Before there was Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis or Deontay Wilder, there was a heavyweight fighter whose punching power had even Muhammad Ali shook. That man was Ernie Shavers—he was alternately called “the Dark Destroyer” or “The Puncher of the Century”, died yesterday at age 78.
Shavers’ long professional career—he fought from 1965 until 1995—never afforded him the accolades of other heavyweights of his prime like Ali, George Foreman or Joe Frazier, nor did he ever see the huge paydays or worldwide fame of Tyson, Lewis or the Klitschko brothers. But Shavers nonetheless left his mark on his sport at a time when heavyweight title fights were still the biggest sporting events around.
He definitely left his impact on everyone he hit. Shavers racked up 68 knockouts on his way to a 74-14-1 record in his career. In an interview with decades after their two fights, International Boxing Hall of Famer Larry Holmes told Tyson that Shavers threw the hardest punches he ever felt—an almost insane comment given Holmes suffered a devastating KO to Tyson in 1988.
“That was a great feat of courage when I watched that fight, when he fought Earnie Shavers,” Tyson said of the thundering right hook that Shavers used to level Holmes. “I was just amazed that he got up from that. I didn’t believe...it was like he got shot with a shotgun.”
Muhammad Ali famously said after narrowly winning a decision over Shavers in 1977 that Shavers, “hit me so hard that it shook my kinfolk in Africa.” Throughout their bout, Shavers visibly rocked Ali with shots so hard that the crowed erupted in shock that Ali managed to stay on his feet.
Despite the excitement he brought to fights and the ever-present threat of a spectacular KO, Shavers was never able to capture a world title, with his losses to Ali and Holmes being the only shots he ever got at a belt.