By L.L. Roberts
The bull-necked Croatian-Canadian from Toronto’s rough waterfront district was possibly the toughest of all iron men and at his peak was likely the best Caucasian boxer fighting in the sixties and early seventies. But boxing as a science was virtually unknown to him. His trainers had abandoned any attempt to teach him the finer points when they realized that the hardest punch barely fazed him, and so he was made to rely on that gift and the rudiments of boxing skills he’d been taught since winning the 1956 Jack Dempsey Novice Heavyweight Tournament held in Toronto.
On September 15, 1958 he carried a record of 14 wins, two losses and a draw into a Toronto ring against a tall blonde man named James J. parker and less than three minutes later exited with the Canadian heavyweight crown. The man was no world-beater but he had th heart of a lion and the jaw of tempered steel. It was a cruel jest of fate that he lacked the one tool that might have made him a champion, and that was a big punch. Oh, he could hit hard enough to take out any second-rater; he would even KO Jerry Quarry later in his career, but he lacked the stuff to stop the top guys.
The late Nat Fleischer probably described him best in a 1965 article – “…Chuvalo is a crude, strong, powerful, flat-footed pugilist who knows only one way to fight – the old bare-knuckle style in which roughness and body pummeling were featured. Scientific boxing is not part of Chuvalo’s equipment……”
he fought them all, never ducking anybody: Yvon Durelle, Bob Cleroux, Alex Miteff, Zora Folley, Doug Jones, Floyd Patterson, Ernie Terrell, Muhammad Ali, Oscar Bonavena, Joe Frazier, Manuel Ramos, Buster Mathis, Jerry Quarry, George Foreman, Jimmy Ellis, Cleveland williams. he was never knocked off his feet. Twice he was halted on cuts but this was against two of the hardest hitters in history – Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Not even they could put him down. Rocky Marciano was heard to remark that Chuvalo had been a hundred years too late.
Chuvalo brawled his way to the top ranks of contendership and thanks mainly to his great drawing power as an iron man got his first shot at the title against a man already considered by some to have been the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali.
In 1966 Ali was at his best, and despite a relentless assault, the muscular Chuvalo just could not touch the future three-time champion. Ali did not have the same problem. He hit him coming in with every blow and combination of blows known to boxing, but Chuvalo just walked through that continuous storm and hunted for the champ’s guts. His face reddened, then split apart, as the rounds sped past and Ali tried with all his might and mind to force his raging enemy back at least a few steps.
But though he had taken and was still taking a terrific beating, Chuvalo charged out to meet the Great One at the start of each and every round. At one point, late in the battle, a looping left hook thrown with all the desperate effort in Chuvalo’s big heart caught his elusive foe, and Ali clinched. But that was the nearest he got to victory. At the end, the champion gave up hope of a knockout and contented himself with an overwhelming points win.
Chuvalo would later get a crack at a part of the title, a portion owned by a long-limbed giant named Ernie Terrell. It is the fate of the iron man that he shall always force his way to within grasp of the crown but falter because he must rely on his toughness alone, and he finds that it is just not enough.