The great Earnie Shavers turns the milestone age of 75 this week, August 31st – One of the remaining survivors of a truly golden age of heavyweight boxing and in good enough shape to be able to talk about it all in a coherent manner, Shavers is widely referred to as the hardest puncher ever at his weight.
Dubbed “The Puncher of The Century” some years ago, Earnie could today perhaps be referred to as the greatest living puncher. Even now, who would fancy a dig from the naturally heavy-handed slugger the incomparable Muhammad Ali nicknamed “The Acorn?”
Shavers compiled quite amazing numbers as a pro: a staggering 68 KO’s from his 74 wins. And the modern day bonebreaker from Alabama took care of some fine fighters; or should I say his withering power took care of some fine fighters, and contenders along with some former champions. Jimmy Young, seldom stopped at any stage of his career, was done in inside just three rounds by Shavers, Jimmy Ellis fell in one, as did Ken Norton.
It was though, the big fights that Shavers lost that added to his reputation as a monster puncher. Ali went through hell in decisioning Shavers over 15 at times nasty rounds to cling onto his belt; with only Ali’s unique combination of toughness, bravery and cunning allowing him out of the second round during his 45-minute tenure in the ring with Earnie in 1977.
Larry Holmes was violently smashed to the canvas by Shavers in a 1979 title defence by Holmes, only Larry’s astonishing recuperative powers allowing him to survive and somehow come back to get the win. Bernardo Mercado took the full force of Shavers’ power, so much so that Earnie’s glove imploded when the shot made contact with Mercado’s chin. James Tillis says with a grin how he saw “pink mice and rats” scurrying around the ring after being levelled by a Shavers bomb – “he hit so hard he could turn hoss piss into gasoline,” Tillis says today.
Yet somehow, after tasting Shavers’ terrifying power, these men, and others, beat him. Which leads some critics to suggest Shavers is overrated, that he was not the gargantuan puncher others say he was. These critics are dead wrong. Ask Holmes. You could have asked Ali or Norton.
Earnie may not have won his biggest fights but his big punches had a detonating effect on each and every man he faced. Shavers’ power was for real, no doubt. This doesn’t mean Shavers was a great fighter (he was pretty close, his chin and stamina shortcomings letting him down in certain fights) but his power was truly great. One punch, that’s all it took for Shavers to hurt any man he stepped into the ring with.
Applaud the greatest living puncher now, as his 75th birthday approaches.
Shavers engaged in many action fights throughout his long career, yet one fight of his that is truly jaw-dropping is his 1976 non-title war with Roy “Tiger” Williams, a man Shavers later freely admitted be was afraid of (“I wouldn’t even drive through his hometown for fear of running into him,” Shavers once said of Williams).
The fight, available on YouTube, is incredible. Watch it now and ask yourself honestly if you have ever seen as ‘Rocky-like’ a real life ending to any fight!
Happy birthday, Mr. Shavers.