Holmes, Chuvalo still stand tall

MURRAY GREIG, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:24 AM ET

EDMONTON - Larry Holmes wrapped his massive right fist around another fully loaded pork cutlet hoagie. But before scoffing it down, he looked over at George Chuvalo and shook his head in amazement.

“Look at that guy,” marveled the former undisputed heavy-weight champion of the world. “George is gonna be what … 74 this year? Don’t he look good? I hope I’m that lucky.

“Ali’s messed up. Smokin’ Joe Frazier is messed up. Kenny Norton’s in a wheelchair, Jerry Quarry is dead. But George … he’s still sharp, still lookin’ real good.”

Holmes chuckled softly, then added: “Must be a Canadian thing.”

Without missing a beat, Chuvalo deadpanned: “No, Larry. It’s because I was such a brilliant defensive fighter.”

The scene was a Calgary hotel room last Thursday, a few hours before the two heavyweight icons joined 1984 Olympic silver medallist Willie deWit at a dinner hosted by the Italian Canadian Sportsman’s Association.

Before and after the event — which drew 1,200 patrons at $250 a pop — the three former fighters spent hours signing autographs, posing for photos and patiently answering the same questions over and over again from star-struck admirers.

For Holmes and Chuvalo, it was old hat.

The 61-year-old Holmes — who won 48 consecutive fights and whose 20 title defences are second only to Joe Louis’ 25 — hasn’t thrown a punch in anger since retiring with a 69-6 record in 2002.

Chuvalo, the Canadian champ for 21 years, quit the ring in 1979 with a career mark of 73-18-2 — and the singular distinction of being the only fighter to face the holy trinity of Muhammad Ali (twice), Joe Frazier and George Foreman. In his 93 bouts, Chuvalo was never knocked down.

For deWit, who took the Canadian title from Edmonton’s Ken Lakusta in front of a record crowd of 14,761 at Northlands Coliseum (now Rexall Place) in 1986, watching the other two work the room only reinforced what he already knew.

“They’re great, aren’t they?” said the 49-year-old grand-father, who’s now a high-profile criminal lawyer.

“I always admired Larry and George for what they accomplished in the ring, but both these guys have really made a difference to people since they quit fighting, too. Not a lot of ex-athletes can say that … especially fighters. It’s a real honour for me to even be in the same room with them.”

Holmes — known as The Easton Assassin — still lives in the Pennsylvania city that gave him his nickname. He’s involved in numerous charities, runs a real estate and restaurant empire and produces a local TV show. Unlike most fighters, he was smart with his money.

“Very early in my career I made up my mind that after every fight I would buy a building or a piece of land,” said Holmes.

“Most of the time, I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but it was an investment. One thing about land: they ain’t makin’ any more of it. I walked out of the ring and straight into the business world .”

Chuvalo, whose life became a living hell after he lost three sons and his first wife to drugs and suicide between 1985-96, said that talking boxing provides a nice break from his busy schedule of touring the country and talking to students and youth groups about what happened to his family.

“I lost my sons and my wife, so there’s a hole in my heart that time will never repair,” said the lifelong Toronto resident.

“Every day is like a tough fight … but you just hang in, you just keep pluggin’ away.

“Doing stuff like this, being out here with Larry and Willie and talking about boxing feels great. Along with my (second) wife Joanne, my daughter, my son and my grandkids, this kind of thing keeps me going, keeps me upbeat.

“Boxing is a hell of a way to make a living and a crazy way to make friends … but you see how Larry and Willie and me are treated here, and it reminds us how lucky we are to be part of it.

“Fighting is a tough business … maybe the toughest in sports. But if we could go back, I don’t think any of us would trade it for anything.”

murray.greig@edmsun.com


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