Earnie Shaver, a man who possessed fists that could and did do pronounced damage to the chins of men who summoned the courage to face him in a ring, died on Sept. 1, 2022. The man who grew up picking cotton to help his mama stay afloat and appreciated the opportunities afforded to him, was 78.
Plenty of us will recall him through a filter provided by Muhammad Ali, who battled Shavers on Sept. 29, 1977, escaping with a UD15 win. “The Acorn,” that’s how The Greatest referred to the Alabama native who added the “S” later in life to make his name flow better, received two cracks at a heavyweight title in an era where titles were more meaningful and rare. But for the immensity of Larry Holmes’ heart, he would’ve taken the crown off Holmes in their Sept 1979 match.
You scan the Shavers resume, and note all the standouts of the era which he battled.
Jimmy Young, Jimmy Ellis, Jerry Quarry, Ron Lyle, Ali, Holmes twice, Ken Norton…And you might note the absence of a name which is glaring, in that the marketing of the clash would have been the ultimate no brainer. George Foreman and Earnie Shavers both owned the ability to generate ludicrous power and render foes senseless—so why didn’t they ever get it on?
I asked George Foreman, so he weighed in:
For sure, plenty of discussions were had about placing the two bombers against each other, during both halves of Georges’ pro foray.
Back in ‘73, George and company met with Shavers promoter Don King, in Canada. ABC would have bought a Foreman v Shavers scrap but Earnie wasn’t a name yet. He would have gotten there had he beat Jerry Quarry but Quarry toppled Shavers. Couple years later, a Foreman-Shavers battle got to the air strip but didn’t lift off. “He was about wasted by an unknown,” Foreman recalls, “and the network chose Jimmy Young.”
That must’ve been George’s first “last fight,” versus the mad crafty Philly fighter Young in Puerto Rico. The loss to Young put Foreman on an alternate path, he saw and heard visions of the Almighty in his dressing room, and exited the dangerous game to devote his time and energy to preaching. “From 1977-1987, I was out of boxing, when I came back, he was out of the picture.”
Foreman is 73, and but of course, he is met with memories, and developments which spur pondering, about past choices and future possibilities. “We all knew Shavers was a strong puncher, I always thought Quarry was crazy for fighting him! No one sits around hoping to fight such a puncher as Shavers.”
He summed up his fellow traveler in certain circles: “Earnie was out of an old comic book.
Not that big, small for a heavyweight.
But he had something around the elbow that made men fall! The few times we met, I found him to be the master of “small talk.” But with a big laugh.”
Foreman pauses, his mind taking him to the past, and then toward the unknown future. “Life is fun,” he says, “but having lost Ali, Frazier, Lyle, Norton, Quarry, now Shavers, it’s like I have now moved into another solar system where fighting never existed.”
Ah, but YouTube remains, Foreman’s proof of purchase, into that markedly challenging life, live on.
Solar system, that’s a useful tableau in this context. Because the Foremans, the Shavers, those men were stars, of a different sort than exists today, their shine beamed far and wide and differently than their counterparts of today can boast.
Is it too obvious to offer that they don’t make ‘em like they used to? Too bad, they don’t.