Mitchell Chuvalo,age 7, was going to attend his first prizefight, and his mother was telling himwhat to expect. "Not only is Daddy going to hit Mr. Clay," she said,"but Mr. Clay is going to hit Daddy (see cover)." During the lightIrving Ungerman, who wears a big red M on his sleeve to let the people know heis George Chuvalo's manager, shouted to George, "Mitchell's here. Make himproud of you." Mitchell shouted: "Daddy, crush Mr. Clay like abanana." After the tight, photographers shot Mitchell with his father,whose vast, faintly cherubic countenance looked, as was written, like it wasmade up of a number of driving-range golf balls.
Then MortGreenberg, a friend of the family, drove Mitchell home. In the car the boysaid, "Mort, who won the fight." Mort replied. "The judges said Mr.Clay won, but we know in our hearts..." and Mitchell began to cry. Morttried to cheer him up, but Mitchell was inconsolable. "I bet one of myneighbors $5 and another neighbor $15," he said, "and I don't have themoney to pay them." Said Mort. "I thought you were worried becauseDaddy lost the decision." "I win!" Mitchell said, brightening."They bet me Daddy would be knocked out."
This was the onlyhappy ending of the night for the Chuvalo family but, although George won onlytwo of the 15 rounds according to the three officials, it was one of his bestlosses. In fact, it was nearly as good as his loss to Floyd Patterson a yearago, which students of Chuvalo's career consider to be the very finest of his12 defeats. "We don't fight nothing but masterpieces." says Chuvalo'strainer, Theodore McWhorter.
Fortunately,Chuvalo is resilient. When, following the light, he was asked if there wasanybody around who could beat Clay, he said. "I think George Chuvalo canbeat him." When asked what his plans were, he said, "Keep training.Keep lighting. What the hell." The next day in his hotel room overlookingLake Ontario, he said further, "It's only the little things that count inboxing. The difference between mediocrity and greatness really isn't that much.I know I can fight better. I want to be the best I can be. When I retire I wantto feel I was the best I could be." To which his wife Lynne added: "Iknow my husband can be the greatest fighter in the world, but I'd like to havehim pick up a little of Clay's polish."
April 11, 1966
Heretofore,Chuvalo has regarded polish as unbecoming to a fighter. As he once said,"In a fight between a lion and a Christian. I'd rather be the lion."Undeniably, the metaphor does not apply to Muslims.
Last week againstCassius Clay, Chuvalo was far tougher, more persevering (and more unwary) thanany lion, and it was these attributes which made the fight—which was neither ashad as mans had predicted, nor as good as man) have reported—at all rewarding.Its qualities, however, were spuriously enhanced by the crowd, which roared atChuvalo's misses, both near and far: in much the same fashion is the comiccontent of My Mother, the car improved by canned laughter.
What the lightlacked was essential: the real possibility that Chuvalo could win. If you knewthat the odds were 7 to 1 against the toad becoming a prince, who would keepreading, much less get in bed with it? The only question was whether Clay wouldbe able to knock Chuvalo down and or out, which was admittedly intriguing butbeside the point. In fact, as Lloyd Percival, the director of Toronto's FitnessInstitute and the latest to try his hand at remaking Chuvalo, says,"George's indestructibility is a negative virtue." Because Clay did notknock George down, the conclusion has been arrived at that clay has no punch.This is unreasonable, for in 48 fights over 10 years Chuvalo has never been onthe floor. Let Percival explain: "Chuvalo has a widespread stance, astrong, flexible neck, good thick bones in the head, and his pool ofequilibrium must be deep." Or, in the words of Angelo Dundee. Clay'smanager. "Anyone who weighs over 200 pounds can punch—I don't care if it'sa broad."
The fight wasbilled as being between Muhammad Ali. The People's Champion, and GeorgeChuvalo. The Canadian Champion. The only heavyweight champion in the ring wasGene Kiniski, a wrestler who got an introduction. As Men McKenzie, the Ontariocommissioner, kept saving. "There is no organization as such thatrecognizes Clay as champ. He's the people's choice, that's all."
Which must be newsto Clay. But an almost Stifling aura of bonhomie enveloped Toronto last week.The provincial sportswriters righteously lined up behind Clay—as freethinkingCanadians they had no quarrel with them Viet Congs, either. "Everybody hasbeen so nice to me here." murmured Clay effulgently. "It's just not theatmosphere for my vicious predictions. George is a nice fella and has beenquiet about politics and religion."
Indeed, George hadhardly any words at all, fighting or otherwise. However, as the night of thetight approached, he allowed that, to him, "Clay's not a person anymore.Just an it." With all this lack of hostility in the air, it was notsurprising that during the referee's instructions Clay came within 5/16 of aninch of kissing Chuvalo.
Nonetheless, acrowd of 13,540, which paid a Canadian-record $150,000, turned out in the MapleLeaf Gardens, where the ring announcer kept it posted on the score of a hockeygame between the Kitchener Rangers and the Toronto Marlboros and pleaded withit "to please refrain from smoking as much as possible so that you and thetelevision audience will be able to view the main bout." But then, Torontois a town where it's considered sinful to publish newspapers on Sunday.
The fight itselfwas chiefly memorable for Clay's outrageous conduct in the early going and thepermissiveness of the referee, who officiated in street clothes, his shirtsleeves rolled to his elbows as though he were about to do a bit of honestwork. In the first few rounds Clay stood stock still on occasion with his armsraised, as though posing for a chest X ray, and invited Chuvalo to bang him tothe body. Indeed, he exhorted the challenger for the People's Championship tohit him harder. The most visible effect of these blows was that they pulledClay's trunks down, revealing his bright-red protector. Later on, Clay made alame attempt at explaining his behavior. "If you try to get out of the wayof all of them," he said, "you get tired. And the man that throws themost punches that mean nothing is in the most trouble. You get the science inthat?" No. Nor did Cap'n Sam Saxon, Clay's rosy-cheeked bodyguard andintimate, who might have been expected to fathom his strange motives. "Thatshakes me up to see that," Cap'n Sam said. "I don't believe inthat."
"You can't toyand percolate." said Angelo Dundee, shaking his head. "It was a sweatjob. When you fight a guy that don't fall down.... I told him in the corner itwas bad psychology, that he was going to hurt himself. 'Stay in the center ofthe ring,' I told him. 'Keep him turning. But if you want to lose your title,keep on doing what you're doing.' I was afraid he was going to get hit in thepit of the spine and be immobilized. Immobilized! I'm getting to be a reallanguage expert. Why he does it is beyond me. It's bizarre. I've never seen ahuman being like him. But he listened to me tonight better than in any otherfight. He changed gears, which he didn't do with Patterson."
The referee, aclothing salesman name of Jackie Silvers, bemusedly allowed Chuvalo to hit Claylow countless times with what Chuvalo's sparring partner. Hubert Hilton, calls"anywhere punches"; Silvers' first perceptible warning came in the 12thround. His explanation was that the blows were inadvertent, integral toChuvalo's style, of little consequence, and Clay was not making any beefs.(However, Clay said afterward that the foul punches were the only ones thathurt.) This reasoning did not impress Dundee any more than it would haveimpressed John Stuart Mill. Angelo kept yelling at Silvers from the corner,"You're a hell of a man. You're a stand-up Johnny. I'd like to have you onmy team. You're a creep."
Indeed, one can becarried away by illogic in this game just as readily as in picking horses orwives. For example, there are those who claim that, although he may have wonbut two rounds, the fight was actually much closer, as Chuvalo "was doingsomething" in each round. Trainer McWhorter is one of the foremostproponents of this kind of wishful thinking. "It really could have been adraw," he said. "George was really out there every trip." Which hassome truth in it but fairly or not, boxing is scored by rounds as assuredly aspresidents are selected by the votes of the electoral College.
Clay whollydominated the fight. He wore Chuvalo's face on the end of his glove. AlthoughClay threw all kinds of punches every which way, his most effective weapon wasa straight left, which came too fast for Chuvalo to cuff aside with his righthand, as he was able to do with Ernie Terrell's jab last November. In somerounds, like the fifth, Clay was "cooking" on Chuvalo with it, orpunching with all his might, so that it could no longer really be called a jab;in others he was hanging it out there to keep Chuvalo occupied, and in thesecond round he lightly rapped on Chuvalo's forehead with it, as though he wereknocking at a door. However, Chuvalo is so resolute that only twice in thelight was Clay able to back him up.
Chuvalo, who seemsto bring out the animal similes in everyone, has often been called a bull. Thisupsets McWhorter. "Because he looks like a bull you want him to fight likea bull," he says. "Everyone expects too much of this kid." WhatChuvalo is, actually, is a stand-up counterpuncher, and he likes nothing betterthan a guy who comes to him, such as Doug Jones, whom he knocked out. AgainstClay, however, Chuvalo had to press forward, for the most part throwing great,lunging, solitary and infrequent left hooks. Chuvalo loves to hook. It has beensaid that if he were hit over the head with a pipe in a dark alley he wouldturn around and throw a hook. Unfortunately, Chuvalo does not throw enough ofthem.
"Chuvalo'smain problem is the concept of catching his prey," says Lloyd Percival."He always visualizes himself standing over a man...or else raining blowson him in close, where he feels confident, where the problems are lesscomplicated, but never setting him up. The most important thing for Chuvalo inget is an accurate mental picture of Chuvalo. Clay has developed an image ofhimself that has helped him immeasurably."
Except for thelast few rounds, Chuvalo concentrated mainly on the body or near there, becausethat's where he naturally lands, and because there was this cockamamie theorythat Clay had a bit of kiyoodle in him, and that he might not like it downthere. Well, not only did (lay prove once more how many splendors he has as aboxer, but he showed he could take a punch and not look for the exit. SaysPercival: "Fighters shouldn't have doors to open. They should beirrevocable."
Clay certainly hadenough excuses to fall back on if he wanted to. A couple of days before thefight he was lying on his bed in the West Point Motor Inn—which, as has beensuggested, was a rather inappropriate choice for his headquarters—moaning low.Above his head a landscape depicting snowcapped mountains and a trout streamhung askew; on the next bed Cap'n Sam was perusing the Bible: Clay's brotherRahman was doing deep knee bends nearby.
"They leadethme into Toronto, Canada." Clay was saying. "They maketh me light out ofthe country. They leadeth me down the path of bad publicity. I shall bebewailed in the history of sport forever. The sports fan shall follow me allthe days of my life....
"All this ischild's play," he continued, three-quarters of an hour later. "I needsome test harder than this to test me. A den full of poisoned rattlesnakescouldn't shake me. Allah would make the rattlesnakes' jaws lock. They'd have totie me up in the hot sun in the den with the rattlesnakes, let them crawl allaround me, take some boiling water and throw me in it, and that wouldn't scareme—Allah would cool it. This stuff ain't nothing...."
Following thefight, Clay was relatively speechless. When Chris Dundee, Angelo's brother,visited him in his darkened dressing room, he groaned. "Don't talk. Let merest, please." And he called for three bottles of soda pop. As he saidlater. "I was whipped." Indeed, he was exhausted, his hands wereswollen, and he was sore around the left side and hack, where Chuvalo hadpounded him. McWhorter has said, portentously, "All of them collapse in theshower." And if they only did it in the ring, where it counts. Chuvalowould have a million dollars. Instead of returning to the West Point thatnight. Clay slipped off to recuperate in a hidey-hole. There was no one in hismotel room after the light but us Muslims, including Minister Lewis, who was aCalypso singer but now does little numbers like The White Man's Heaven Is theBlack Man's Hell.
In place of Allah,Chuvalo looks to Lloyd Percival to show him the light and the way. It isPercival's contention that even the greatest athletes do not achieve their fullpotential, and it is Ins intention to help them realize it. Gordie Howe is hisprize pupil.
Percival feelsthat, of all sports, boxing and hockey have the most primitive trainingmethods. For example, he says, "The idea that a fighter has to pace himselfis nonsense. A man can punch continuously for 15 rounds if properlyconditioned." He also believes that eating a steak prior to a fight isnutritionally unsound. Chuvalo had broiled filet of sole before confrontingClay.
"Chuvalo is aperfect project." says Percival, who has put him through all sorts oftests. "We see nothing physically that could hinder this man from becomingthe world champion. Chuvalo has a great deal of residual tension around theshoulders, and he has done too much biceps work. Because of his shoulderdevelopment, he feels cumbersome. He is amazed because he can see an openingbut isn't quick enough to take advantage of it. We have to stretch his biceps,make him flexible. He's got to be steel inside but jell) outside.
"George alsohas the wrong image for winning fights—walking in, accepting punishment. He canbe taught to hit a bit harder, move a bit more. The idea of people being bornpunchers is nonsense. It's a developable factor. It's not necessary to take somain punches. There's no point to it, like Jim Taylor's insistence on runningover his tacklers. There are bulls that beat matadors, but they are very agilebulls." Lots of luck.
Clay is in no needof luck, for he is supposed to light Henry Cooper in Toronto on May 14 or inEngland on May 24 He knocked Cooper (Hit in five in 1963. Apparently, Clay willnot be called to arms before July, if he is not already in jail for nonpaymentof back alimony. Poor Ali! Drew (Bundini) Brown, his former trainer, hocked hischampionship belt. The Muslims won't let him drive his Cadillac anymore. Hischauffeur and valet seem to have been excommunicated or something—the chauffeurfor allegedly trying to peddle Elijah Muhammad's book in the ring after thePatterson fight, the valet for allegedly messing around.
According to BobArum of Main Bout, Inc., which had the ancillary rights to the last one, theClay-Cooper match will take place at 5 p.m. E.S.T. and be beamed to Europe viaTelstar. Says Arum: "Clay in the U.S. is a dead piece of merchandise. He'sthrough as far as big-money closed circuit is concerned. If we can, we'll tryto put the fight on home TV here. If not, we'll forget about it. The money wemade on this one certainly wasn't worth the effort." This was about$150,000 gross, compared to the record $4.5 million for the secondPatterson-Liston fight in 1963, which speaks eloquently for itself.
Clay knows he hasplumb talked himself out of the riches of this world, but he evidently getssome kind of sustenance from his role as the Great Sacrificer (page 89)."I'm the first hold Negro in the million-dollar bracket." he said theother day, his nostrils flaring. "I sacrifice in order to show otherNegroes that they're not free. The white Americans had to sacrifice to get apretty America with air conditioning, and when the male bee mates with thefemale bee he goes off and dies. The male bee has given his life so the littlebees may live."