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CHASING MUHAMMAD ALI, FIGHTING THE OPIOIDS


CHASING MUHAMMAD ALI, FIGHTING THE OPIOIDS

In 1972, George Foreman, after his controversial and epic bout with George Chuvalo, called Chuvalo “the toughest man on the planet.” Chuvalo went on to become the all-time iron man of boxing. The only heavyweight in the recorded history of the sport never to be knocked out, never knocked down, never even knocked off his feet. Not once in ninety-seven pro bouts. An astonishing statistic. In a boxing career that spanned twenty-two years, Chuvalo faced every heavyweight champion and every top-ranked challenger of his era; Muhammad Ali twice, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Floyd Patterson, Jimmy Ellis, Ernie Terrell, Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonavena, and virtually every other top-ranked contender in what they sometimes now call the “golden era of boxing” in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He was to have two epic bouts with Ali, a total of twenty-seven punishing rounds, during which they formed a special bond forged by fire the ring. That special friendship was to endure between them until Ali’s death in 2017. Then, just as Chuvalo’s boxing career wound down and he was settling into retirement, opioids began to infest his family and his battles became ones another kind. Deadly, hard-to-read-about, life-and-death battles against ‘the poison,’ which is the only word that George would ever use for opioids. Just a filthy poison that he fought against and hated with every fiber of his being and that was not worthy of being called anything more: just poison. His old ring foe, Muhammad Ali, was there for Chuvalo again in retirement. This time as a good friend when Chuvalo was in a state of dire financial need and Ali personally came to the rescue twice, donating more than $50,000 on two separate occasions to help lift his old foe-turned-friend back on his feet. Jack Dempsey, one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time, said of a young eighteen-year old Chuvalo, “This boy’s a natural. If I could have fought like this kid, I would have been champion of the world at twenty.” Shortly after that, another legendary heavyweight, Rocky Marciano, was to say to assembled reporters, “Take my word on it, this kid’s going to be the next heavyweight champion of the world.” So, there it was. George Chuvalo’s destiny laid out before him like very few had ever had in the history of the fight game. When Chuvalo turned pro, his career quickly became defined by his determination to face down the great Muhammad Ali in the ring and fulfil his own destiny to become the heavyweight champion of the world. But landing a bout with the man who became known as ‘The Greatest of All Time’ turned out to be an elusive study in frustration for much of Chuvalo’s career since every other highly-ranked contender in the boxing world was also chasing Ali. And The Fix was such a commonplace in boxing of that era that Chuvalo had many big fights and big paydays snatched away from him, including many attempts to meet step into the rig with Ali when a bout with Ali meant the biggest paydays in all of boxing. Chuvalo’s refrain in those days was, “Just for once, I’d like to be on the right side of the fix.” And twice he was, meeting Ali first in 1966 and then again in 1972, one of few men to meet Ali more than once. And, in those two epic ring battles, a special friendship was forged between two great men that would carry on their whole lives. Then came retirement came, and a fix of a different kind set in. The kind a heroin addict craves. Within a few years of retirement, opioids got deeply into his family and, in a period of ten years while George fought daily against what he always called "the poison" as four of his family died of opioid related causes; his youngest son, Jesse Miles, his middle son, Georgie Lee and his wife, Lynne, only three days apart, then his second son, Steven, three years later. What Chuvalo was to call "a personal holocaust." - Michael Hughes

  • Author: Michael C. Hughes
  • Published: 2018-08-17 21:35:06
  • Words: 22781
CHASING MUHAMMAD ALI, FIGHTING THE OPIOIDS CHASING MUHAMMAD ALI, FIGHTING THE OPIOIDS