Earnie Shavers, who earned a reputation as the hardest puncher in the game during a golden era of heavyweight boxing in the 1970s, died Thursday, a day after turning 78. The cause of death is unknown.
Shavers fought primarily in the ’70s, although his career spanned from 1969 to 1995. He was 74-14-1 with 68 career knockouts.
He fought both Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes for the heavyweight title. He fought Ali for the title on September 29, 1977 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Ali won a 15 round unanimous decision.
Ali had dubbed Shavers “The Acorn” before the fight because of his shaved head. But Ali had to fight a brilliant 15th round to make the decision and afterwards uttered one of his biggest lines when discussing Shavers’ punching power.
“Earnie hit me so hard it shook my relatives in Africa,” Ali said after the fight.
Former heavyweight champion George Foreman said in an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman that the hardest punchers he fought were Gerry Cooney, Ron Lyle and Cleveland Williams. When Letterman asked Foreman about razors, Foreman had an insightful answer.
“I never fought Earnie Shavers, thank God,” Foreman said.
Shavers fought Holmes twice, the first time being a non-title bout on March 25, 1978 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in his first fight after losing to Ali. Holmes won a 12-round decision over Shavers in that match and beat Ken Norton in his next fight to win the vacant WBC title.
Shavers and Holmes fought for the WBC belt on September 28, 1979 at Caesars. In the seventh, Shavers knocked down Holmes. Holmes got up and proceeded to stop Shavers on the 11th.
After the fight, Holmes said the punch Shavers hit him with to drop him was the hardest he’d ever hit.
Shavers wasn’t a big man for a heavyweight, standing at 6 feet tall and about 210 pounds. In today’s game, he would be encouraged to compete at cruiserweight, which has a 200-pound limit.
But he was feared by all of his peers, who routinely raved about his power.
Shavers made several comebacks but was finally done for in 1995 after losing by KO at the age of 51 in the second round.
He was an easy-going, fun-loving guy who made a habit of showing up at major boxing events after he retired. He was repeatedly asked for pictures and autographs by fans and enjoyed the attention he was given.
The biggest win of his career clearly came on March 23, 1979 when he knocked out Norton in the first round at what was then the Las Vegas Hilton. He also had a win over former heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis as well as Jimmy Young.
He lost a shootout to Lyle in Denver in 1975. Lyle went from that win to a match with Foreman that would become one of the greatest exchanges in boxing history. But Lyle had no doubt which of the two was the bigger puncher.
“Hey man, that’s the hardest hit I’ve ever taken in my life,” Lyle said of Shavers. “And George Foreman could hit, but none of them could hit like Earnie Shavers. When he met you, the lights went out. I can laugh about it now, but it wasn’t funny then.”