Posted: Thursday March 2, 2006 4:30PM; Updated: Thursday March 2, 2006 4:30PM
Chucky T doesn't have the typical physique you'd expect to see on a boxer.
For many of us, Rocky Balboa remains forever fossilized as the vague, museful brute in the original Rocky -- a combination of bull-necked energy and lamb-like innocence. It's that doughy loser, and not the sculpted winner who came to resemble Paul McCartney on steroids, that resonates most with boxing fans. The film's four ludicrous sequels took a savage critical beating that left Rocky, and moviegoers, with collateral brain damage.
Today, exactly 30 years after Rocky first clambered through the ropes and into our hearts, the loveable lug finds form and shape in Charles Tschorniawsky, a Philadelphia club fighter known to ringsiders as Chucky T. Two summers ago, no less an authority than Sylvester Stallone told him: "Chucky, you're more Rocky than I am!"
Just like the Italian Stallion, the 29-year-old Chucky slurs the words he doesn't mangle, struggles to pay his bills and lives in an inelegant North Philly rowhouse. "The part of town I live in is called the Badlands," he says. "I'm the only white guy there."
He, too is, a perennial underdog with a gym bag full of cracker-barrel philosophies. He, too, patches together a slender living as a longshoreman on Pier 84 in South Philly -- in his case, lugging 150-pound bags of pinto beans.
And like Rocky, Chucky T even has a pet turtle. At least he did until recently. "I called him Speedy," he says. "I think a rat ate him."
"No, we gave him away," corrects his wife, Catherine.
"That's good," says Chucky. "I thought we might have flushed him down the toilet."
OK, so Chucky T is just a junior welterweight, doesn't spar with sides of beef, and probably couldn't punch-out a time clock. Still, he's a crowd-pleaser with plenty of grit and that old showbiz byword "moxie". In a hometown newspaper poll, he was voted the second-most popular local prizefighter, behind only Bernard Hopkins, the former middleweight champ. Hopkins, of course, went 12 years between defeats; Chucky T's record is an unformidable 24-9-1.
He's a humble, hard worker who's willing to make sacrifices. Insane sacrifices. To make weight for a USBA 140-pound title bout with Mike Stewart in 2003, he dropped 30 pounds in three weeks. "I didn't eat nothin'," Chucky says. "I didn't drink water, neither. One sip makes me gain three pounds."
That turns out to be gross overstatement. Actually, Chucky subsisted on vitamins and something called "colon cleanse". In the ring, it was his clock that got cleansed: Stewart stopped him in Round 8. So much for the Mahatma Gandhi Diet.
Chucky is not only tough, he is impressively decorated. His body is inscribed with 17 tattoos. Up and down his arms march a procession of relatives, cartoon characters, skulls and grim reapers. He takes a roll call: "Death, death, my daughter Ashley, death, death, my daughter Maya, death, death, death, Bugs Bunny, death, death, death, death."
When you tell him that sounds like an awful lot of death, he says with cheery fatalism: "I'm just getting ready for death. It's coming to all of us some day."