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.