One evening last month, George (The New) Chuvalo (see cover), who fights Floyd Patterson on Monday night, Feb. 1, called his wife from his training camp, a golf club on the snowy edge of Toronto, to say he was coming home for a couple of hours. Mitchell, who is 5, and the oldest of Chuvalo's four sons, answered the phone.
"Let me speak to your mother," Chuvalo said.
"You can't," Mitchell said. "She went out to marry someone else."
Driving home, Chuvalo said, "Thai's the worst thing about boxing—being away."
February 1, 1965
When he got home, a small, brick house on Avon Avenue, he said to Mitchell, "Where was she when I called?"
"She was at court telling the judge you ripped her skirt," Mitchell said.
Chuvalo's wife, Lynne, was bathing Jesse, the baby, in the kitchen sink. "They've watched Divorce Court," she said.
"I can beat you up," Mitchell said to his father. "I've been in training all year." He dropped to the carpet and did five or six push-ups on his knees. Steven, 4, and George Jr., 2, climbed over Chuvalo.
"Look, no hands," said Steven, teetering.
"When he's home he's very lax," said Lynne. "He's away so much."
"He got a tooth right in there in the middle," said Steven, looking into George Jr.'s mouth.
"It's had an effect on the children," Lynne said. "Many's the time I wished he had an ordinary 9-to-5 job like everybody else. But he's done it for so many long, hard years and the money's just around the corner. It would be silly to quit now. If he didn't take this chance he'd always hate himself. A couple of years ago, when he was in Detroit, we were all just living on practically nothing. Hot dogs."
"Hamburgers," said Chuvalo. "I was living on hamburgers and coffee. "I was living like a dog. I stayed in a cheap hotel. They kept stealing my suits in Detroit."
"I never really got on his back," Lynne said. "He'd always hate me for it. Every man has to do what he wants. But I don't think too many people know what hard is."
"My first fight in Detroit I went a day and a half without eating," Chuvalo said. "I weighed 203. I was gaunt!"
"He really looked terrible," Lynne said.
Chuvalo told about driving from Detroit to Toronto in the fall of 1963 in a '54 Ford with a dollar and some change in his pocket. Lynne, who was pregnant with Jesse, had a suitcase on her shoulder; the right front window would not roll up and the suitcase kept the wind off Mitchell, Steven and George Jr., who were sleeping in the back. Then the gas pedal fell off. Chuvalo stepped on the pin. That went, too. Chuvalo told his wife to get down and stick her finger through the hole in the floor to depress the gas-linkage bar.
"I knew there was nothing else to do," Lynne said. "You have to cooperate."
" 'O.K., honey, we're going through a town,' I would tell her," Chuvalo said. " 'Slow down.' I didn't know whether she was cussing or praying down there. 'Got to do 60, honey, we're on the highway now.' "
"It was the dark of night and the wind was howling," Lynne said.
"Every time I'd look down and see her," Chuvalo said, "I'd say to myself, 'She ought to be on television.' "
"I was there for an hour and a half," Lynne said.
"Mitchell woke up," Chuvalo said. "He looked over the seat and saw his mommy down there on the floor. 'Daddy,' he said, 'when are we going to get a new car?' "
Chuvalo was asked whether he would have changed places with Lynne if she had had a license, which she did not.
"Sure," Chuvalo said. "She was pregnant at the time." They laughed. "But like Freud says," Chuvalo said, "whatever you say, even if you say you meant it as a joke or you didn't mean it, that's what you really believe."
"George reads Freud," Lynne said.
"Every time they meet you, they're surprised you can talk," Chuvalo said. "People think fighters are all dis-dat-and-dose guys. I read psychology." On the top of his bureau at camp, next to a bottle of Geritol and a collection of pinecones which Mitchell brought him, is a book entitled General Psychology. "I read Freud, Jung. I read philosophy. Confucius and a few other fellows. Plato. Aristotle. I like Socrates the best of the Greeks. I suppose I'm trying to understand life a little more. I left school in the 12th grade. I suppose I'm trying to make it up, get as much education as I can on my own. I'm interested in religions, too—the way they contradict each other, the mumbo jumbo, the way theologians don't agree. My father wanted me to be a tool-and-die maker. If I wasn't a fighter, I'd like to be a lawyer. There's quite a bit of a challenge there, too, like in fighting. That's the common denominator.
"When Mitchell was 2," Chuvalo went on, "a friend of mine, who has a boy about the same age, said let's put the gloves on them—big, 16-ounce pillows. They moved around a bit, didn't get hurt. Still, I was so scared. Then I understood why my father looked the way he did when he went to my fights and I used to see him sitting out there."
"I get terrible migraine headaches when I watch George fight," said Lynne. "I like a good, exciting fight. The best fight I've ever seen was Archie Moore and Yvon Durelle."
"She's not much of a Chuvalo fan," said Chuvalo, peevishly. "The point I was making about the kids is, if I make it fighting, they won't have to. If I don't—I try not to think of losing. But you have to. I've never been knocked down or really staggered. I've been quite fortunate. I guess you have to keep plugging."
"He could have been champion today," Lynne said. "He was held back so long."
Chuvalo has a new trainer, Theodore McWhorter, who has altered his style, and an even newer manager, Irving Ungerman, who generously supports him and extols the new Chuvalo in a mimeographed flyer entitled The George Chuvalo Newsletter. "Theodore McWhorter made George what he is, but he always had the potential," Lynne said. "All the guy ever did before was run and skip rope. They can't punch back. Even then, he did his best. But he's the same guy."
"I'm still a miserable son of a gun—the old Chuvalo," Chuvalo said.
"George is the optimist," Lynne said. "I'm the pessimist. But he's a poor loser. We play Scrabble all the time."
"Up at camp, you can't even begin to play," Chuvalo said. "Once I tried to play Password with one of the sparring partners.... " He shrugged.
"We've never had a vacation together," Lynne said. "The first thing we'll do when you're champion, George, is we'll travel."
"I'll take you to Buffalo—" Chuvalo said.
"Thanks, George," Lynne said.
"—if you're a nice girl," Chuvalo said. "The first thing I'll do when I'm champion is I'll have a big smile on my face."
George Chuvalo has a snapshot of himself taken when he was 9 and learning how to box from a series of lessons that were appearing on cards enclosed in cereal boxes. It shows him in a pair of trunks, wearing boxing gloves. He has his hands up and looks fairly desperate; he was, having just told his father to hurry up and take the picture-because he could not hold his belly out any longer. Indeed, the extraordinary thing about the photograph is that Chuvalo, who was otherwise quite skinny, had this enormous belly. "I used to stick my belly out all the time," he explains. "I thought it made me look big. I always felt I was destined for the world's heavyweight championship."
On the road to this presumed fate is the meeting with Patterson in Madison Square Garden. Chuvalo is now the World Boxing Association's third-ranked heavyweight contender; Patterson is rated No. 2. The winner here is supposed to fight the winner of the Ernie Terrell (No. 1)-Eddie Machen (No. 4) match in Chicago on March 5. The WBA has foreordained this winner of winners the new world champion, having expunged the rightful titleholder, Cassius Clay, for agreeing to a forbidden rematch with Sonny Liston, who was previously unrecognized because he had been picked up on a traffic violation. This rematch, of course, is still theoretical, because of Clay's convalescence following a hernia operation and Liston's persistent erratic driving. Chuvalo apparently attained the No. 3 ranking by beating Doug Jones in October, for Chuvalo's only other notable opponent last year was Zora Folley, to whom he lost. However, Trainer McWhorter says "we" had boils in both ears that night. Zora, coincidentally, is also the name of Chuvalo's sister. Machen, who was No. 5, rose by virtue of inertia; Cleveland Williams, who was No. 4, was shot in the groin by a policeman after he was picked up on a traffic violation. Machen evidently reached No. 5 on the strength of his loss to Patterson last July. Somebody has got to set this to music.
Although Chuvalo weighed 198 by the time he was 15, which took a load off his abdominal muscles and fulfilled the "heavyweight" portion of his destiny, the "championship" seemed wholly unattainable until he upset Jones. "Boxing hasn't been worth it up to now," Chuvalo said the other day, reflecting on a largely undistinguished professional career which has spanned eight years and included 39 fights, 29 of which he has won. "I often look back on my life and review it. The way I figure, I would have made just as much driving a truck. I see it in dollars and cents. Otherwise, it's ridiculous. I'm excited by the prospect of making a lot of money. I enjoy boxing to an extent. At least I haven't had an ordinary 9-to-5 job. But it's not the same as when I was a kid and fought for nothing."
Chuvalo—-the name was originally spelled Cuvalo and pronounced choovalo, but shoevalo is now the proper articulation—grew up in The Junction, a harsh, dingy section of Toronto. His father had come to Canada from Croatia, a part of Yugoslavia, in 1926 and worked on the roads in Nova Scotia and in the bush. (If Chuvalo ultimately wins the title, he will not be the first champion of Croatian descent; that distinction belongs to Fritzie Zivic.) It was not until 1936 that he had enough money to send for his wife, who went to work plucking chickens. George was born the following year. He started fighting amateur at the East York Arena when he was 15 and, all told, won 18 of 19 fights. "Fighting kept me out of trouble," Chuvalo says.
Chuvalo's professional debut could hardly have been more auspicious. On the night of April 23, 1956, competing in a heavyweight novice tournament, he knocked out all four of his opponents in a total of 12 minutes and 36 seconds. Two months later, and without the customary benefit of preliminary bouts, Chuvalo fought one Johnny Arthur, who was the South African champion and a veteran of 34 fights, and beat him over eight rounds. When, however, in his third fight Chuvalo took on Howard King, who had 45 fights, he suffered his first defeat. Campaigning almost exclusively in Toronto, Chuvalo then won six in a row before losing to his next "name" fighter, Bob Baker, in September of 1957. In 1958 he beat Julio Mederos, knocked King out in two, drew with sixth-rated Alex Miteff, which earned Chuvalo the No. 10 ranking, knocked out James J. Parker in a round for the Canadian heavyweight title and, in his first televised bout, was sorely beaten by Pat McMurtry in Madison Square Garden. Humiliated and downcast, Chuvalo did not fight again for nearly a year; he apparently spent most of the interval morosely lifting weights. He had two fights at the end of 1959, knocking out Frankie Daniels and Yvon Durelle. In 1960 he was defeated by Pete Rademacher ("I find that very embarrassing," Chuvalo said recently), then lost and regained his Canadian title in a pair of fights with Bob Cleroux. He beat Miteff and Willi Besmanoff in 1961 before losing once more to Cleroux and finally to Joe Erskine, being disqualified for repeated butting, whereupon he quit the ring and went into the used car business, which he found equally unrewarding.
"I was discouraged," Chuvalo says. "I was wasting my time." He attributes his futile record to his manager, the late Jack (Deacon) Allen, and his trainer, Tommy McBeigh. "They tried to make a boxer out of me," he says. "I jabbed, I moved around a lot. My right hand, I might as well have left it at home. For my build, it was unnatural. My build should be a slugger." Chuvalo is 6 feet 1 and weighs about 210 when he is in shape. He has exceptionally thick legs and a rather large head; these make him appear a good deal shorter than he is. He is unusually strong; when he was fooling around with weights he was able to press 240 pounds. "They only had me boxing three rounds in the gym," Chuvalo says, "so I figure, how can I go 10 fast rounds? I'd only get aggressive in the last round."
When Chuvalo found, as he says, that a used-car lot "wasn't my kind of a business," he decided to return to boxing. He raised the money to buy up his contract from Allen and set forth on his own for Detroit. "I wanted to be transformed into a more aggressive fighter," he says. "I heard there was a man in Detroit who was the best trainer for aggressive fighters there was."
"He come to Detroit seeking someone to help him," says Theodore McWhorter, a slender, soulful and temporarily toothless man who handled Chuck Davey, Chuck Spieser and Johnny Summerlin. "He had all the qualifications. He just needed someone to bring them out. What he did he did as well as he know how. For a kid to come through the fights he come through, they had to teach him something, but he had no confidence in his handlers. They had him moving around like a lightweight. Didn't seem right, big guy like him moving around. He has too much weight on him to run around. Big guy can do it just so long. Big guy like him run away, look bad. He'll come to you. He'll come to you now. He's willing to go forward, that's the thing. They hadn't put too much on him, so it wasn't too hard to change him around. I closed him up. Before, he would open up to throw a punch, telegraph it. I taught him to bob and weave, slip, throw a lot of combinations. He can counter-punch now, he can do a lot of things. I saw he was getting hit too much with jabs. I see his pictures in The Ring magazine. He looked like a bloody horse right around the nose. I figure a jab doing the damage. I only lost me one fight with him, and we were sick that night. We had all but Folley down. We've been knocking them out a lot. He's definitely not the fighter he was. He's got a lot more confidence. He's got peace of mind. If you don't have no peace of mind, you can't do a thing.
"He's a gentleman," McWhorter says. "That's why I like him. He's strictly a gentleman. What a wonderful thing to be heavyweight champion of the world. He could wear it. He's the type of man that makes a good man. He could definitely wear it. You see a lot of Presidents, but not all of them can wear it. Roosevelt could wear it. Kennedy could wear it. Eisenhower.... Truman could wear it a little better."
With McWhorter as his trainer and acting as his own manager, Chuvalo started his comeback by quickly knocking out four nonentities, three of whom literally do not appear in The Ring Record Book; the fourth had lost nine of his previous 11 fights. This buildup almost went for naught, however; although Chuvalo could approve his opponents, he had no say about the referees. In his next appearance, a televised match with Mike DeJohn in Louisville, Chuvalo knocked DeJohn down in the second round. Referee Don Asbury stopped the fight, and Chuvalo's second, thinking DeJohn had been knocked out, removed Chuvalo's gloves. Asbury, however, decided DeJohn had been fouled and ordered the fighters to continue. In the sixth round Chuvalo knocked DeJohn out of the ring. Asbury pulled him back in, wiped his gloves and finally began to count. While Chuvalo was waiting for the decision to be announced, he says Asbury said to him, "What do you look so glum for, George? You won by a country mile." A moment later, Chuvalo heard that Asbury had scored the fight a draw. Fortunately, the judges voted for Chuvalo.
Six weeks later Chuvalo fought another televised bout, this time against Tony Alongi in Miami Beach. Alongi won a split decision. The following day, the Miami Beach Boxing Commission declared that Referee Cy Gottfried's card had been "incorrectly scored" and changed the decision to a draw.
Shaken by these narrow escapes, as well as by his loss to Folley early last year, Chuvalo got himself a manager—enter Ungerman, comfortable, charitable poultry processor, dismayed by the prevalence of sharp practice in the fight game—and a sponsoring group, Apollo Promotions, intentional symbol of manly youth: besides Irving Ungerman, Karl Ungerman, Moe Wasser, in poultry, likewise; Mel Newman, furniture; Aaron Sokolsky, restaurateur.
Irving Ungerman fought amateur as a 105-pounder. He grew up in a Gentile district, Perth Avenue, where a big Scottish kid who called him Israelite used to hit him with a geography book. "It was at least 24 by 18," says Ungerman. "On the head, from behind, every school day he"d buckle me down. I joined the YMCA. There was no YMHA." In time, Ungerman had revenge in the cloakroom. "I opened his head in two different places," he says. Ungerman owns several tarnished teaspoons he won boxing in the Air Force. "If I really wanted to, I possibly could have come up pretty good, won a few little trophies," he says.
Ungerman has known Chuvalo since he was an infant; his mother used to leave him in his carriage in Ungerman's front store while she plucked chickens. "I have a great interest in the kid solely because of the close relationship he had with me as a child, and my respect for the parents," Ungerman said the other evening after dinner, surrounded by his family: Mrs. Sylvia Ungerman; their daughter, Shelley, 17; their son, Howie. 15; their daughter, Temmy, 3. "I attribute his ability and goodness to his parents."
"George is very close to his mother and father," Mrs. Ungerman said. "He's not at all ashamed to kiss his father. He takes his soiled gym clothes home to his mother. It's like he's Jewish, but he's Croatian."
"I said to George, 'What is it you really need?' " Ungerman said. "He said, 'Someone who will really take care of me.' He had a sour taste with his other manager, a little bit of suspicion. He doesn't automatically take to a person."
"He's an introvert," said Mrs. Ungerman. "You never know what he's thinking. He doesn't expose himself. He's got a reserve. But whatever he undertakes, he does it wholeheartedly, with great belief, with positive thinking."
"There is absolutely no consideration that a fellow reaps some money out of this," Ungerman said. "Money never did interest me. I've had no value for money. I've been happy without it. It would be the greatest enjoyment in my life to get that championship. I'd be only too happy to give all the money to charity. George used to have that problem—if he needed something, he couldn't turn to his manager."
"It cost money," said Mrs. Ungerman. "Once Irv took over, George was finally going to get something he wanted and was looking for. He can go through training without worry, aggravation maybe and doubts, knowing that the needs he requires for proper boxing are being looked after for his good."
"I second that motion," said Howie.
"Passed," said Mrs. Ungerman.
"He's a new Chuvalo, mentallywise," Ungerman said. "He listens, he abides. What I'm enjoying is there is such good harmony."
Ungerman said the fighter gets 50% of his gross earnings; A polio pays the expenses from its 50%. He said Chuvalo has a drawing account but has never asked for all he is entitled to. "He doesn't want any charity out of me," Ungerman said. "He never went to a training camp before the Jones fight. He has a trainer he has a great love for, four sparring partners, new bags, proper everything. Theodore tapes his hands every time he trains, just like it's a real fight. So it cost me $50 a month in tape. It's psychology. I got him goggles. He likes to chop wood. I never managed a fighter before. I used common sense. God forbid a chip should get in his eye. He carries an ax in his car because he sometimes gets an urge to chop wood. A couple of years ago, he's driving near my country place, he gets an urge. He asks a guy whether it's all right to chop a tree here. He tells him it's all right. He's chopping a tree and an old, English-type woman arrives. She sees him cutting a beautiful tree and she says it's her tree. George has to go to court. It develops the tree was six inches or a foot outside her property. The case was dismissed. George is a decent, honorable guy. He only cut the tree because the guy said it was all right.
"I keep impressing him: this is only the beginning. During the Jones fight, while I'm letting air into his trunks, I'm telling him, 'You're the champion of the world. You've got it. You're made.' I'm so grateful he won that fight. Before, I was a little dubious about getting my name mentioned. Now I'm proud of it. I sent a couple of my maintenance men up to his house to make a railing by his steps. I'm always sending up chickens and rabbits. After the fight I gave him a cake with 'It's Only the Beginning' on it. He saw me order it before the fight. It's psychology. They never encouraged him before. They left him all alone. I got him dressing different. I'm getting him to meet people. I use a little bit of the Canoe cologne. He gets a kick out of it. I told him it was $7.50 for a little bottle. Keep fighting, I told him, it's yours.
"I'm not saying he's smarter, cleverer, more polished than Patterson. If he loses—I have to face reality—it wouldn't change my thinking a bit. I wouldn't drop him."
"Why should you?" asked Mrs. Ungerman.
"If he really did lose that fight," said Ungerman, "I'd be that much more devoted to him."
"George, the tanker. George, the tanker," said Shelley, laughing. "That's what all the kids in school say to me—George, the tanker."
"George Jell-O," said Temmy, or something near it.
"Are you calling George yellow?" said Howie.
Cassius Clay has frequently, and vaguely, termed Chuvalo "the washerwoman" in the deprecatory vein in which he refers to Floyd Patterson as "she" or "the rabbit." In the same breath Clay has ostensibly called Chuvalo "a dirty fighter," which bewilders Chuvalo because of the seeming inconsistency. Nevertheless, when he was in Miami Beach for the Alongi fight, Chuvalo paraded in drag—an old bonnet, a dress, his face made up like a crone—on Collins Avenue with McWhorter, who held a placard which read, "Cautious Cassius Afraid to Fight This Old Washerwoman."
"The only thing Clay is afraid of is that he might not get a chance to fight Chuvalo," says Angelo Dundee, the champion's manager. Although the epithet is no doubt infelicitous in this decade, Chuvalo is patently a White Hope and, consequently, big box office.
"White Hope," Chuvalo said the other night, driving back to camp from Avon Avenue. "It makes you feel funny. But it's preposterous to call me a dirty fighter. Now, I don't mind the image of being a rough, tough fighter."
At camp, Ungerman, who had driven out with Mel Newman, one of the backers, showed a film of the Jones fight he had had specially made. Although Jones has complained that Chuvalo kept stepping on his feet, Chuvalo did not appear at all dirty. When it was pointed out that he had often held Jones about the waist with his left arm, Chuvalo seemed genuinely contrite, said he had not realized he had done it so often and would, in the future, desist a little. "It's all different on film," he said. "I didn't realize Jones threw so many punches. Even when I knocked him down it seemed different. It's closer on film than I thought it was."
Ungerman then showed the third Patterson-Ingemar Johansson fight; prior to the Jones fight, Chuvalo had studied a film of the Machen-Jones fight. "We find the movies very refreshing," says McWhorter. McWhorter is not one of those stereotyped trainers who lounge, arms draped over the uppermost ring rope, occasionally muttering to their fighters to keep their lefts up. In fact, McWhorter gets right into the ring with Chuvalo when he is sparring—a somewhat comic figure in a fedora, brim turned up all around, a tattered yellow coat sweater and a pair of shapeless trousers, low in the scat, that might well have been bought secondhand from a burlesque comedian; he is slightly crouched, peering as closely as a dentist, continuously exhorting. McWhorter has also devised a drill that Chuvalo calls "hand beat." Wearing the same outfit, with the addition of a pair of 16-ounce gloves, McWhorter has Chuvalo practice combinations by striking the gloves, which he holds in various positions. He is, furthermore, an advocate of long, strenuous workouts; Chuvalo has boxed as many as 12 rounds in a single session but, then, Chuvalo is what they call "a good trainer." Says Ungerman with awe, "One night, when George was training for the Jones fight, I came out to camp, and there he was outside swinging a sledge hammer, hitting a tire prior to going to bed."
While the movie unfolded, Chuvalo lay back on the rose carpet in the sunken living room; two pillows, one of which Ungerman had solicitously provided, supported his head. Chuvalo was staying in a bungalow which houses the waitresses during the months that the golf course is playable; he trained in the clubhouse beneath an elegant chandelier and before a mural which depicts a country scene much in the manner of Grandma Moses. The sparring partners, with the exception of Cody Jones, who was in his room painting an elaborate portrait of a lady with finicky hair ("I like to paint hair," Cody says), sat around eating Ungerman's barbecued chicken. It was, Chuvalo estimated, about the 50th time he had seen the film.
"Look at that," McWhorter was saying in the dark. "Look at that. Patterson won't hit back. He's a leader. See that. See that, George. I think we box him a little bit. See how he misses, George. You step back. He come in like that, you hit him, he won't wake up until tomorrow. Look at that. Look at that. He's off balance. He's worse than an old washerwoman. We're not Johansson. He try to lunge with the left with us—he dead. When I turn George loose, he going to go. Beat him and beat him and hit him and hit him. To the body. To the head. I'm going to get him so he can fight for three minutes.
"He's going to weigh 209 for Patterson. For Jones, we supposed to come in 209. When we left camp we were weighing 206. Something must have happened—we come in 211.1 like that weight—209. Under 10 his body feel faster. Over 10 it feel heavy. You not, but it's psychology. Feel faster, you faster. Those little numbers."
Chuvalo never got to see Johansson knocked out that night; the film kept sticking in the middle of the fifth round, the frame abruptly burning—a violent, darkening image. When the lights were turned on, Chuvalo took one of his pillows over to the wall, stood on his head and did a neck exercise.
"Marciano used to do that," Ungerman said.
Beyond the great picture window, as on the Feast of Stephen, the snow lay round about; the glass itself was remarkably cold.
"You know," said McWhorter, "I just might go down to Puerto Rico to see Patterson fight." This was a few days before Patterson knocked out Charlie Powell in San Juan.
"And four days after the fight," said Chuvalo, "no Theodore. Call him up in Puerto Rico. 'Hello, is that Theodore McWhorter speaking?' 'Yes, and forget it.' "
McWhorter sucked on his dying cigar, enjoying his imaginary vacation. Chuvalo was asked whether he had ever considered moving from Toronto to a tropical climate if he became champion.
"No," he said, "if you got the money you can always step into a nice, warm house."