Written by Rich Cairns
My son Mike Cairns attended a charity event for DAREarts a few months ago and one of the items being auctioned was a pair of boxing gloves to be autographed by George Chuvalo, former Canadian heavyweight boxing champ for many years. Chuvalo couldn’t be there that night so as compensation, a dinner was arranged to be attended by George, Mike and a guest. Thanks to Mike, that guest turned out to be me.
A bit of history – Chuvalo, 77 as I write this, had a wonderful career. He fought the best in the greatest era in boxing and was never knocked down or out in 93 professional fights. His opponents included Muhammad Ali (twice), Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Sylvester Stallone called him his hero.
When I boxed for the University of Toronto varsity team, on 1955/56, my trainer, who knew Chuvalo, tried to arrange a sparring session between the two of us but it never worked out. It was a busy time for him as he was turning professional after having won the Canadian amateur heavyweight crown. I was not in his class but it would have been a day to remember for me to climb in the ring with a fighter of his calibre.
So, in May of 2015, Mike picked me up and we went to EDO, a Japanese restaurant in Bayview Village, Toronto, to wait for George. He showed up a few minutes later with Marilyn, the lovely woman who founded DAREarts and a friend of George, working with him to help kids stay away from drugs and accomplish their personal best. He didn’t know us, yet he couldn’t have been better company. He was friendly, told great stories and told them well and appeared to be having a very good time with us. Two things impressed me that night.
One – He didn’t boast, not at all, even though he was rated by experts and the top fighters of his era as the toughest heavyweight of his time (Ali said he was the toughest man he ever fought). He’s Canadian, of Croatian descent and there’s a statue of him in his home town. He has been praised everywhere, met the queen, had a brief movie career, etc. He’s done it all and you would never guess that from talking to him.
Two – The second thing that impressed me was that he was respectful to women. If he told a story with even a hint of off-colour material, he put his hands over Marilyn’s ears. He was respectful of her all evening.
Later, he signed the gloves and posed for pictures.
My favorite is Mike, with a big grin getting ready to unload his right hand on George’s chin.
The evening was a life highlight for me. I will never forget it.
A special thank you to EDO for generously providing dinner, Mike Cairns for donating to DAREarts, and to DAREarts Champion Mentor George Chuvalo.