ON THIS DAY in 1979 in Las Vegas, big-hitting heavyweight destroyer Earnie Shavers scored arguably the biggest win of his thrilling pro career. Halting former WBC heavyweight ruler Ken Norton inside a single round, the shaven-headed slugger earned himself a shot at the crown now held by the unbeaten Larry Holmes (who retained his WBC belt in the March 23rd main event, halting Ossie Ocasio in the 7th-round).
Norton, aged 35 and sporting a 41-5 record, was the betting favourite over the 34-year-old Shavers, who was 57-7-1 at the time. The odds were not to be obeyed, however, as a relentless Shavers made the most of his big chance. Having lost a close decision to Muhammad Ali, in a challenge for the world title in 1977, and then dropping a wide non-title decision to Holmes the following year, most experts felt Shavers’ best days had passed him by. Earnie had reeled off three straight wins since the loss to Holmes, yet he had beaten no-one of Norton’s class.
Former marine Norton was one win removed from his epic 15-round battle with Holmes and as things turned out, it was apparent how that gruelling loss had taken something out of Norton. Kenny was still in marvellous physical condition, his famous physique as chiselled as ever, but his punch resistance, never that great against the big hitters, had eroded somewhat.
Shavers came out fast and soon had his man stuck along the ropes. Norton adopted his familiar cross armed defensive posture but it was nowhere close to effective against the hooks and crosses of Shavers. Hurt by a left and sent down by a right, Norton somehow dragged himself upright, only to be sent reeling again by a monstrous right uppercut to the chin. The second knockdown was enough for referee Mills Lane to call a halt to the proceedings, even if a brave Norton had beaten the count again. It was all over after just one-minute and 58 seconds.
Shavers would get a second crack at both Holmes and the world title, coming within a whisker of KO’ing Holmes in the seventh of a fight he eventually lost via 11th-round TKO that September. This fight marked Shavers’ last shot at the big time, although he would fight on until the mid-1980s (even launching a shocking comeback in 1995 when aged 50).
Norton was all but finished by the heavy defeat at the hands of the man Ali dubbed “The Acorn.” The former champ would box on for a further two years, finally retiring when Gerry Cooney iced him inside one brutal round in 1981.
All these years later, Shavers lists the KO he scored over Norton as the biggest of his career.
“That was such a big win for me, a very important win,” Shavers says of his win over Norton today. “That earned me another shot at the world title. I knew I’d intimidated Norton. I knew he was afraid of me. That was the biggest KO of my career, yes.”