WINNIPEG – Boxing may be struggling but it will never lose its loyal fans to mixed martial arts, says Canadian boxing legend George Chuvalo.
“I think it’s struggling a little and one of the problems is we don’t have an era,” says Chuvalo, who turns 77 Friday.
He defines eras by the great fighters, all heavyweights, who dominated them. Fighters like Joe Louis or, closer to home for Chuvalo, Muhammad Ali.
Going the distance with Ali is probably the thing that sticks most in people’s minds when they think of Chuvalo.
But he also fought Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Floyd Patterson and held the Canadian heavyweight title from 1959 pretty much until it was time to hang ’em up in 1978 with only a few breaks.
Boxing defined his life but he’s now been out of the ring longer than he was in it, although he says he works out daily and looks like he could still do a lot of damage with his big hands.
“I was a fighter from the age of 10 to 41,” said Chuvalo.
Chuvalo was in Winnipeg this week to help promote an Olympic-style match between members of Canada’s national team and Puerto Rico’s, arranged as a fundraiser for the United Boxing Club.
One of the organizers is Ryan Savage, a Winnipeg lawyer who is also president and head coach at the club and vice-president of Boxing Canada.
He’s one of those boxing fans Chuvalo is talking about, a three-time national champion who spent seven years on the Canadian team until he retired from the ring 11 years ago.
Now he does what he can to develop new fighters.
“I do it all for love of the sport,” Savage said at a packed gathering in a south-Winnipeg restaurant.
Chuvalo’s prescription for reinvigorating boxing is grooming fighters who can bring back some excitement. And he focuses on heavyweights.
“The biggest guy is the best guy.”
Right now the face of boxing seems to be Floyd Mayweather, who has held 10 titles but all in light divisions.
“It gets a little thin after Mayweather. He’s pretty much got it all to himself.”
As for the Klitschko brothers who dominate the heavyweight division right now, they’re part of what’s wrong, says Chuvalo.
“They’re not exciting at all. I yawn an awful lot when I see one of their fights. They win because they’re so goldarn big and that’s their biggest asset.”
The Ukrainian brothers hold most of the heavyweight titles but won’t fight each other, blaming a promise they made to their mother.
“It isn’t like watching Rocky Marciano, it isn’t like watching Joe Louis, it isn’t like watching Mike Tyson, it isn’t like watching Muhammad Ali.”
That’s what the sport needs, he says, to compete with MMA.
“The MMA isn’t really converting real boxing fans . . . its just the fact there aren’t enough exciting fighters out there in the boxing game.
“Boxing needs another Mike Tyson, boxing needs another Joe Louis, boxing needs another Rocky Marciano. They need someone in the heavyweight division especially to garner interest.”