magazine.
- Inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.
- Inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997.
- Inducted into the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame in 1998.
- Awarded the C.M. (Member of the Order of Canada) in 1998.
- Inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame in 2005.