age 7, was going to attend his first prizefight, and his mother was telling him
what to expect. "Not only is Daddy going to hit Mr. Clay," she said,
"but Mr. Clay is going to hit Daddy (see cover)." During the light
Irving Ungerman, who wears a big red M on his sleeve to let the people know he
is George Chuvalo's manager, shouted to George, "Mitchell's here. Make him
proud of you." Mitchell shouted: "Daddy, crush Mr. Clay like a
banana." After the tight, photographers shot Mitchell with his father,
whose vast, faintly cherubic countenance looked, as was written, like it was
made up of a number of driving-range golf balls.
Greenberg, a friend of the family, drove Mitchell home. In the car the boy
said, "Mort, who won the fight." Mort replied. "The judges said Mr.
Clay won, but we know in our hearts..." and Mitchell began to cry. Mort
tried to cheer him up, but Mitchell was inconsolable. "I bet one of my
neighbors $5 and another neighbor $15," he said, "and I don't have the
money to pay them." Said Mort. "I thought you were worried because
Daddy lost the decision." "I win!" Mitchell said, brightening.
"They bet me Daddy would be knocked out."
This was the only
happy ending of the night for the Chuvalo family but, although George won only
two of the 15 rounds according to the three officials, it was one of his best
losses. In fact, it was nearly as good as his loss to Floyd Patterson a year
ago, which students of Chuvalo's career consider to be the very finest of his
12 defeats. "We don't fight nothing but masterpieces." says Chuvalo's
trainer, Theodore McWhorter.
Chuvalo is resilient. When, following the light, he was asked if there was
anybody around who could beat Clay, he said. "I think George Chuvalo can
beat him." When asked what his plans were, he said, "Keep training.
Keep lighting. What the hell." The next day in his hotel room overlooking
Lake Ontario, he said further, "It's only the little things that count in
boxing. The difference between mediocrity and greatness really isn't that much.
I know I can fight better. I want to be the best I can be. When I retire I want
to feel I was the best I could be." To which his wife Lynne added: "I
know my husband can be the greatest fighter in the world, but I'd like to have
him pick up a little of Clay's polish."
Chuvalo has regarded polish as unbecoming to a fighter. As he once said,
"In a fight between a lion and a Christian. I'd rather be the lion."
Undeniably, the metaphor does not apply to Muslims.
Last week against
Cassius Clay, Chuvalo was far tougher, more persevering (and more unwary) than
any lion, and it was these attributes which made the fight—which was neither as
had as mans had predicted, nor as good as man) have reported—at all rewarding.
Its qualities, however, were spuriously enhanced by the crowd, which roared at
Chuvalo's misses, both near and far: in much the same fashion is the comic
content of My Mother, the car improved by canned laughter.
What the light
lacked was essential: the real possibility that Chuvalo could win. If you knew
that the odds were 7 to 1 against the toad becoming a prince, who would keep
reading, much less get in bed with it? The only question was whether Clay would
be able to knock Chuvalo down and or out, which was admittedly intriguing but
beside the point. In fact, as Lloyd Percival, the director of Toronto's Fitness
Institute and the latest to try his hand at remaking Chuvalo, says,
"George's indestructibility is a negative virtue." Because Clay did not
knock George down, the conclusion has been arrived at that clay has no punch.
This is unreasonable, for in 48 fights over 10 years Chuvalo has never been on
the floor. Let Percival explain: "Chuvalo has a widespread stance, a
strong, flexible neck, good thick bones in the head, and his pool of
equilibrium must be deep." Or, in the words of Angelo Dundee. Clay's
manager. "Anyone who weighs over 200 pounds can punch—I don't care if it's
The fight was
billed as being between Muhammad Ali. The People's Champion, and George
Chuvalo. The Canadian Champion. The only heavyweight champion in the ring was
Gene Kiniski, a wrestler who got an introduction. As Men McKenzie, the Ontario
commissioner, kept saving. "There is no organization as such that
recognizes Clay as champ. He's the people's choice, that's all."
Which must be news
to Clay. But an almost Stifling aura of bonhomie enveloped Toronto last week.
The provincial sportswriters righteously lined up behind Clay—as freethinking
Canadians they had no quarrel with them Viet Congs, either. "Everybody has
been so nice to me here." murmured Clay effulgently. "It's just not the
atmosphere for my vicious predictions. George is a nice fella and has been
quiet about politics and religion."
Indeed, George had
hardly any words at all, fighting or otherwise. However, as the night of the
tight approached, he allowed that, to him, "Clay's not a person anymore.
Just an it." With all this lack of hostility in the air, it was not
surprising that during the referee's instructions Clay came within 5/16 of an
inch of kissing Chuvalo.