In Toronto next week Muhammad ( Cassius Clay) Ali will defend his heavyweight championship of all the world—except, of course, the enfeebled world of the World Boxing Association—against the offslaught of George Chuvalo, a Canadian heavyweight who recently has proved he can't whip an egg without an electric beater.
The bout will take place before some 17,500 spectators in Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens and possibly not many more in the few theaters in the U.S. foolhardy—or courageous—enough to sign up with Main Bout, Inc., the theater-TV promoter that includes Black Muslims. All in all, Muhammad and the Muslims stand to make no more than cigarette money out of the fiasco—which should be sufficient, since Muslims do not smoke.
"I don't figure to make better than $2,000 on this fight," Muhammad said at the Fifth Street Gym in Miami Beach, where he did his early training. "But I don't need no money. I just want to defend the title."
Whatever remote chance Chuvalo has in this flagrant mismatch stems from the difficulty Clay has had in maintaining the continuity of his training schedule in the face of the vicissitudes (mostly of his own making) which have beset this bout from its inception.
Originally, Clay was to have fought the NBA world champion, Ernie Terrell, in Madison Square Garden, but Terrell flew on a Chicago-to-New York plane with a gentleman named Bernie Glickman, once a friend of Frank Carbo and perhaps still a guiding influence in the fighter's career. That cooked Terrell with the New York Athletic Commission.
So the fight was hastily moved to Chicago. It stayed there just long enough for Clay's Louisville draft board to reclassify him from 1-Y to 1-A, an intellectual upgrading that failed to titillate Cassius one bit. In fact he was so moved by the absurdity of a warrior of his stature being asked to fight that he signed a verbal peace treaty on the spot. "I don't have no personal quarrel with them Viet Congs," he said. At which point Chicago promptly backed out. So, too, did his home base of Miami Beach, reacting to pressure from the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a variety of politicians. Then most of the 170 theaters that had signed up to show the fight also canceled.
So Clay returned to Miami Beach and tried to concentrate on training again, while the fight promoters—primarily Main Bout, Inc.—scurried about trying to find another city willing to risk its image by allowing the fight to go on. At this time, remember, it was still a fairly attractive fight, matching Clay with the No. 1 contender, Ernie Terrell, and Montreal, Louisville and even Huron, South Dakota, were interested. Eventually, however, they became as disenchanted as everyone else and it was not until a reluctant Toronto finally admitted the touring show to the big Maple Leaf Gardens that the fight had a home again. Clay wearily broke camp once more to go to Toronto for the signing, while a wearier Main Bout, Inc. began to accustom itself to a hundred rather than the original 170 theater outlets.
Clay got to Toronto, but Terrell, offered something much less than his original guarantee, followed the lead of New York, Chicago, Miami Beach. Louisville and points west. In short, he backed out, perhaps prompted by the sudden realization that, fight or no fight, he would occupy the top of the heavyweight heap once Clay entered the Army.
At this development, theater-TV contracts had to be rewritten. Main Bout, Inc. could sign only 21 cities. But as long as they had at least an arena in Toronto, the promoters decided that any bout was better than none and settled upon Chuvalo as Clay's opponent.
Chuvalo had qualified for this honor by losing two of his last three fights, including a sound trouncing by Terrell in Toronto. One of his conquerors was Eduardo Corletti, an Argentine heavyweight whose principal claim to fame is that he once was knocked out by Floyd Patterson's younger brother.