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  January 6, 2001



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Granite jaw still the best


By BRET HART -- Calgary Sun
George Chuvalo in January 1997 at a SkyDome WWF press conference. -- CANOE files

 There's a room in my house where the walls are montaged with magazine covers and event posters from my biggest matches.

Sometimes while shooting pool, I'll catch a glimpse of one of them out of the corner of my eye and it's nice to reminisce.

In the collage, there is but one actual photograph. I've been fortunate to meet a lot of celebrities and athletes and have taken pictures with some of them, but the only one that I have hanging in my house is of me and George Chuvalo.

The Gardens filled up early and the blood ran in the eyes of every woman, man and child there to see the sacrifice. Heaven help the man who had to stare into those hands, George Chuvalo could fill the ring like no one can.

Aside from being a bona fide Canadian hero, George is a friend of mine. He goes way back with my dad. In fact, there's an interesting anecdote about those two.

A few years ago, Stu and I were invited to a sports dinner. George regrettably declined the invitation, but when he heard my dad would be there, so was he.

I admire George Chuvalo, a man of great wins and even greater losses. As a fighter, I can't help but respect his accomplishments in the ring. Not many guys go 15 rounds with Ali -- without being knocked down. Twice!

Ali once said of Chuvalo: "I don't know of anyone who was ever tougher on me physically than 'Granite Jaw' George Chuvalo. He gave me two tough distance fights for a total of 27 rounds, took everything I had to dish out and kept coming for more" -- high praise from boxing's greatest heavyweight champion of all time.

By the end of Chuvalo's career, his record stood: 97 bouts, 78 wins, 71 knockout wins; seven decision wins, 16 decision losses, two technical knockout losses and one draw. In 97 professional bouts, with opponents including not only Ali, but Frasier, Foreman and Floyd Patterson, Chuvalo was never knocked off his feet, the only boxer in history who can make that claim.

Even more than that, it is Chuvalo's amazing inner strength when enduring devastating personal tragedies that inspires me. To rise from grief, time and again, with such dignity and finding the fortitude to help desperate people by becoming a passionate spokesperson for suicide and drug prevention. There's no doubt he is the greatest boxer that Canada has ever produced but, to me, his toughest victory is in the way he sustains his gentile humanity and even keeps his sense of humour against all odds.

I don't see George often, but whenever I do, I come away from the experience feeling empowered. He says simple little things to me like, "Always be true to yourself," and "Never forget the people who helped you get where you are."

From George, I've learned an important lesson about stumbling through life's pitfalls with grace. And about pulling yourself up by your boot straps while also extending a hand to those in need.

Leo McGarry, a character on West Wing, told a story that reminded me of Chuvalo.

A guy falls into a deep hole. He can't figure out how to get out. His doctor walks by and the guy yells , "Hey, doc, I'm down here, please help me!" The doctor throws down a prescription to ease his aches and pains from the fall, but he's still in the hole. After a while, a priest walks by. The guy in the hole yells up, "Father can you please help me?"

The priest replies of course he can help and says a prayer for him. In his most desperate moment, the guy in the hole looks up and sees a friend walking by.

"Joe, I'm stuck down here. Can you help me?"

Without pause, Joe jumps down into the hole.

"You jerk!" the guy in the hole says.

"Now we're both stuck down here!"

"Yeah," Joe replies, "But I've been here before and I know the way out."

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