TORONTO - George Chuvalo is already in Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. And now so is the bell he answered 15 times against Muhammad Ali some 48 years ago at Maple Leaf Gardens.
The 77-year-old Chuvalo rang the bell himself Wednesday as it was shown off at a news conference at Mattamy Athletic Centre, site of the old Gardens, honouring the 2014 inductees to Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. A smiling Chuvalo, a Hall of Famer himself since 1990, gave a thumbs-up and then shadow-boxed after hearing the familiar sound.
"I get reminded of it just about every day of the week," the former Canadian heavyweight champion said of his first fight with Ali on March 29, 1966.
"I didn't win the fight. But it was a tough battle," he added. "People tell me that when they saw the fight it made them proud to be Canadian. That makes me proud to be a Canadian, that makes me very very proud to be a Canadian."
Like Chuvalo, the bell — which comes complete with a trigger — is a piece of Canadian history with a story to tell.
It was donated by Michael Shillolo, whose father Frank Shillolo used to be the official bell man for the Ontario Athletics Commission.
After a crack was noticed during a fight night at the Gardens in 1980, the bell was pulled out of service for repairs. By the time the work had been done, the commission had purchased a more modern replacement.
The original bell sat in Frank's Shillolo basement for years although it was brought out in 1999 for Chuvalo to ring during one of his presentations to students on drug abuse.
Boxing runs deep in the Shillolo family.
Michael's uncle, Tony Canzano, was a longtime boxing coach, who helped a young Chuvalo get interested in the sport, as well as a boxing judge (he worked the first Ali-Chuvalo bout) and acting head of the Ontario Athletics Commission. Vic Shillolo, Frank's cousin, was also a former judge.
After Frank died, the family agreed to donate the bell to the Hall of Fame.
Chuvalo (73-18-2) was never knocked down as pro. He lost a rematch to Ali in 1972 by 12-round decision at Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum.
Chuvalo had just 17 days notice to prepare for Ali the first time around after the champion's fight with Ernie Terrell fell through.
"They had a contest between a bull and a bumblebee at Maple Leaf Gardens last night — with the usual result. The bull came out of it with his face looking like a bucket of balls at a golf driving range," legendary Toronto Star columnist Milt Dunnell wrote at the time.
But as Chuvalo recalls Ali went to hospital that night.
"I went dancing with my wife," Chuvalo said. "I got the best of that deal."
He did not do so well when it came to his payday. Chuvalo said he ended up with $12,500 with manager Irving Ungerman taking the lion's share of the $49,000 purse after expenses.
The bell brought back his smile, however.
"Instant memories. Especially here," Chuvalo said.
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