Earnie Shavers, regarded as one of the hardest punchers in boxing history, dies at 78

Unspecified: Earnie Shavers boxing portrait. (Photo by Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)
Earnie Shavers died Thursday, one day after his 78th birthday. (Getty Images)

Earnie Shavers, who earned a reputation as the hardest puncher in the game during a golden era of heavyweight boxing in the 1970s, died Thursday, a day after he turned 78. The cause of death is unknown.

Shavers fought primarily during the '70s, though his career stretched from 1969 through 1995. He was 74-14-1 with 68 knockouts in his career.

He fought both Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes for the heavyweight title. He fought Ali for the title on Sept. 29, 1977 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Ali won a 15-round unanimous decision.

Ali had dubbed Shavers “The Acorn” before the fight because of his shaved bald head. But Ali had to fight a brilliant 15th round to get the decision and afterward uttered one of his greatest lines when talking about Shavers’ punching power.

“Earnie hit me so hard, it shook my kinfolk in Africa,” Ali said after the fight.

Former heavyweight champion George Foreman said in an appearance on “Late Night with David Letterman” that the hardest punchers he fought were Gerry Cooney, Ron Lyle and Cleveland Williams. When Letterman asked Foreman about Shavers, Foreman had a telling response.

“I never fought Earnie Shavers, thank goodness,” Foreman said.

Shavers fought Holmes twice, the first time being a non-title bout on March 25, 1978 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in his first bout after losing to Ali. Holmes won a 12-round decision over Shavers in that match and, in his next fight, beat Ken Norton to win the vacant WBC title.

Shavers and Holmes fought for the WBC belt at Caesars on Sept. 28, 1979. In the seventh, Shavers knocked Holmes down. Holmes got up and proceeded to stop Shavers in the 11th.

After the fight, Holmes said the punch Shavers hit him with to drop him was the hardest he’d ever been hit.

Shavers wasn’t a big man for a heavyweight at 6 feet tall and around 210 pounds. In today’s game, he’d be encouraged to compete at cruiserweight, which has a 200-pound limit.

But he was feared by all of his peers, who routinely raved about his power.

Shavers made several comebacks but was done for good in 1995 after losing by knockout in the second round at 51 years old.

He was an easy-going, fun-loving guy who made a habit of showing up at major boxing events after his retirement. He was always in demand by fans for pictures and autographs and reveled in the attention he received.

The biggest win of his career was clearly on March 23, 1979, when he knocked out Norton in the first round at the then-Las Vegas Hilton. He also had a win over former heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis as well as Jimmy Young.

He lost a shootout to Lyle in Denver in 1975. Lyle went on from that victory to a fight with Foreman, which would be one of the greatest slugfests in boxing history. But Lyle had no doubt which of the two was the bigger puncher.

“Hey man, that’s the hardest I’ve ever been hit in my life,” Lyle said of Shavers. “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.”

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