Meet George Chuvalo: The Heavyweight Boxer Who Never Got Knocked Down

Canadian boxing legend George Chuvalo had an astounding career throughout the 1960s and 1970s (via The Sportsman). In fact, Canada's Walk of Fame writes that in 97 fights, the boxing champion was never knocked down or out. According to Britannica, Chuvalo is best known for the strength of his knockouts. Out of his 73 wins, 64 were won using a knockout. Born in Toronto in 1937 to Croatian parents, Chuvalo had early aspirations to join the boxing world (per the Ontario Heritage Trust). At the age of 18, he went from an amateur to a pro. In 1958, when he was only 21, Chuvalo became the Canadian Heavyweight Champion.

The Ontario Heritage Trust states that he held this title until 1961 and again from 1964-1979. Chuvalo also attempted to become the heavyweight champion of the world. Canada's Walk of Fame reports that Chuvalo first pursued this venture in 1965 in a fight against Ernie Tyrell at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Although the media was sure that Chuvalo was going to win, he lost the match. On March 29, 1966, an undeterred Chuvalo set out again to become the heavyweight champion of the world. This time, he went up against Muhammad Ali and Chuvalo was once again unsuccessful.

George Chuvalo's friendship with Muhammad Ali

According to BoxRec, George Chuvalo went up against Muhammad Ali twice in his career. The Sportsman writes that their 1966 fight for the title of heavyweight champion of the world was legendary. Per the CBC, the match took place at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Originally, Ali was scheduled to fight Ernie Tyrell. When he dropped out, Chuvalo stepped in to take his place. He had only 17 days to train. Despite this, Ali had met his match. Chuvalo fought for 15 rounds but was ultimately outscored and lost. However, Chuvalo did not seem fazed by this loss.

He later stated (via The Irish Times), "When it was all over, Ali was the guy who went to the hospital because he was pissing blood." He added, "Me? I went dancing with my wife. No question I got the best of that deal." 

Ali on the other hand, revealed (via the CBC), that Chuvalo was "the toughest guy I ever fought." The pair had a rematch in Vancouver in 1972 and Ali was once again victorious. When Ali died in 2016, Chuvalo revealed that they had maintained a friendship throughout the years and called the loss "tough."

He told the CBC, "We always had good moments together. In retrospect, I realize how important he was to me in my life and I think I made a difference in his life, to some degree." Chuvalo went on to say, "I admired him probably more than anyone else that I ever fought."

George Chuvalo's personal tragedies led to a different kind of fight

Canada's Walk of Fame reports that George Chuvvalo retired from professional boxing in 1979. Britannica states that he later dedicated himself to campaigning for an anti-drug movement. According to The Irish Times, Chuvalo, a father of five, knows firsthand how addiction can severely affect families. In an article written for Toronto Life, Chuvalo revealed that three of his sons, Jesse, Steve, and Georgie Lee, were using heroin without his knowledge. Eventually, their addiction drove them to robbery and landed them in prison. In February 1985, Jesse killed himself. Shortly after, Georgie Lee died of a heroin overdose. Distraught over the death of her two sons, Chuvalo's first wife, Lynne, died by suicide.

Per Toronto Life, Chuvalo hoped his son Steve would overcome his addiction for a time while he was in prison, but in 1996, he also died of a heroin overdose. Chuvalo admitted that he feels guilty for not getting his son's help sooner. As a result, Canada's Walk of Fame states that Chuvalo created a program called Fight Against Drugs to speak to high school students about the dangers of controlled substances.

In 2013, he told the National Post, "I am always in mourning. I am not made of stone. So I cry, because it feels better, in a crazy way. I cry, and I do okay for not being okay." Chuvalo added, "It is impossible to describe the loss of a child. What could be worse, you tell me, what could be worse than that?"

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

George Chuvalo's boxing career may have led to his dementia

Toronto Life reports that George Chuvalo, who was 85 in 2022, is a grandfather and had a second marriage to a woman named Joanne. The Irish Times notes that Joanne was a co-worker of Chuvalo's first wife, Lynne. Moreover, he has two surviving children with Lynne; a daughter Vanessa and a son named Mitchell (via the National Post). In 2013, Chuvalo and Joanne got into an argument that later led his children to file for divorce on his behalf. Court documents allege that Joanne has a gambling addiction and was mishandling Chuvalo's money. Joanne, on the other hand, claimed that her stepchildren were baring her from seeing her husband and attempts for the pair to reconcile. 

Per The Irish Times, It was later revealed that Chuvalo was suffering from Dementia. In a 2018 interview with the CBC, his son Mitchell disclosed that he believes that Chuvalo's "cognitive decline" is due to "brain damage" from his decades-long boxing career. He stated, "He has trouble now contextualizing things, knowing what day it is, knowing where he is, but that Ali reference always brings him back to some degree of being lucid." As of September 2022, Chuvalo is in a nursing home (per the Toronto Sun). His wife Joanne and his stepchildren continue to be embroiled in a legal battle over Chuvalo.