Gladiators forever

MURRAY GREIG -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:06 AM ET

Smokin' Joe Frazier and George Chuvalo remain two of boxing's most visible "old school" guys from the glory days of the 1960s - and they're still leaving their mark on a new generation who only know about them from the history books.

Last night, to mark the 40th anniversary of their bloody brawl at Madison Square Garden, Frazier and Chuvalo renewed their friendship at a glitzy sold-out charity banquet and auction in Toronto. All proceeds from the $600-a-plate soiree are going to Chuvalo's Fight Against Drugs and The Joe Frazier Foundation, which finances a variety of community programs for disadvantaged youth.

Chuvalo, who has lost three sons and a wife to drug abuse and suicide, will turn 70 in September. Frazier, eternally linked to Muhammad Ali thanks to their three titanic battles between 1971-75, will be 64 in December.

"The champ has always had a soft spot for kids, and his gym here in Philadelphia is like a second home to a lot of the young people he's helped both in and out of the ring for the past 30-odd years," Frazier's business manager, Les Wolf, told me before boarding a flight to Toronto on Wednesday.

"Hooking up with Chuvalo on the 40th anniversary of their fight was a no-brainer. George's anti-drug crusade impacts the life of every young person who sees his presentation, and when Joe was asked to be part of this, the first thing he said was 'That's for me!'

"Joe works behind the scenes a lot, raising funds for everything from inner-city playgrounds and social programs to Parkinson's research, but for this one, he wanted to attend in person. It's all about respect with Joe. Respect for the sport, respect for family and community.

"Joe had tremendous respect for Chuvalo as a fighter. They'll always be linked by their roles in one of the greatest eras in boxing history, so he jumped at the chance to show his support and respect for George's special cause."

The bout on July 19, 1967, marked the first time in Chuvalo's career that the granite-jawed Canadian champion was stopped.

Sixteen seconds into Round 4, one of Frazier's vaunted left hooks shattered the orbital bone at the base of Chuvalo's right eye socket, causing his eyeball to detach. With blood gushing from the wound, Chuvalo refused to go down, but the damage was so severe that referee John Colon stopped the fight.

"People ask me who hit harder, Frazier or (George) Foreman," Chuvalo says of the only men to stop him in 97 pro fights. "Joe's hook was like getting hit by a Pontiac going 100 miles per hour. Foreman's punch was like a Mac truck at 50 miles an hour. Joe nailed me with three hooks to open the fourth round, and after that I couldn't see them coming.

"I looked like a one-eyed cat peeping into a seafood store until he landed the shot that jarred my eyeball loose. I wanted to keep going, but in retrospect it's a good thing the referee stopped it or I might have been blinded."

The injury - which was surgically repaired with the insertion of a plastic support - kept Chuvalo out of the ring for 11 months.

Frazier, the gold medallist at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, went on to claim the undisputed world championship when he dropped and decisioned Ali in 1971.

"Oldtimers still point to the win over Chuvalo as the one that really made the young Joe Frazier," former Ring magazine editor Bert Sugar recalled when we discussed the fight at the International Boxing Hall of Fame last month.

"It was bloody, it was horrific, but it forever cemented the reputation of both guys - Frazier as a ferocious, relentless puncher and Chuvalo as the epitome of raw courage, a guy with an almost inhuman resistance to pain who never could - and never would - be knocked off his feet."

Four decades later, those descriptions still fit both men like a well worn pair of eight-ounce gloves.


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