As It Happens

Chuvalo versus Ali: 50 years since Canada's biggest fight

Remembering one of the biggest fights of his life, George Chuvalo takes us back half a decade and into the ring with Muhammad Ali, fighting for the world heavyweight title in Toronto.
March 29, 1966: George Chuvalo fights Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens. (AP)
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It was 50 years ago tonight that a sold out crowd at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens witnessed the biggest fight in Canadian boxing history. George "Boom Boom" Chuvalo versus Muhammad Ali.

"It was an exciting time. It was for the heavyweight championship of the world. It doesn't get any better than that in boxing," Chuvalo tells As it Happens host Carol Off.

The fight was not originally planned for Toronto. Nor was Chuvalo the planned opponent for Ali. Originally, the fight was to take place in Chicago with Ali versus Ernie Terrell. But Ali was a controversial figure and, after speaking out against the Vietnam War, critics called him unpatriotic and called for the fight to be cancelled.

So the fight was moved to Toronto where he faced Chuvalo.

There was a lot of controversy with the fight. There were a lot of people with strong feelings on both sides of an argument and I knew it was going to be an exciting night.- George Chuvalo

Moving the fight to Canada meant Chuvalo had only 17 days to prepare for the fight.

"Within 24 hours, I had six sparring partners coming from Chicago, Miami and New York," explains Chuvalo. "I knew he was very quick, very agile and a very intelligent fighter. So I knew I had my work cut out for me."

Chuvalo then did what no other fighter had done — he finished the fight and went all 15 rounds against Ali. Ali later said Chuvalo was the toughest person he'd ever faced in the ring.

"That's what he said. I don't argue with that," laughs Chuvalo.

Ali was ruled the victor, but Chuvalo is proud of his performance that night.

"I was having fun all along."

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