In his day, heavyweight boxer Earnie Dee Shavers carried a club of a punch. His opponents included heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, who had to rally to beat Shavers when the two battled in New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1977.
Now 72 and living in northwest Las Vegas with his wife, Rita, the native of Garland, Ala., who grew up in Ohio, is enjoying the good life while savoring the years that saw him become the most powerful puncher in the history of the sport of boxing.
With a career that spanned from 1969-85, Shavers was fearless and challenged twice for the world heavyweight title, losing a unanimous decision to Ali; and an 11th round technical knockout to Larry Holmes in 1979 at Caesars Palace.
It was the bout with Ali that drew world-wide attention considering that Ali had to rally to overcome the hard-hitting Shavers. Starting with the year he turned pro in 1969, his next 38 fights all ended early.
Shavers hit harder than anyone, including Mike Tyson.
— Larry Holmes
In addition, Shavers’ career was highlighted by a first-round knockout of highly-respected Ken Norton in a non-title bout March 23, 1979 at the Las Vegas Hilton.
Still in perfect shape, Shavers’ business card refers to him as “The Hardest Punching Heavyweight in History” with a record of 74 wins, 14 losses and 68 knockouts. Twenty-three of his knockouts were recorded in the first round; and 44 of his 47 fights were won by knockout. About 92 percent victories were knockouts.
Long before boxing became overshadowed by Ultimate Fighting Championship battles, Southern Nevada boxing fans saw Shavers fight five times in the dance hall of the Silver Slipper in 1971. – It was during that year when Shavers fought a mind-boggling 17 times during a hectic year including an appearance at Sahara Tahoe where he scored a 10th round knockout over Chuck Leslie.
During the same period of time, Shavers defeated “Irish” Pat Duncan for the Nevada state heavyweight championship in Reno.
“It was a good fight for a while before Shavers destroyed Duncan,” recalled former Nevada State Journal sports writer Tom Dye.
Prominent boxing writers such as Associated Press columnist Tim Dahlberg and former Las Vegas Sun writer Jim “Catfish” Hunter recall Shavers and the power he brought with him to every fight.
“He hit like a mule kicks,” said Dahlberg. “Earnie was the hardest-hitting heavyweight of his time, perhaps ever. Ali said he had never been hit as hard as Earnie hit him, and Larry Holmes, who was knocked down by Earnie in their second fight (March 25,1978), said he hit harder than Mike Tyson.”
“He had the best left hand ever,” said Hunter, who covered his share of boxing events for more than 30 years in the profession. “Shavers gave Ali a better fight than expected.”
Nicknamed “The Acorn” by Ali because of his shaved bald head, and called the “Black Destroyer” by promoter Don King, Shavers was certainly a colorful battler and had the highest percentage of knockouts by a heavyweight.
Shavers, a 10-year resident of Las Vegas where he lives with his wife, stays active doing personal appearances, signing autographs and giving motivational speeches to youth.
Shavers has an interesting past away from the ring.
“A lot of my friends were hoodlums,” said Shavers, who wrote a book entitled “Welcome to the Big Time” that was released in the 1990s. “They’re all dead now. God has forgiven me for my sins.”
Shavers’ wife said her husband never slows down.
“It’s a challenge to keep up with him,” Rita said. “He has never had any bad habits and the worst thing he has ever done in his later years is have two scoops of ice cream.
“He has a tremendous outlook on life. Every day is a gift to him.”
Speaking to young people and adults is a key part of Shavers’ life through his work with Earnie Shavers Ministries.
“I keep very busy and I really like speaking with young people,” Shavers said. “I have always liked Las Vegas. People from all over the world come here every year.”
Shavers said of today’s youth, “Where they are going, I have been. I can give them something to guide their career and also tell them that if they don’t change their ways, they could end up in jail.” +
Shavers was a right-hand puncher who could hit you in the neck and break your ankle.
—Randall “Tex” Cobb