George Chuvalo honoured in Toronto 50 years after fight with Muhammad Ali
Boxer George Chuvalo (centre) stands with (left to right) fLennox Lewis, promoter Bob Arum, Rasheda Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali, and Les Woods of Global Legacy Boxing, after Chuvalo was presented with a 'People's Champion' belt in Toronto's Mattamy Centre, on Tuesday, March 29, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris )Young
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, March 29, 2016 7:51PM EDT
TORONTO -- Muhammad Ali has good and bad days in his battle with Parkinson's disease but memories of his first bout with Canadian George Chuvalo bring a sparkle to the legendary boxer's eye.
Former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis headlined a testimonial dinner Tuesday night to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Chuvalo's first fight with Ali, then the world heavyweight champion. Chuvalo, the former Canadian heavyweight champion, went 15 rounds at Maple Leaf Gardens but couldn't wrest the title from the man nicknamed "The Greatest."
The 74-year-old Ali, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1984, wasn't at the testimonial. Rasheda Ali attended on her legendary father's behalf and said the Chuvalo bout will forever be a significant one to Ali.
"When I told him I'd be here to celebrate this anniversary, he was elated, his eyes lit up and he was excited that I was coming to take part and represent him," she said. "Because of the political events that were going on at that time, he was ostracized by a lot of individuals and people of power, especially our government.
"For Toronto to embrace him and George to have this fight I think it said a lot. And then he won and I think that said a lot for civil rights."
Ali and Chuvalo also fought in May 1972 in Vancouver. It went the full 12 rounds with Ali again securing a unanimous decision.
Prior to the testimonial, Chuvalo was presented with a special belt with both Ali and Bob Arum, who made his debut as a fight promoter in the first Ali-Chuvalo bout, both on hand at the Mattamy Athletics Centre, which is located at the former Maple Leaf Gardens.
Back in 1966, Ali was embroiled in controversy regarding his anti-Vietnam War stance and refusal to be drafted. Arum said had the first Chuvalo bout not taken place he has no doubts Ali would've continued to box. But Arum's tenure as a fight promoter would've ended before it began.
"I don't know necessarily if it would've been that significantly bad for Ali . . . he was very resilient to recover," Arum said. "But remember, I didn't have any love for this sport, I didn't have any promotional background.
"If this fight had gone down, I wouldn't be here talking to you today."
Ali was in Toronto in 2002 when the CFL's Toronto Argonauts paid tribute to him and helped raise money for Parkinson's disease research.
Ali said her father continues to launch a spirited fight with Parkinson's.
"He's had good and bad days but on those good days, my dad is as sharp as a tack," she said. "He can speak clear and when he does speak clear we're all very excited.
"Really, I can't tell you how deeply positive he's been throughout his whole entire experience with Parkinson's."
Ali said her father took Chuvalo lightly in their first meeting.
"I honestly have to say my dad was surprised at how tough George Chuvalo was," she said. "He realized after he fought George that he was a tough opponent and George wasn't going down."
"Ali clearly won the fight and clearly was the better fighter," he said. "But if you scored a fight based on who hurt the other the most, George wins.
"Ali couldn't walk for days after that fight, he took such a beating to the body."
Boxing legend Lennox Lewis on hand to celebrate 50 years since Chuvalo vs Ali - a historic moment in CDN sports. pic.twitter.com/O70wQOrs9n— John Tory (@JohnTory) March 29, 2016