By Bill Ross
INSIDE THE ROPES
He was the heavyweight contender who scored more KO's than Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis while scoring more KO's than Rocky Marciano, Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson had fights. He was the only fighter who fought top ten all-time great heavyweight champions Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman. He was the first fighter to last 15 rounds against Muhammad Ali and was later referred to by Ali as the toughest man he ever fought.
Rocky Marciano once said that if all of this fighter's fights were a hundred rounds he would be unbeaten in any era. He is the only fighter to hold a ten count KO win over Jerry Quarry. He competed in the greatest heavyweight era of all-time was rated as high as #2 in the world and fought 6 heavyweight champions. His name is George Chuvalo, in the right place at the wrong time.
Mention the name George Chuvalo to the average boxing fan and the first thing that comes to mind is a fighter with the unmatched ability to absorb punishment. While George unquestionably had a granite chin which kept him upright through 93 fights, an examination of Chuvalo's boxing career illustrates a fighter who was so much more. In 73 career wins, Chuvalo scored an incredible 64 KO's with 35 of those KO's coming in 3 rounds or less. George Foreman and Mike Tyson are the only heavyweight champions who had a higher KO per win ratio than Chuvalo's impressive 87%. How many all-time great heavyweight champions would have lasted 15 competitive rounds on a mere 17 days notice with a near prime 1966 Muhammad Ali?
Chuvalo fought in the most competitive, talented era of heavyweight boxing ever. Consider this impressive list of fighters Chuvalo faced. Muhammad Ali (twice), George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Floyd Patterson, Jimmy Ellis, Buster Mathis, Ernie Terrell, Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonevena, Zora Folley, Cleveland Williams, Doug Jones, Manuel Ramos and Bob Baker. Imagine today's top 10 heavyweight ranking featuring any 10 of the 14 boxers on this list. Other than Muhammad Ali, no heavyweight champion in history ever faced this calibre of opponents. How successful would the current crop of top heavyweights like Hasim Rachman, John Ruiz, Lamon Brewster or James Toney be if they had to face these fighters?
As you will see, Chuvalo's career is also an example of a young talented heavyweight being mis-managed and over matched with more experienced professionals early in his career. Had Chuvalo been managed by someone like Angelo Dundee whose cautious, patient, progressive match-making helped develop the careers of star pupils Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, there is no telling what heights Chuvalo could have reached professionally.
Chuvalo's career is also an illustration of what the fight game once was, when fighters didn't sign million dollar pay-per-view contracts, and didn't hand pick their opponents based on the most financially lucrative fight. By comparison it was a time when hungry fighters like Chuvalo fought often, taking on anyone with any record or reputation, at short notice and many times with only days between fights. It was a time when the big money didn't exist and fighters like Chuvalo fought frequently to support themselves and their families.
Born in 1937 and raised in Toronto Canada, Chuvalo began his professional boxing career in 1956 competing in the Jack Dempsey Heavyweight Novice Tournament in Toronto's hockey shrine Maple Leaf Gardens. Chuvalo went undefeated by knocking out 4 opponents on the same day. All of Chuvalo's opponents were making their professional debuts in the tournament. How many fighters can boast of a 4-0 record after one day as a pro?
In Chuvalo's first fight against an opponent with any professional experience he faced Johnny Arthur a seasoned professional with a respectable 30-7 with 24 KO's record. Arthur at the time was the South African heavyweight champion and in his previous fight 2 months earlier had dropped a 10 round decision to future world light heavyweight champion Willie Pastrano. Two years prior, Arthur had dropped a 15 round decision to heavyweight contender Don Cockell, who the following year would last 9 rounds for the heavyweight championship against Rocky Marciano. Fighting in only his 5th pro fight, and giving away 27 lbs, Chuvalo incredibly won a unanimous 8 round decision over the vastly more experienced Arthur.
In Chuvalo's 7th pro fight he faced Howard King a 31-10-5 fighter who had already fought heavyweight contenders Zora Folley (twice), Eddie Machen and the then current light heavyweight champion and future hall of famer Archie Moore. King had been Moore's first opponent back after facing heavyweight champion Marciano. Chuvalo suffered his first loss in this fight, losing by decision to the vastly more experienced King.
After chalking up 6 straight wins including 5 straight KO's Chuvalo next faced heavyweight contender Bob Baker in 1957, a seasoned 47-11-1 professional. Prior to facing Chuvalo, Baker had fought contenders Rex Layne (3 times), Nino Valdes (two times), Coley Wallace (twice), Hurricane Jackson (twice), Jimmy Bivins, Clarence Henry, Bob Satterfield, Coley Wallace, Eddie Machen, Roy Harris, Cesar Silverio Brion and Archie Moore. In just his 14th professional bout Chuvalo lost a decision to yet another vastly more experience opponent.
After avenging his first loss with a second round KO over King, Chuvalo drew with Alex Miteff then won the Canadian heavyweight championship in 1958 with a one round KO over James Parker. Having never fought outside of Toronto, Chuvalo next faced Pat McMurtry in New York's boxing shrine Madison Square Garden. McMurtey, who owned a win over former heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles, won a ten round decision.
Chuvalo would close the 1950's with a dominant 5 knockdown 12th round KO of light-heavyweight contender Yvon Durelle in defense of his Canadian Heavyweight Title.
In Chuvalo's first fight of the 1960's he dropped a decision to former heavyweight title challenger and Olympic gold medalist Pete Radamacher. Chuvalo then lost then re-won his Canadian heavyweight title with a pair of decisions against Bob Cleroux. A decision win over the re-matched Alex Miteff and a KO of Willi Besmanoff preceded Chuvalo losing his Canadian heavyweight title by decision in a rubber match with Cleroux. Chuvalo finished 1961 with a disqualification loss for headbutting opponent Joe Erskine before going inactive in 1962.
Well rested, Chuvalo began 1963, on a 4 straight KO's run. The steadily improving Chuvalo was now gaining experience and it was at this point in his career that George would set his sights on seriously challenging for the heavyweight championship of the world. In September, Chuvalo won his biggest fight to date, by decisioning hard punching Mike Dejohn in Louisville Kentucky.
Watching this fight was heavyweight contender Cassius Clay still a year away from winning the title from Sonny Liston and changing his name to Muhammad Ali. In the second round Dejohn was sent through the ropes as Chuvalo continued to hammer away with a two fisted assault. In the opinion of Clay, Chuvalo's attack resembled a woman cleaning clothes on a scrub board. Because of this, Clay nicknamed Chuvalo 'The Washerwoman'. Chuvalo would close the year with a 10 round draw against Tony Alongi.
Returning to action in 1964, Chuvalo dropped a unanimous decision to top rated contender Zora Folley. After scoring two KO victories, Chuvalo scored one of the biggest wins of his career when he KO'd 4th ranked contender Doug Jones in Madison Square Garden. Leading on two scorecards, Chuvalo floored Jones in the 11th round before referee Arthur Mercante stopped the fight. Chuvalo had now arrived as a top contender for the heavyweight title.
With the win over Jones, Chuvalo was granted a fight with former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson with the winner to meet newly crowned champion Muhammad Ali. In Ring Magazine's 1965 Fight Of The Year, Chuvalo and Patterson waged a tremendous see-saw battle with Patterson winning a hard fought close decision. With this fight, Chuvalo now became regarded as one of the premier fighters in the heavyweight division.
When heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali dethroned Sonny Liston then gave him an immediate rematch, the World Boxing Association stripped him of his title. Ernie Terrell and Eddie Machen then met for the vacant title with Terrell winning a 15 round decision. With Muhammad Ali defending against Floyd Patterson, Chuvalo was given a fight with the newly-crowned WBA champion Terrell. On November 1, 1965 Chuvalo challenged for the WBA heavyweight championship in front of his hometown fans in Maple Leaf Gardens. The 6' 6" Terrell fighting behind a long left jab and and not much else won a questionable disputed unanimous decision. Terrell clinched so often in this fight that Ali watching the fight nicknamed him 'The Octopus'. So sure that Chuvalo was about to be rewarded the decision, the media immediately surrounded him after the fight anticipating the crowning of a new champion.
One month after the Terrell fight, Chuvalo traveled to London England and decisioned Joe Bygraves before being upset by the less experienced 11-2-5 South American heavyweight Hector Eduardo Corletti, by 10 round decision. But lady luck would soon shine on Chuvalo and he would be granted the chance of a lifetime and a place in boxing history.
Check Back Tomorrow For Part 2.