Interview with Earnie Shavers- The Hardest Hitting Fighter in Boxing History! By Ken Hissner (Nov 26, 2009) DoghouseBoxing
TIn an era where some of the hardest punchers in heavyweight history fought there was one that most will agree stands head and shoulders above the rest, Earnie Shavers. His opponents were like a who’s who with names like Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, Ron Lyle, Ken Norton, Jimmy Young, Jerry Quarry, Roy “Tiger” Williams and Tex Cobb. Historian Bert Sugar called Shavers “the hardest puncher in boxing history.”
Ali nicknamed him “The Acorn” due to that bald dome of Shavers. Prior to that he was the “Black Destroyer”, a name he earned in a career scoring 68 knockouts in 74 victories. “I grew up on a farm and it developed my strength tossing bundles of hay,” said Shavers. In 1969 he won the AAU heavyweight title after a limited amount of fights. He stopped James Elder in the finals. “I was told he would come right to me. I told them, then he’s in trouble. They could have counted over him for two days. I think when he was falling to the canvas he said I made a mistake,” said Shavers.
Pedro Tomaz was his trainer in the amateurs and for several pro fights in Youngstown, Ohio. He never put on a pair of gloves until he was 22. As a professional such people as Frank Luca, Archie Moore and Joey Fariello served as his trainer at one time or another. “The two trainers that did the most for me were Teddy Benhoff and Willie Ketchum. My right hand was my power punch,” said Shavers.
“My manager was Dean Chance and Don King when I got started. King had me signed to a fight but I got a better offer for much more. He misspelled my first name and I got out of it and he was furious. I told him I learned from the best,” said Shavers. Eventually Blackie Genaro bought King out. Chance was a former major league baseball pitcher and Genaro had a black top business in Youngstown and managed other fighters such as Mike Koranicki.
Shaver’s was born in Garland, Alabama, but moved to Ohio at a young age. “If I hadn’t come to Ohio, I probably would have never boxed,” said Shavers. Another fighter left Alabama and moved to Michigan. His name was the “Brown Bomber” Joe Louis.
Turning pro in November of 1969, Shavers won 10 of his first 12 fights, all by knockout. He was outboxed by Stan Johnson, 6-0, and broke his hand losing to Ron Stander, 9-0, who later in his career fought Joe Frazier for the title. One opponent was Joe Byrd, 10-8, father of former champion Chris Byrd. After the loss to Stander, Shavers scored 27 straight knockouts over a two year span including Pat Duncan, 17-3-1, for the USA Nevada State title, in September of 1971.
The knockout string was broken by Vicente Rondon, 36-7-1, the former WBA light heavyweight champion. “He was a decent fighter and I didn’t want to take any chances,” said Shavers. A pair of knockouts followed and then he fought Jimmy Young, 7-3, in the latter’s hometown of Philadelphia. “Joe Frazier told me how to beat Jimmy. He told me not to go full force until about the 3rd round,” said Shavers. This he did and stopped Young in the 3rd. In a career that lasted 56 fights fighting the likes of Ali, Lyle, Foreman, Tony Tucker and Tony Tubbs, only Shavers and Gerry Cooney knocked out Young. Young would go onto win his next 12 fights, including a pair of draws, before losing a disputed decision to Muhammad Ali in a title bout. One of the draws was a rematch with Shavers. “I was overconfident from our first fight,” said Shavers.
Two fights after the first Young fight, Shavers met the former WBA champion Jimmy Ellis who was on an 8 fight knockout streak. “He and Angelo Dundee were talking about what he was going to do to me,” said Shavers. Shavers said “I don’t want any blood on my hands.” Shaver’s trainer Archie Moore said “then don’t wipe your face during the fight.” Meaning it would be the blood from Ellis on his gloves. “I psyched him out by telling Dundee I was going to knock his middleweight out,” said Shavers. Ali had told Shavers “get him into a fight. Don’t let him box you.” Ellis started fast and had Shavers hurt against the ropes but left him off the hook when Shavers moved in and hit him with a devastating right uppercut dropping Ellis to the canvas and out at 2:39 of the 1st round.
Next would be Jerry Quarry, 47-6-4. It started out as a good fight with Quarry moving on Shavers after taking a couple of right hands. Quarry would get Shavers on the ropes and hurt him, following up landing a number of punches before Shavers went down. When he got up he was in no condition to go on but fought back only to be rocked to the point the referee had to stop it in the 1st round. “I underestimated Quarry,” said Shavers.
A knockout win was followed by a loss to underdog Bob Stallings, 20-25, who was on a 4 fight win streak including Mac Foster, 30-2. Shavers went down in the 9th round and it cost him the decision. “He was very slick,” said Shavers. A rematch with Young would follow ending in a draw. Three knockouts including young prospect Rochelle Norris, 11-1, followed. In September of 1975 he faced murderous puncher Ron Lyle, 30-3-1, in the latter’s hometown of Denver. Shavers dropped Lyle with a left hook in the 2nd round. Lyle came back and landed eleven straight punches with a chopping right hand ending it in the 6th round. “I got hit with a good punch,” said Shavers. Shavers always gave his conqueror credit unlike so many fighters who are filled with excuses.
In March and September of 1976 Shavers won back to back fights over Henry Clark, 33-8-4. “I broke my hand on a speed bag in France, where the fight was being held. I needed the money so I told no one of the injury,” said Shavers. He would win a 10 round decision. Six month later with the hand healed he scored a 2nd round knockout in Yankee Stadium, having Clark against the ropes and out on his feet as the referee stepped in at 2:19 of the round stopping it.
In December of 1976 he met Roy “Tiger” Williams, 23-5, of Philly, who had just lost a decision to Holmes. “This was the toughest fight I ever had. Williams was an animal,” said Shavers. Williams had a big 9th round while Shavers looked exhausted by the end of the round but still on his feet. In the 10th round Williams came out firing nine straight punches before Shavers got him in a clinch. Williams rocked Shavers again spinning him around onto the top rope facing the crowd when the referee gave him a standing count.
Williams headed back to his own corner with his hands held high believing he had won the fight. I met Williams in Philly in October and he told me, “if they didn’t give him that standing count I would have knocked him out.” When the fight resumed, Williams landed a good left hook putting Shavers against the ropes. Shavers came off the ropes landing a short right hand that buckled the knees of Williams. Exhausted, Shavers came forward and was side stepped by Williams who landed a right hand to the back of the head. Shavers came back and drove Williams into the ropes and hurt him with a right hand. In the corner Shavers landed over a dozen punches including two vicious left hooks that rocked Williams. This was followed by a right hand that had Williams slumped on the ropes when the referee gave him a standing count with 0:29 left in the fight. When the fight resumed, Williams took three steps forward and collapsed. Shavers pulled it out at 2:46 of the last round.
In April of 1977 Shavers fought his former sparring partner, Howard Smith, 16-1, in Las Vegas. “In the 1st round in a clinch I whispered in his ear I was going to knock him out,” said Shavers. He hurt Smith with a left hand and eventually dropped him with a right hand. Smith was dropped two more times before the round was over. In the 2nd round Smith hurt Shavers who fought back and hit Smith who was against the ropes with a left and right that had him out on his feet. As the referee stepped between them in what looked like he was going to administer a standing count, Smith took a step to his right and collapsed at 2:18 of the 2nd round.
The win over Smith earned Shavers his first world title fight. The WBC/WBA Champion was Muhammad Ali, at 54-2. “Ali was nice enough earlier in my career to let me use his training camp in Deer Lake. I had mixed feeling about fighting him,” said Shavers. Shavers rocked Ali twice in the 4th round with right hands. Ali held an edge going into the 14th but was rocked on several occasions. He went down once but the referee said it was a slip. In the 15th and final round Shavers continued chasing Ali and winning the round up until getting rocked himself with about 15 seconds to go in the fight. He held on but lost with Ali taking 9 out of the 15 rounds on all three judge’s score cards. Ali claimed getting hit by Shavers is like “getting hit by a truck”.
Six months later in his next fight Shavers would be in an eliminator fight with Larry Holmes, 26-0. Holmes would easily outbox Shavers winning all the rounds on two cards and losing a round on the other. Shavers would post 3 more knockouts before meeting Ken Norton, 41-5. Holmes had won a split decision over Norton just two fights before so this was expected to be a real slugfest. At the weigh-in Shavers told Norton, “I’m going to destroy you.” Norton replied, “Earnie, we can make a lot of money.” Shavers said, “Ken, I’m the only one going to remember that.” In the very 1st round a right to the rib cage dropped Norton. In the 2nd round a right uppercut finished Norton at 1:58 of the round. It was a major win for Shavers. It would earn him a rematch with Holmes.
It had been 18 months since their first fight in which Holmes dominated. This time with cuts over both eyes, Shavers was looking desperate in the 7th round when a right hand dropped Holmes like a sack of potatoes. He went down with 40 seconds to go in the round. He beat the count stumbling on rubbery legs and held on to Shavers. He was out on his feet at the bell. “There are only two guys I hit with a right hand that got up. That’s Holmes and Ali,” said Shavers. Shavers got over anxious and it cost him. “Holmes was the best fighter I ever fought,” said Shavers. Shavers looked spent in the next round. It seems winning the title had escaped him. By the 10th round Shavers could hardly hold his hands up. He would throw an occasional round house right hand. In the 11th after 2:00 the referee finally put a stop to it with Shavers on his feet.
Next up would be Colombian Bernardo Mercado, 25-2, with 21 knockouts including stopping future champion Trevor Berbick. His only losses were to John Tate and Mike Weaver. Tate was a year away from winning the title only to lose it the following year to Weaver. In the 3rd round an over hand right by Shavers dropped Mercado. “I tired trying to stop him. I had a problem tensing up,” said Shavers. In the 7th round Mercado reversed things dropping Shavers once before the referee stopped it in Mercado’s favor.
Several fights later Shavers would meet tough, young Tex Cobb, 16-0, in August of 1980. “I never heard of him before the fight, but I did after the fight,” said Shavers. Cobb was filling in for injured Gerry Cooney. Shaver’s was cut over his left eye in the 2nd round. He had just come off retina surgery for that eye. In the 4th round Cobb was cut over his right eye. Both fighters were letting it all hang out. In the 6th Cobb slumped to the canvas but it was ruled a slip. It seemed Cobb’s chin would make a difference in this fight. No matter what Shavers hit Cobb with it just bounced off. Cobb would win the battle of nutrition being 14 years younger scoring a technical stoppage in the 8th round. “When Shavers hit me on the chin, the pain went right down to my big toe,” said Cobb. “After the fight I sure wished I had fought Cooney instead of Cobb,” said Shavers. Three, 2nd round knockout wins followed for Shavers.
Hard punching Jeff Sims, 14-2, had just come off losing a split decision to Young. There was a lot of trash talking at the weigh-in. Seems Sims was the opponent from the start though Shavers was told he was brought in as a substitute. The fight was held in the Bahamas and the people there were backing Sims, who was Dundee’s fighter. In a feeling out 1st round with Shavers the aggressor, Sims landed a long right hand dropping Shavers. “When I got up I told him, slow down we got 10 rounds to go,” said Shavers. He was able to hold on in spite of taking a lot of punishment, though blocking a lot on the gloves. In the 5th round Shavers hurt Sims badly and had him bleeding from the mouth. He landed a hard left uppercut to the mid-section and a right hand to the jaw and the referee jumped in and stopped the fight.
Three wins would follow defeating Ali Haakim, 14-0, Joe Bugner, 54-8-1 and a week later stopping Danny Sutton, 13-1, in 7 rounds. “Bugner was scared of me so I signed for both fights knowing it wasn’t going to last long. Shavers had him down in the 1st and stopped him on a bad cut in the 2nd round. James Tillis, 21-1, would be next in June of 1982 in Las Vegas. Angelo Dundee was in the Tillis corner and had his fighter moving and jabbing. Shavers had a cut under his right eye and his left eye swelling. “He was a good fighter,” said Shavers. Tillis took the decision, the biggest in his career. He was two fights removed from losing to Mike Weaver in a title bout.
In spite of the injuries in the Tillis fight, Shavers was back in the ring just 11 days scoring a 5th round knockout. “I had come home and my wife had me put on an aloe vera product that Sasco promotes out of Dallas. I used it three times a day and by the time the next fight came 11 days later the cut was healed,” said Shavers. He and his wife would then promote the product and make good money but spent too much time away from their children so they quit.
Two months after that he would lose a decision to Walter Santemore, 17-10. “I was not in the best of shape. This was the most awkward fighter I ever fought,” said Shavers. A pair of knockout wins in the 2nd round would follow. Then he took on young Tony Perea, 12-0, in El Paso. In order to get this fight I promised his promoter I would only train for one week. Shaver won by knockout in the 7th round. It would be the only fight Perea would lose retiring with a 16-1-1 record.
Two months later in El Paso, Shavers would win a 10 round decision over Rahim Muhammad, 8-9. Two months after that he would lose by disqualification to George Chaplin, 18-6-2, in the 9th round. It was March of 1983 and Shavers announced his retirement. It lasted four years. He came back in Cincinnati and scored a 1st round knockout. Then, he retired for eight years.
“I was driving a home delivery meat truck in 1986 when one of my customers, Paula Johnson, invited me to her church. I liked her so I went. During the sermon I felt like the preacher was talking to me. I took the alter call and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior,” said Shavers.
“I thought, there aren’t no fighters today. Even at 50 figured I could beat them,” said Shavers. It was now 1995 and he managed to go 8 rounds and score a win by decision. Two months later he was stopped in the 2nd. Shavers himself had scored twenty-two 1st round knockouts and eighteen 2nd round knockouts out of his 68 knockouts. His overall record was 74-14-1 with 68 knockouts.
Upon retiring Shavers was working with some of King’s fighters. Eventually he became an Evangelist assisting at the First Assembly Church in Phoenix under Tommy Barnett for nine years. “I did prison ministry work with Mike Barber, Bill Glass and Chuck Coulson (Prison Fellowship),” said Shavers. “God has blessed me. He couldn’t have given me a better life. It’s the best move I could have ever made when I accepted the Lord,” said Shavers.
Shavers lived in the United Kingdom for 10 years. His friend, former UK boxer Kenny Rainford invited him over to speak and take a look at his security business. “Kenny asked me to be a greeter and spokesman which I did for 10 years making good money. When the contract ran out I wanted to return to the US to be with family,” said Shavers. Rainford started his boxing career in the US and finished it in the UK posting an 11-3 (6) record per Box Rec though Shavers said he had 11 fights in the US alone. They became friends after Rainford as a young kid saw Shaver fight Ali and Holmes. He came to the states and even had Shavers advise him on his training. He was there from 1992 to 1996. Rainford returned to his security business back in the UK that was doing well. He returned to the ring in 1998 and won two out of three before retiring. “Kenny was one of the nicest guys you ever want to meet in life. He’s been very good to me and is a very powerful man,” said Shavers.
Shavers wrote his biography called “Welcome to the Big Time” along with Mike Fitzgerald and Marshall Terrill with a foreword from Bert Sugar. It got great reviews because Shavers “didn’t pull any punches”. I had the pleasure of talking to Earnie and his fiancée Sheryl Taylor, from Houston, Texas. I have to tell you, for a man who had 89 professional fights he spoke as clear as a bell and couldn’t have been friendlier or funnier to this writer. I guess you could say I was “knocked out” by my conversation with the hardest puncher that ever entered a boxing ring, Earnie Shavers!