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Page last updated at 11:19 GMT, Wednesday, 4 August 2010 12:19 UK

Earnie Shavers: Boxing's biggest hitter

By Sean Davies

The quiet serenity of the man with the reputation of being boxing's hardest puncher of all time takes away the menace that once resided in his imposing 6ft frame.

Earnie Shavers enters Cardiff International Arena with Cecilia Braekhus for the WBC Night of Champions
Earnie Shavers in Cardiff for the WBC Night of Champions

Earnie Shavers, one of the terrors of the remarkable heavyweight division in the 1970s and '80s, somehow manages to fill the room and fade into the background at the same time.

'The Black Destroyer' - who rocked champions Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes to the soles of their boots - is in Cardiff for the WBC's three-day boxing festival culminating in the Night of Champions.

"I'm enjoying myself," said Shavers, now aged 64. "I live in Liverpool now so have been to Wales several times, the people are very friendly.

"There are a lot of guys I haven't seen in a long time, I'm enjoying seeing them so much."

The weekend saw the announcement of an expected Vitali Klitschko-Shannon Briggs fight and the Klitschkos' take on their ongoing verbal spats with David Haye in today's moribund heavyweight scene.

"I like Shannon and because of that I have to go with him in the Klitschko fight," said Shavers.

"I used to love fighting big guys [like Klitschko] - you can't miss them!

"David Haye is a very good fighter and I hope he does well.

Vitali Klitschko and Shannon Briggs square up in Cardiff
Shavers has tipped Shannon Briggs to defeat Vitali Klitschko

"If he keeps himself clean and leaves the women alone, I think he'll be ok.

"But the guys [overall] these days don't seem to be of the same calibre, there's not a lot of good competition like in the '70s golden era when you had to be good to make it.

"If there isn't that competition in the game, television is not going to buy it."

While some champions devoted their weekend in Cardiff to the attractions of the Welsh capital's nightlife, the man from Alabama - now a Christian pastor - spent much of his time visiting local hospitals and gyms, and presenting awards at Friday's amateur boxing night.

It is all a far cry from the time when Shavers was one of the most-feared men from a heavyweight era that also included the likes of George Foreman, Ron Lyle, Ken Norton and Joe Frazier.

In his first professional fight in 1970 he despatched Jim Daniels in a round, and only one of his first 33 fights went the distance.

As well as a concussive punch, Shavers possessed the other quality given to the most exciting fighters in history - a suspect chin.

"People remember Ali, but my toughest fight was against a guy named Roy 'Tagger' Williams [in Las Vegas in 1976]," said Shavers.

"He was a tough, tough guy. It went 10 rounds before I knocked him out. I'd already been down in the same round, it was a case of who was going to go first."

Shavers' winning run had been ended by a first-round defeat to Jerry Quarry in 1973.

But the Williams stoppage was one of 54 wins (52 knock-outs) from the man from Garland's first 60 fights that took him to a title shot against Ali at Madison Square Garden in September 1977.

"Earnie Shavers takes no prisoners" was the tag line used in promotion - though Ali preferred to talk about 'The Acorn', in reference to his opponent's shaved dome.

I could have been Mr T in The A Team but it's gone, I'm happy to be Mr B

Earnie Shavers

Revenge came for 'The Greatest's' verbal taunts as early as the second round when Shavers nearly stopped Ali with a sensational overhand right.

"Ali was such a con man," remembers Shavers. "He faked so well that I thought he was playing.

"He was actually hurt, so I backed off and let him recuperate - and he came back and won the fight."

Ali built up a big points lead, but Shavers came on strong down the stretch, the champion having to use all his guile to survive the 15th and retain his crown.

"We're still friends, I forgive him!," said Shavers about Ali's 'deception'. "He's a very smart man, that's why he was so good at fighting - because he was so smart."

Shavers again came close to the elusive world crown in Las Vegas in 1979 when he nailed Holmes to the canvas with a devastating right in the seventh.

The champion somehow rose and survived, eventually recovering to stop his opponent on cuts in the 11th.

Shavers never got another title chance, retiring initially in 1983 but making two comebacks before quitting in 1995 with a record of 74 wins (68 knock-outs), 14 defeats and one draw.

But the Holmes defeat did not end his association with the glamour end of boxing.

Mr T - Laurence Tureaud - won the part as Clubber Lang
Mr T - Laurence Tureaud - won the part as Clubber Lang

He auditioned for Sylvester Stallone for the part of Rocky Balboa's opponent Clubber Lang in the 1982 film Rocky III.

"Sylvester's a really nice guy, but I said to him 'you want to box me?!' I was thinking 'I'm going to kill this guy'.

"He said, 'Earnie, I do all my own stunts, open up on me'.

"The first time I boxed him I took it easy and he said 'Earnie, I heard you're a puncher, I want this to look realistic'.

"So I opened up, 'Wham', and the next thing I heard was 'Cuuutttt'.

"Stallone said 'The public won't believe I can beat you - get him out of here!'

"My part got cut, but he's a nice guy and my cheque cleared!"

The Clubber Lang part went to Laurence Tureaud, Mr T, who went on to star as BA Baracus.

"I could have been Mr T in The A Team but it's gone, I'm happy to be Mr B," said the ever-humble Shavers.

see also
Champions let loose in Cardiff
01 Aug 10 |  Boxing
WBC champions weekend in photos
01 Aug 10 |  Boxing
Klitschkos 'scare' Haye - Vitali
31 Jul 10 |  Boxing
Shavers: Lewis will beat Tyson
14 Jul 00 |  Lewis in London
Get your gloves on
13 Dec 05 |  Get Involved
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales

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