On This Day in 1969, a heavyweight blessed with pure one-punch knockout power punched for pay for the very first time. Earnie Shavers stopped a foe in the second-round, the stoppage being the first of an incredible 68 KO’s that the shaven headed slugger would register.
Q: It’s 45 years ago today, November 6 1969, that you had your pro debut, Earnie! Does it seem that long ago to you and can you remember the fight?
Earnie Shavers: “Oh, yes, I remember it well, it was in Akron, Ohio, and I remember the guy’s name – Silas Howell. I remember all my fights pretty well. It doesn’t really seem that long ago to me, but boxing has been nothing but good to me and I have a great life today; I’m in good health and I’ve got nothing but good things to say about boxing.”
Q: You had been National AAU champion as an amateur in 1969. How many amateur fights did you have, Earnie, and were you always better equipped for the pro game, what with your incredible punching power?
E.S: “I had around 24 or 25 amateur fights. I won all of them apart from two or three. I got into boxing late; I was 22 years old when I got into it, and I was 24 when I went pro. I enjoyed the amateurs, I learned as much as I could back then. I remember, for my first pro fight, I had ten days to train, which was a long time for me.”
Q: You are known as being one of the emerging Don King’s first fighters. Can you remember when you first met King, and what is your overall opinion of him?
E.S: “He came to my house, it was sometime in the very early ’70s. He and I talked and he asked me if I wouldn’t mind him managing my career. At the time, my current manager, we were on our separate ways, so I said to Don, ‘Okay.’ And he became my co-manager. I know all the bad things some people have to say about Don King, but he always treated me well. I have nothing bad to say about Don King. He said he’d get me the big fights that would make me famous, and he did that.”
Q: You lost a couple of fights along the way to the big time…
E.S: (Interrupting) Yes, I lost to a fellow named Stan Johnson (laughs). That was my third fight and he won [a six-round decision]. He was a good fighter, experienced and he knew how to roll with a punch. I just couldn’t hit him with a solid shot.”
Q: But you racked up the knockouts and then you beat two Jimmys in quick succession in 1973: Jimmy Young and Jimmy Ellis.
E.S: “Yes, I stopped them both. The Jimmy Ellis fight was the start of big things for me. Jimmy Young was also a good fighter, who I fought twice, going the distance with him in the second fight (which was a 1974 draw). But my punch was at its best at that time and I got quick knockouts on both occasions.”
Q: It was a big upset at the time when Jerry Quarry beat you, by KO in the first round in your next fight after destroying Ellis. What happened?
E.S: “Well, it’s real simple: sometimes you have a good day, other times you have a shit day! That fight [with Quarry] was a shit day! Jerry was a good fighter and he caught me with a couple of punches and it was his night. Those things happen all the time in boxing. I can’t complain or make any excuses, he was a good fighter.”
Q: You bounced back with a few KO wins but then lost to Ron Lyle in a great fight. You had him down in the second-round, before he came back to stop you in the sixth – was he given a long count?
E.S: “Oh, his manager, he owned the whole town! That fight was in Ron Lyle’s home town of Denver and he had everything on his side. But again, Lyle was a great fighter and I have no real complaints. Having said that, that’s one fight where I’d have really loved a rematch!”
Q: The Muhammad Ali fight of 1977 is your most famous fight of course.
E.S: “Yes, that fight brought me worldwide recognition. It was a great fight and I hurt Muhammad Ali on a couple of occasions, but he won the fight; he scored more points than I did over the 15-rounds.”
Q: You clearly hurt Ali – in the second and 13th rounds especially – did he ever hurt you?
E.S: “He stunned me in the 15th and last round, he caught me with a few punches then. But that fight did nothing but good things for me. In fighting the great Ali, I had so much recognition and I became a real big name myself. I went on to beat Kenny Norton (by 1st-round KO) and I got another shot at the title (against Larry Holmes).”
Q: You came oh so close to flattening Larry Holmes for keeps in your second fight with him. How good was Holmes to get back up and stop you?
E.S: “I think Larry Holmes was the best fighter I ever fought. He was better than Ali. See, they both had great jabs, but Ali’s was a flicking jab; Holmes’ was a puncher’s jab! They were both truly great of course, but I give Larry the edge.”
Q: It was Larry’s 65th birthday on November 3 – are you two still in touch?
E.S: “Of course. We speak a lot, we spoke last week, and we always make sure we meet up two or three times a year. Larry is a great guy and he’ll always be my best friend.”
Q: As you know, last week saw the 40th anniversary of Ali’s epic win over George Foreman. Were you shocked when Ali did what he did against a pure puncher like George?
E.S: “Well, firstly let me tell you, that was a fight I really wanted bad [against Foreman]. But no, I knew that George was a tight puncher like myself – but I had learned how to relax by the time I fought Ali – and whenever a puncher gets tense like that, they burn out real quick. That’s what happened to Foreman when he fought Ali. Me and George are alike, in that we are both hard punchers. I’m number-one and he’s the number-two hardest!”
Q: And Foreman regained the title 20 years after losing it to Ali, when he beat Michael Moorer 20 years ago (November 5th 1994). Did you watch that fight?
E.S: “Of course I still remember that one as well. I knew that George still had his punch; that’s the last thing that goes. And George had a puncher’s chance and he made it count. I know firsthand how you can never count a puncher out.”
Q: You are known as one of the best heavyweights to have never won the world title…
E.S: “Yes, but things worked out for the best for me. You see, the guys that became world champion, they’re either dead or in poor health. They made too much money and partied too hard. There’s only Larry, George and myself still around and doing well. Ali’s still here and of course he’s still great, but his health is not too good. But Kenny Norton, Ron Lyle, Jimmy Young, Jimmy Ellis and Joe Frazier, they’ve all gone. Boxing was good to me and I have nothing bad to say about it. I’m in good health, I do speaking tours and I’m so happy the fans remember me. I had a great career.”