The CBZ Newswire

Touching Gloves with…Earnie Shavers

by on Jul.03, 2015, under Boxing News

By Dan Hanley


Back in ’73 when Earnie Shavers exploded on the world scene, I must admit to having never heard of him before. Although only 16 at the time, I wasn’t exactly a novice around the sport, but still, could only muster a timid, “Where has this guy been hiding?” I quickly learned that his KO numbers were off the chart and the prone bodies in his wake were stacking up like extras in a Sergio Leone shootout. I am one who truly believes that the ’70s produced some of the scariest competition in heavyweight history. And Earnie Shavers produced a lot of that dread.

 DH: Earnie, where do you hail from originally?

ES: I was actually born in Garland, Alabama, but we moved to Braceville, Ohio when I was about five years old.

DH: Tell me about life growing up in Braceville.

ES: Well, I come from a family of 11 kids and we grew up on a farm. It was great, but let me tell you, every one of us had to do our part.

DH: What got you interested in boxing?

ES: From the age of 12 I was always into sports and every type of athletics. I played High School Football, but was introduced to boxing by a man named Richard Austin when I was about 22. I was already married by this time and had that added responsibility, so I took the sport very seriously.

DH: Where did you start out?

ES: In Youngstown, Ohio. I was trained by a man named Pedro Tomez, who was simply a great trainer. He had trained fighters on the Olympic team and the Pan Am team and he really changed my life.

DH: How did you make out as an amateur?

ES: Oh (laughing), I destroyed everybody. I won the Youngstown Golden Gloves twice, the Ohio Golden Gloves twice and the 1969 AAU heavyweight title. Like I said before, I took this seriously. I had no bad habits and I really believe if ’69 had been the Olympic year, that I would have won gold that year.

DH: Was there any doubt that you were going to go pro?

ES: There was no doubt. Boxing had really changed who I was. Y’know, the year I went pro, I was so well known in the Ohio area from boxing that General Motors put me to work in their Youngstown plant and I hadn’t even applied there. They just called me in.

DH: Was it as an amateur or pro that you realized that you had something that set you apart from other fighters?

ES: Dan, I knew from day one. (laughing) And so did everyone else. I would go to the gym and everyone would disappear. I couldn’t get a sparring partner for the life of me. They all went on home.

DH: Who did you turn pro with?

ES: Dean Chance, the major league pitcher was my first manager. I believe he was playing with the Cleveland Indians by this time and he was branching out into boxing.

 DH: How was he as a boxing manager?

ES: I can’t say anything bad about him. He was good. He was smart enough to send me to New York to get some real training. He sent me, John Griffin, Dave Matthews and Jim Elder – all Ohio fighters – to the east coast to train in Buster Mathis’ camp. It was Mathis’ trainer, Joey Fariello, who really helped me.

 DH: Did you ever work out with Buster?

ES: (laughing) No! Buster wasn’t that crazy. He had good sense.

DH: By the time you arrived on the world scene in ’73, you had 46 fights behind you. You had a few names of note on your record, but one stands out. You fought an upcoming Jimmy Young in early ’73 and very little is known about this fight today. Can you tell me about it?

ES: This fight took place in Philadelphia – Jimmy’s hometown. Well, Joe Frazier came to me in the gym and told me Jimmy was scared of me and asked me to go easy and give him a couple of rounds. So I did. I took it light the first two rounds, worked the body a little and decided to end things in the third round, which I did. But thinking back on that, you know, Joe was a good guy. But Joe himself said to me, “Earnie, I’ll never fight you. You hit too fuckin’ hard!”

 DH: When did Don King enter the picture?

ES: It was around this time I suppose that Don King bought out Dean Chance and he and Blackie Gennaro became my co-managers. Y’know, I know a lot of things have been said about Don over the years, but he never took advantage of me and took good care of me.

 DH: Your moment arrived in June of ’73 at Madison Square Garden against former heavyweight champ Jimmy Ellis. But Jimmy wasn’t the original opponent, was he? You were originally signed to fight George Chuvalo. What happened?

ES: George pulled out. He said he hurt his arm or his back or something like that. But George was a nice guy and I liked him. Of course (laughing), it pays to be a big puncher because everybody wants to be your friend.

DH: Tell me about your fight with Jimmy Ellis.

ES: Well first of all I want to tell you that Archie Moore was training me by this time and Archie was the best cornerman in the world. He started in on Ellis at the weigh-in, telling him, “Jimmy, Earnie is an animal. Ernie’s going to knock you out!” And he kept on whispering things like this to Jimmy until it rattled him. In the first round Jimmy bobbed when he should have been weaving and I took him out that round.

DH: Don King wasted no time signing you to a huge match the following month in the Garden with Jerry Quarry. In your own words describe the events that led up to this bout getting cancelled.

ES: I was sparring with Jeff Merritt and he caught me with my mouth open and broke my jaw. You couldn’t make a mistake like that around Jeff. Jeff was the best puncher I ever met and could have been something. But Jeff loved the ladies and drugs a little too much.

DH: The official story was that Don would never allow you two to spar and that Archie Moore disobeyed orders, put you two in the ring and was fired over the broken jaw incident. How much truth is there to that?

ES: None. Jeff and I sparred together all the time. But when this happened, there was a lot of money at stake and somebody had to take the fall. (laughing) And it wasn’t going to be Don.

 DH: You were sidelined for six months waiting for the jaw to heal, but finally got together with Quarry in the Garden in December of that year. Tell me about the fight.

ES: Jerry Quarry was a great fighter, but I had issues going on at the time with Don King and Blackie Gennaro constantly fighting about which one of them was my manager. It was resolved after this fight when Don King went into promoting. As for the fight, I got caught like Ellis did in the same round.

 DH: In November of ’74 you lost an upset decision to Bob Stallings. I believe it was the Stallings fight that seemed to expose a stamina problem. Was this recognized in your camp?

ES: Oh, yeah! See, a lot of people think I had this issue from lifting weights, but the last time I had lifted weights was in High School. I got the upper physique from hoisting bales of hay on the farm growing up. My problem in the ring was that I was all anxious and would let it all out. My corner was always trying to get me to pace myself and settle me. (laughing) But Bob settled me down quick.

 DH: Three weeks later you rematched with Jimmy Young in Landover, Maryland. What did Young learn since your last fight?

ES: Well, I’ll tell you what I learned. I learned that I took him too damn lightly in the rematch. I thought it was going to be 1-2-3 and over. I thought I still won but it was called a draw.

 DH: You were on a good run when you took on Ron Lyle in Denver in September of ’75. I gotta tell you, Earnie, that left hook you nailed him with in the second round left him dead to the world. How did he survive that?

ES: The problem was that I landed it at the end of the round. If I landed one more I might have had him, but the bell rang before I got to him. He got back into the fight and stopped me in six.

 DH: You won your next five fights, including wins over Henry Clark, a life and death struggle with ‘Tiger’ Williams and a knockout over the very underrated Howard Smith, when you got the nod for a September 29, 1977 shot at the world heavyweight title against Muhammad Ali. What was it like being part of an Ali event?

ES: This fight opened every door for me. Muhammad was a great guy and had helped me over the years. About two years before this he let me train in his camp and asked for nothing in return. And let me tell you a funny thing. When you sign to fight Ali, (laughing) the bill collector leaves you alone.

DH: You were sporting the shaven-head look by this time and in typical Ali fashion, he dubbed you, ‘The Acorn’. Did this bother you or did you just consider this hype?

ES: Oh, that didn’t bother me at all. I knew where that was all coming from. He knew how to get the press rolling. You have to be thick-skinned in an event like this. And, Dan, win or lose, you want to be called back.

DH: Tell me about the fight.

ES: I had him hurt in the second round, but he conned me. You just didn’t know if he was laying a trap for you and I let him off the hook. It went 15 and he got the decision.

DH: In your next fight you lost a 12 rounder to future heavyweight champ Larry Holmes. It was really his first shot at the big time. Were you aware of Larry Holmes going into this fight?

ES: Oh, yeah. I had known Larry Holmes for years. To tell you how far back I knew him, he sparred with me, helping me to get ready for the Jimmy Ellis fight. We worked together all the time. In fact, when he won the title from Ken Norton he said to me, “Earnie, if I hadn’t sparred with you I never would have beaten Norton.” And Larry was good people. (laughing) Larry never wrote a check that didn’t clear.

 DH: You were on a real knockout tear when you were signed to fight former heavyweight champ Ken Norton in Las Vegas in March of ‘79. Tell me about this fight.

ES: Well, I should tell you that Archie Moore taught me how to rattle fighters. I had asked Larry Holmes – who was champ by this time – to call Ken Norton and tell him he needed to fight me. So Larry calls him and tells him if he wants a rematch that he would have to go through me first.

 DH: What was his reaction?

ES: (laughing) Larry said the phone went dead.

Earnie Shavers (right), enroute to a first round stoppage of Ken Norton on March 23, 1979 in Las Vegas.

Earnie Shavers (right), en route to a first round stoppage of Ken Norton on March 23, 1979 in Las Vegas.

DH: You took out Norton in the first round, but I also recall your post-fight interview. You seemed to be equally as happy to have unloaded Blackie Gennaro as your manager.

ES: It was a relief to be done with him. It wasn’t that he was a bad manager as much as he was a cheap manager. Always scrimping and cutting costs on training and expenses. I was self-managed from there on with Frank Luca staying on as my trainer.

DH: With the Norton KO sealing the deal, you were now poised for your second shot at the heavyweight title on September 28, 1979. This time against Larry Holmes. How did this fight unfold?

ES: We were going at it pretty good when I caught him in the 7th round with a right hand and he went down like a ton of bricks. I was cocky as I went to the corner, I thought I was the new champ. But my heart dropped when I turned around and saw Larry getting up. (laughing) And he didn’t look too happy. I just said to myself, “Oh, shit! Long night!” Shortly after that I caught a thumb from Larry and ended up with a detached retina. This fight was stopped in the 11th. I couldn’t see.

DH: After this fight you plugged along, but it was more noticeable now at 35 that your wind was letting you down. The Bernardo Mercado and Randy Cobb fights exemplified this. Did you feel the age creeping up?

ES: Even in these fights I feel I was just trying too hard. I couldn’t settle down and punched myself out when I had them hurt.

DH: You certainly could produce when you wanted to. Stoppages over Jeff Sims and Joe Bugner proved that. Were you aiming for a third fight with Larry Holmes?

ES: No (laughing), I was a realist. At that point it was just amazing what you’ll do when that bill collector calls.

DH: I believe it was around this time you received a different kind of call. Is it true you were the first choice to play Clubber Lang in Rocky III?

ES: Yes, I was. The problem was when I got into the ring with Sylvester Stallone, he really wanted to go at it. You know, to make it look good. But…I just didn’t know how to pull my punches. Every time we’d go at it I’d bang him around. Finally he realized this could never work. I lost the job, but he treated me fair.

DH: You retired in ’83, came back for one fight in ’87 and then appeared to be done with the ring. What did you get into in retirement?

ES: I lived in a town called Moreton, just outside Liverpool, England for close to 15 years doing security work for some high-end clubs. But I’ve been back here several years now.

DH: You made a comeback at the amazing age of 50 in ’95. Did you just get the itch again?

ES: Y’know, I always took care of myself. I never drank or smoked and thought I’d give it a try again. (laughing) But it didn’t last long.

DH: What was the most memorable moment of your career?

ES: That’s easy. The Ali fight. That fight exposed me to the world.

DH: Was that fight your biggest payday?

ES: No, actually my biggest payday was from the second Larry Holmes fight, for the title. I made $325,000 for that one.

DH: And what regrets do you have from your career?

ES: Actually I don’t have any regrets from my career. I may not have won the title, but I had a very successful career, regardless. If there was anything I regret, it was not having met Joe Frazier and George Foreman. I would have loved to have fought them because they would have been right in front of me. But we just never could make those matches. I truly believe that had we met, that I would have been singing ‘Good night, Irene’ over them.


DH: Earnie, how are you today?

ES: Dan, I’m doing great. Despite once having the detached retina, my vision and health are perfect today at almost 71. My wife Rita and I have been living in Las Vegas now for about 3 years. I have 10 daughters and 1 son and I’m constantly making personal appearances throughout the U.S. and Canada. So there’s not much more I could ask for.

It’s amazing when dwelling on the fact that, despite the kind of power Earnie wielded – power that laid out 68 heavyweights – he still came up short in two attempts for the heavyweight title. It says a lot for the depth of talent Earnie Shavers went head to head with in the years he was lacing up leather.

Earnie shared with me during our hash session that he paid his sparring partners very well and that they earned every penny of it. Something tells me that whatever he was paying them, it wasn’t enough.

See ya next round,


Dan Hanley


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