By: Sean Crose
The great Mohammad Ali entered the ring to the rousing sounds of John William’s Star Wars theme. “The Greatest” was, in fact, about to engage in more of a war than he might have expected. At 35 years of age, Ali could be forgiven for not having the zing to his punches he once had. He could also be forgiven for not engaging in the level of footwork he employed over thirteen years earlier when he first beat Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title. There was no denying the fact, however, that Earnie Shavers – only two years younger than Ali – was not only fighting like a true warrior, but was able to truly rock Ali in epic style in the 15th round.
Ali ended up besting Shavers on the cards, as did red hot contender Larry Holmes six months later. The second Holmes-Shavers match a year and a half after that, however, proved to be another story. Like Ali before him, Holmes got to feel the full power of Shaver’s arsenal when he was sent to the mat hard in the sixth round of their title bout. Holmes ended up beating the count before going on to stop his ferocious opponent in the eleventh. Suffice to say, Shavers, who passed away on Thursday – one day after his 78th birthday – walked away from the Ali and Holmes’ battles a legend, proving the top prize isn’t always required in order to earn legendary status.
“Earnie hit me so hard, it shook my kinfolk in Africa,” Ali claimed after their 1977 war. “I never fought Earnie Shavers, thank goodness,” George Foreman once said of the thunderous puncher. As for Holmes, he claimed the Shaver’s punch that sent him to the mat was the single hardest shot he had ever taken. Although he was most famous for his losses, Shavers had more than his share of big wins throughout a career which lasted upwards of thirty years, his crushing first round knockout of fellow heavyweight great Ken Norton standing out in particular.
After boxing, Shavers became an ordained Christian minister. He leaves behind a large family as well an untold number fans and admirers. He may not have been a champion, but his incredible power assured that Shavers would be well remembered. Even Rocky himself, Sylvester Stallone, once attested to Shaver’s power. While preparing for Rocky III, he reportedly goaded Shavers into throwing more than jabs at him in the ring. Shavers reluctantly obliged. “That nearly killed me,” Stallone said afterward. “I went straight to the men’s room and threw up.”
“I can laugh about it now,” notable heavyweight contender Ronnie Lyle once said of the experience of feeling Shaver’s power, “but at the time, it wasn’t funny.”