James Tillis, dubbed “Quick,” and for a time trained by Archie Moore, and by Muhammad Ali’s great trainer, Angelo Dundee, was oncd a truly bright talent, expected to go places. Tillis unfortunately fell short, losing his one and only shot at the heavyweight title to Mike Weaver, this by a wide 15 round decision. Still, “Quick” was a darn good fighter, and he was also not bad at the Ali stuff, both in the ring – Tillis could move, hence the nickname – as well as being funny and articulate outside of the squared circle.
Tillis came out with many a memorable sound-bite, as you will no doubt agree if you continue reading this article. This particular piece focuses on the two fights Tillis had with the two (arguably) biggest heavyweight punchers to ever grace the ring (and to leave a foe in a crumpled, painful heap) – Mike Tyson and Earnie Shavers. Tillis fought them both, and both battles went the distance, the full 10 rounds. Tillis, boxing Shavers on the huge Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney card in June of 1982, got off the floor to win. Tillis met a young and still somewhat raw Tyson in May of 1986, and he got up from a knockdown to lose via close, highly competitive decision.
But who hit harder, Mike or Earnie? It’s a question that has often cropped up amongst fight fans. And who better to answer the question than the only man (outside of Larry Holmes) to have shared a ring with both Shavers and Tyson?
Here, in an interview he was kind enough to grant this writer a while back (this before the sad passing of Shavers), Tillis breaks it down in typically colourful fashion.
“First of all, I gotta tell ya, I learned so much from my trainers, my teachers – Angelo Dundee, Archie Moore, and Bundini Brown,” Tillis said. “Angelo was a good guy, but Bundini, he brought out something extra. Archie [Moore]? He bought me a new pair of shoes every day (laughs). People ask me about Tyson and Shavers – let me tell you, there’s no comparison [as far as superior punching power]. None whatsoever! Shavers, he hit so hard he could turn horse piss into gasoline! He hit so hard he could bring back tomorrow. Tyson hit like a sissy in comparison. I beat Shavers, and I know I beat Tyson. I wanted a rematch with Tyson real bad, but Shavers, no way! When he hit me and knocked me down, I saw pink mice and rats smoking cigarettes! That fight [with Shavers] was the toughest 30 minutes of my life. “The Acorn” was one bad dude, let me tell ya. Against Tyson, with my new diet (no milk, wheat, or meat), I didn’t get tired and that boy was in trouble. He never would give me a rematch.”
Interesting stuff, to be sure. Of course, Shavers was past his best when he fought Tillis, while Tyson was still perfecting his craft. But in terms of sheer, forceful power, maybe Shavers did hit harder than Tyson; with one punch, maybe not as far as combos go. Tillis himself is a fighter who should have gone further than he did, and he knows it.
Like many old-time fighters (not that old-time in the case of Tillis, but you know what I mean) “Quick” is quick to point out how today’s big men would have been no match for the men from his era.
“If I was in my prime today, I’d beat all these boys,” Tillis insisted. “They ain’t nothing like we were. Guys like Ali, Shavers, Weaver, Holmes, they were the best. It [the heavyweight division] just ain’t the same today.”
It’s up for (huge) debate as far as whether or not Tillis would have beaten today’s best, but one thing is clear – Tillis was too much for Shavers, while he gave a pre-championship level Tyson his toughest night’s work. Imagine taking Shavers’ best bombs, and then, four years later, Tyson’s – and not going anywhere!