TORONTO - Legendary heavyweight boxer George Chuvalo can spin a yarn almost as deftly as he could throw a left hook.
A lifetime in boxing has left the Toronto native with a stockpile of great stories — some sad, some tragic, but mostly hilarious, albeit a little dark.
Over cappuccinos in Little Italy last week, Chuvalo remembered the time, late December in 1970, when Quebec promoter Regis Levesque called him about fighting former world champion Sonny Liston in Montreal.
The two heavyweights were approaching the end of their careers, but the matchup would be extremely intriguing, as both had fought the other greats of the era, including Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Floyd Patterson.
Levesque supposedly offered Chuvalo $25,000 US to fight Liston, who was coming off a victory over the Bayonne Bleeder, Chuck Wepner. Chuvalo negotiated it up to $30,000.
“To make a long story short, he says: ‘Send me a telegram (approving the fight).’ So I did.”
The way Big George tells the story, Levesque then called a press conference to announce the card, which was scheduled for Feb.19, 1971, at the Montreal Forum.
“During the press conference,” Chuvalo continues, putting on a Quebecois accent. “Regis says: ‘I got a telegram from George Chuvalo, who has agreed to fight Liston ... bup, bup, bup, bup, bup.”
“A reporter then asks: ‘Where’s Liston’s contract?’ And Regis says: ‘I just talked to Liston this morning. The fight, she okay.’ And then, that very day, the six o’clock news comes out. FLASH. Former heavyweight champion of the world, Sonny Liston, found dead in his Las Vegas home.
“Believed to be dead, seven to 10 days.”
Hey, I said it was dark.
His humour was one of the qualities that made Chuvalo so popular during and after his career, as was the fact that, while he fought all over the world, he also fought a great many times at home, particularly in Toronto.
Which, sadly, is a rare occurrence now.
As it’s been rhapsodized plenty of times on these pages, pro fight cards are few and far between in this province — the product of overtly strict athletic commission — and many of Ontario best pros are forced to ply their trade elsewhere.
The good news, suddenly, is there is a ton of activity happening on the local boxing front, including the biggest news — Brampton’s Troy Ross, 23-1 (16 KOs), will meet Philadelphia’s Steve Cunningham, 22-2 (11 KOs), for the vacant IBF world cruiserweight title on June 5.
As well, Orangeville super-featherweight Logan McGuinness, at 10-0, 4 KOs, arguably the best young fighter in Canada, will box Walter Estrada of Monteria, Colombia on May 22. Estrada, a 35-year-old warhorse, has an impressive record (35-13 24 KOs). If the 22-year-old McGuinness wins, he’ll then fight for WBC youth title.
Unfortunately, both of those fights are happening elsewhere. The Ross-Cunningham title bout will be held in Neubrandenburg, Germany, and the McGuinness-Estrada tilt will be held at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. The Youth Title fight will be staged in Alberta.
Unfortunately, despite his excellent record, Ross has fought only once as a pro in Ontario. McGuinness has never fought in his home province. And neither has Windsor bantamweight Andrew Kooner (10-2 4 KOs). All three of fought numerous times overseas and throughout Canada.
But Ontario is a different story.
But perhaps, finally, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.
Kooner, 30, will headline a May 15 card at the Brampton Powerade Centre when he faces Mexican Jose Silveira, (10-2, 4 KOs) for the NABA bantamweight title. The card is being put together by a relatively new outfit called United Boxing Promotions, which includes a number of former Ontario fighters trying to revive the game in the province.
As well, Orion Sports Management, the group that puts together fights for world featherweight champion Steve Molitor at Casino Rama near Orillia, is set to announce a rematch at Rama between Canadian heavyweight champion Neven Pajkic (12-0, 5 KOs) and Greg Kielsa (11-1, 5 KOs).
“To say it’s tough to put on a fight card in Ontario is an understatement,” said United Promotions’ Don Macdonald. “It’s very hard to build up fighters here and it’s very hard to hold fights here.
“But, as you can see, we’re not giving up,” he said.
It may be too late for Troy Ross. Even if Ross defeats Cunningham, he’ll likely continue to fight in Europe. But perhaps some day McGuinness or Kooner will the chance to fight for a world title at home.
Just don’t hold your breath.