Earnie Shavers, the hard-punching heavyweight who lost title fights to Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes in the 1970s and once showed Sylvester Stallone what a real punch felt like, died Thursday, one day after turning 78.
An Alabama native who grew up in Cleveland and turned pro in 1969, Shavers was known as “The Black Destroyer” during a career that spanned 26 years. Although he never won a championship belt, he compiled a 74-14-1 record, with 68 of his victories by knockout. More than anything, Shavers was known for his devastating punching power.
“Earnie hit me so hard, it shook my kinfolk in Africa,” Ali said after winning a 1977 title fight at Madison Square Garden.
The loss to Ali came in a 15-round unanimous decision that some thought Shavers had won. Shavers had come alive late in the bout and by the start of the 15th round, had Ali noticeably wobbling.
“You don’t look so good,” Ali’s legendary trainer, Angelo Dundee, told him as the heavyweight great prepared to finish the fight. “You better go out and take this round.”
Ali staggered Shavers in the round and came away with the victory. Although some in his camp urged Ali to retire after his narrow escape, he fought four more times, losing three.
Two years after losing to Ali, Shavers lost to Larry Holmes in Las Vegas’s Caesar’s Palace in his only other title shot. Although Shavers knocked Holmes down in the seventh round with a punch Holmes called the hardest he’d ever absorbed, the fight was stopped four rounds later after a Holmes barrage left Shavers dazed.
This is heartbreaking news!
EARNIE SHAVERS was one of the deadliest KO punchers in the ‘70s & early ‘80s! He had heavy hands and was a nonstop Bomber who fought ‘em all in a Golden Era Of Heavyweight Boxing!
R.I.P. KO King-EARNIE SHAVERS-with Love & Respect💔🕊 https://t.co/0gXvv5oRUG pic.twitter.com/HxCRXBSIEI
— Michael Buffer (@Michael_Buffer) September 1, 2022
Another person who felt Shavers’ punching power was Stallone, who considered casting a real boxer in the role of his “Rocky III” opponent. Stallone invited Shavers to spar with him, and when the pro declined to hit him, reportedly said, “C’mon Earnie, show me something real.”
Shavers hit the actor in the midsection and the session ended immediately. The role of Clubber Lang went to Mr. T.
“That nearly killed me,” Stallone would say later. “I went straight to the men’s room and threw up.”
Shavers retired in 1983 and became a preacher, but attempted multiple comebacks, the last of which came in 1995 and ended after two fights, including a second-round knockout loss to journeyman Brian Yates.
Because the 1970s is widely viewed as the golden age of heavyweights, with Ali, Holmes, George Foreman, Joe Frazier and other all-time greats passing around the championship belt, Shavers is often overlooked. But those who fought him remember his thunderous right hand and devastating left hook.
“He can get you out of there with any kind of shot,” Dundee told Sports Illustrated in an interview.
Ron Lyle, who defeated Shavers with a 12-round technical knockout in 1975, said he had never been hit with the force Shavers brought.
“Hey man, that’s the hardest I’ve ever been hit in my life,” Lyle said later. “And George Foreman could punch, but none of them could hit like Earnie Shavers did. When he hit you, the lights went out. I can laugh about it now, but at the time, it wasn’t funny.”