Often referred to as the hardest hitting heavyweight never to have won even a version of the world title, Earnie Shavers’ withering power continues to fascinate fans; his highlight reel KO’s still sending shivers down the spine of a fight fan some 40-plus years after the shaven-headed banger scored them.
Jimmy Ellis, gone in a round. Jimmy Young, taken care of inside three rounds. Ken Norton, wiped out inside a single round. And then there’s the heavy knockdowns Shavers scored; his dumping of the great Larry Holmes in that seventh round Holmes somehow managed to survive. The face-first plant job Earnie administered to James Tillis when he was an older guy, “Quick,” like Holmes, somehow dragging himself erect after absorbing a Shavers bomb flush on the jaw.
It is though, the Norton destruction that saw the best of Shavers. This KO, scored in 1979, saw “The Acorn” fell a former heavyweight champion who still had a good deal to offer. Shavers went through Norton like he wasn’t even there.
Norton was 35 years old and he was 41-5 as a pro. Shavers was a year younger and he was 57-7-1 at the time of their short fight. Squaring up in Las Vegas, on the under-card of Holmes Vs. Ossie Ocasio, Shavers and Norton didn’t spend too much time in the ring. Norton, who had won one fight since dropping that close decision to Holmes in their June, 1978 epic, looked to be in great condition, as always.
But Norton’s chin, never all that great at standing up to the punch of a noted slugger (see his KO loss to George Foreman, and later KO defeat to Gerry Cooney), was no match for his incredible physique. Shavers came right at his man, soon having Norton on the ropes. Trying to block and/or dodge the artillery coming his way, Norton was fighting a war he couldn’t win.
Hurt by a left hand to the head and then decked by a Shavers right, Norton was badly stunned. Norton got back up but he was then blasted by a brutal right uppercut to the chin and down he went again. Again Norton managed to beat the count (he was never, ever short on heart), but referee Mills Lane had seen enough. Holmes, no doubt watching the fight in his dressing room, knew what he would be facing in his next fight after taking care of Ocasio.
Holmes-Shavers II was on. The rest is history. And Earnie Shavers is arguably the most dangerous heavyweight in boxing history never to have managed to win the big one. How, only Holmes knows.