‘One of boxing’s hardest punchers’: Earnie Shavers dies aged 78

‘One of boxing’s hardest punchers’: Earnie Shavers dies aged 78

Earnie Shavers, whose thunderous punches stopped 68 fighters and earned him heavyweight title fights with Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes, has died the day after his 78th birthday.

Born in Garland, Alabama, in 1944 Shavers grew up in Youngstown, Ohio and was a relatively late starter to boxing – he was 22 when he first tried his hand at the sport. Rising quickly, he won the 1969 National AAU heavyweight title before a professional career that spanned 26 years from 1969-1995, which included two abbreviated returns from retirement. His final record in the ring was 74 wins, 68 by knockout, 14 defeats and one draw.

Shavers lost a unanimous decision to Ali in September 1977 at Madison Square Garden in a fight for the WBC and WBA world heavyweight titles. Ali pulled out the victory with a strong rally in the 15th round. Eighteen months later, in March 1979, Shavers beat Ken Norton by knockout in the first round, in what was considered one of his finest victories.

Shavers faced Larry Holmes for the WBC heavyweight title in September of that year in Las Vegas. Holmes won by a technical knockout in the 11th round although Shavers floored the champion in the seventh.

“He was one of the hardest punchers in boxing,” Holmes said.

At the age of 35 following the Holmes fight, Shavers had surgery for a detached retina and was stopped by Randall “Tex” Cobb in the eighth round of a bout the following year. In 1982 he fought Joe Bugner, who also on the comeback trail. Bugner was knocked down in the first, and was stopped by cuts in the second round.

Shavers continued to fight professionally for several years, but never fought for a title again and bowed out after defeat by Brian Yates in Baraboo, Wisconsin in 1995. He was named among the top-10 punchers in boxing history by The Ring magazine.

Randy Gordon, the former New York State athletic commissioner, said Shavers always had time for the fans, whether it was signing autographs or exchanging a word or two. “He was one of the nicest guys in the world, until he got into the ring and tried to take your head off,” Gordon added.