“Earnie Shavers hit me so hard, he shook my kinfolk back in Africa” ~ Muhammad Ali:
This interview is with Earnie Shavers who was called “The hardest puncher of all time” by Mohammed Ali, and many other World Champions.
(G) Tell me about your childhood a little bit. What created a professional boxer of your caliber?
(Earnie Shavers): I was one of ten brothers and sisters. I grew up in a small town in Ohio outside of Warner, Ohio, and I was born in Alabama. We moved to Ohio when I was young. At the age of twelve, I knew that someday I wanted to become a professional athlete. I knew about great stars like Jim Brown who played on teams in Cleveland, Ohio so they inspired me to become an athlete. At first, I thought it was going to be football, but at the age of twenty-two it turned to boxing. Thank God it did. It changed my whole life!
(G) How did this change take place?
(Earnie Shavers): Well, a good friend of mine was a boxer down in Yorkstown, Ohio, and he was trying to recruit me to work with a local trainer there. He kept bugging me about going to the gym and on January 3rd, 1967 I went to the gym with him. That day the trainer was amazed. He said, “I can’t believe it. I could be training a guy like you! Oh my God! A guy like you could become the Champion of the World and make lots of money!” I went home and told my wife and week later, I came back on January 10th and I started training. It took off from there. See, I grew up on a farm, and from day one I proved I was strong. I threw bales of hay and did a lot of chopping of trees and wood for our furnace through the summer and that increased my punching power. I walked into the gym and from day one I could punch. The trainers couldn’t believe it. It took off from there. A couple of years later I won the National AAU, in San Diego, California. I had four fights…four knockouts. Then, I went to New York to the Pewters Training Camp; there were some other up and coming fighters there. I went there for about six months. That really helped me out tremendously. There were a lot of actual pros there. I learned a lot from them. It changed my whole life for me.
(G) So, you started to learn how to actually box then?
(Earnie Shavers): That’s right.
(G) Who was the most influential in guiding you to a boxing career?
(Earnie Shavers): Well, that trainer in Youngstown, Ohio Pedro Tomez. He was a great trainer and he won all kinds of awards, over a thousand trophies over the years. He took me under his wing and it took off from there. He moved me to his house and I trained day and night. He taught me all the dos and don’ts. He told me not to smoke, not to drink and to he told me leave the women alone, especially before a fight. He taught me how to take care of myself. I listened to him and I’ve had no problem at all. It worked out well for me.
(G) So, in your career you only had one draw. Is that correct?
(Earnie Shavers): Yes, that was with Jimmy Young.
(G) What was it about Jimmy Young that led to a draw?
(Earnie Shavers): See, the first time [we fought] I knocked Jimmy out in three rounds. So, I thought it would be easy the second fight, but he improved a lot. I didn’t train as hard as I should have for that fight. I trained about ten days and said, ‘Oh, this guy will be a piece of cake.’ But, he improved tremendously and the fight ended in a draw. He was a very good fighter and I underestimated him a little.
(G) What loss did you learn the most from?
(Earnie Shavers): From Ron Stander, in Omaho, Nebraska. He was a local kid. I fought in his home town, and I kind of tensed up. I got a little wild and tense and he stopped me. I probably learned the most from that fight there.
(G) Do you remember every fight?
(Earnie Shavers): No, not now, but I remember most of them. Some of kind of slipped my mind now.
(G) Which fight are you the most proud of?
(Earnie Shavers): I would have to say, Jimmy Ellis and Ken Norton. Both of them were ex-champs. I fought Jimmy Ellis when I was just breaking into the big time of the fight game, then. I fought him June 18th of ’73. I knocked him out in the first round. Archie Moore came to the fight. I knocked him out, boom, and that gave me a little boost. I fought Ken Norton and had to beat him to get a shot at Larry Holmes, in ‘79. Larry came out wanting a war, but Ken didn’t like punchers and I knew that. I put the fear of God into him. I said, ‘Ken, I’m going to DESTROY you!’ Ken was a great fighter; he just didn’t like punchers. I knew that from some others guys that he had fought. Archie Moore said to me, ‘You have to put the fear of God into these guys.’ I said, ‘Ken, I’m going to DESTROY you!’ In the first round, I knocked him out.
(G) You had seventy-four wins, is that right?
(Earnie Shavers): I had eighty-nine fights, seventy-four wins, sixty-eight knockouts.
(G) That’s a pretty good record.
(Earnie Shavers): Can I tell you something? I had great guys to give me advice, and everything they told me has started to come true, even today. I owe everything to boxing. It changed my whole life for me. I am making a deal right now that [promises] to make me ½ a million dollars over the next four or five years. It worked out well for me.
(G) What advice do you give to young fighters today?
(Earnie Shavers): I tell all young fighters to take care of themselves. Be a leader, no smoking, no drinking and leave the women alone close to fight time, at least six weeks. If you don’t that will leave your legs weak. If you don’t, you’ll get knocked out. The women will leave with the winner. They will step over you and leave with the winner. The fight game is a good game, but if you don’t take care of yourself you’re going to get hurt. If you don’t take care of yourself and do crazy things like smoking, drinking and doing drugs and stuff, you WILL get hurt. It’s very important that you listen to your trainer. Do everything they tell you to do. When you go into the ring, you walk up the steps into the ring, but the trainer walks down the steps. You are going to be in there on your own. If you mess up [your training] by the third round it will come out.
(G) There’s a lot of talk these days about post-traumatic stress, and brain trauma from different fights might be affecting sports. Even pro football players or hockey players, whatever, have been affected by injuries. Do you think you were affected by the blows that you took?
(Earnie Shavers): None whatsoever, because I took care of myself. I got a physical this month. I’m in perfect health. I signed those two deals for ½ million dollars over the next six years. If I was hurt, they wouldn’t want me.
(G) What were these deals in?
(Earnie Shavers): Well, I can’t tell you right now, but I’ve got new products coming out and they’ve changed my whole life for me already. There’s one for your mind, one for your heart…there are different products for different things. I’m so happy with this; it’s unbelieveable.
(G) I know that you’re a member of several martial arts halls of fame. Do people these days, because of the MMA perhaps, start to realize that boxers are martial artists?
(Earnie Shavers): I’ve been treated so warmly by these martial arts organizations. When I go out to California or wherever and I attend these martial arts events, they are always really, really good to me. For me it is different than most guys. I can punch. I can take you out in one round. I don’t care how good you are, if I get the right challenger I’m going to take you out. I enjoy working with martial arts guys; they’re really nice. They work hard to do well. I enjoy going out to work with them. They treat me well.
(G) Have you seen the short video, Message in a Bottle that has been posted on you?
(Earnie Shavers): I may have, but when you’re in The Game, there is always a new video being posted on you. My fiancé keeps up more on that than I do, but I am usually too busy to look at videos. I try to give back as much as I can, especially to young kids. I’ve started travelling and working out all over the world, and I’m booked for the next eight to ten years at least.
(G) One of notes I have on you says that you have eight daughters.
(Earnie Shavers): No, I have TEN daughters, and one son.
(G) And, my notes say that two of your daughters are named…
(Earnie Shavers): I have two Catherines. One is spelled with a K and one with a C. Katherine was a good name in the family, so I chose to give it to two of my daughters.
(G) Well that’s interesting. Are all these children from the same mother?
(Earnie Shavers): Oh, no, no, no. My first wife and I had five kids together. My second wife, we had one. I took good care of them though. They are well looked after.
(Earnie Shavers): I have about 22 or 23 grandchildren, maybe more now. Every week seems like something new happens.
(G) Are any of your children or grandchildren interested in boxing?
(Earnie Shavers): I wouldn’t allow it. If one of them [got into professional boxing] I would disinherit them, because it’s a tough sport and I’d be afraid they’d get hurt. Most of the guys I’ve met during my career are all messed up. Boxers get hurt if they don’t listen. I listened. I had a family. I could not afford NOT to listen. Most guys I’ve fought are either dead or messed up now. All my friends are either dead or in bad shape health wise. The only guys that came out in good health are George Foreman, Larry Holmes and myself.
(G) Those are some good names to be amonst.
(Earnie Shavers): Yes, they certainly are.
(G) Let’s take a little side-trip here and ask: What are some of the lessons for life that you’ve learned from boxing?
(Earnie Shavers): The fight game has changed my life for me. You cannot tell me that there is nothing I can’t accomplish, once I’ve made up my mind to do it. I’ve done the research, studied different successful people until I have a clear picture of what each person has done and I set my goals. I sit down and think about it and say slam, bam, bam, this is what I have to do to be successful. I eat, sleep and think about it twenty-four hours a day. Once I set my mind, I will do anything BUT fail. I haven’t learned how to fail, yet.
(G) So, having a clear picture of what it is you want to accomplish and the determination to go after it relentlessly…
(Earnie Shavers): Yes, going after it one thousand percent, I agree. A lot of these guys, they want to become athletes or whatever they want to do, they don’t put too much into it. It won’t work. It won’t work that way.
(G) You can’t fake boxing. You can’t go into a ring with somebody like Muhammad Ali or Larry Holmes punching you if you haven’t put the effort into it.
(Earnie Shavers): Oh yeah, you’re going to get hurt. You’ve got to keep to it, eating the right food, getting the proper rest. I never had one bad habit except women, at one time. That was the only bad habit I had. Even today, I take really good care of myself. That’s why I get all these offers from different companies.
(G) I won’t put you on the spot and have you name the most impressive fighter you’ve ever seen…
(Earnie Shavers):I don’t mind telling you it was Sugar Ray Robinson. I met Sugar Ray Robinson in Las Vegas, here, in 1979 I think. He gave me some good advice and it worked out well for me.
(G) What was the advice?
(Earnie Shavers): He said, ‘Eat, drink, think boxing 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Don’t smoke, drink or take drugs and take good care of yourself, because you’ll be going into a ring. Train up to the morning that you’re going into the ring.’ I did those things and it worked out well for me.
(G) Who would you rank as the best boxers you’ve ever faced?
(Earnie Shavers): The best boxer was Larry Holmes.
(G) Do you think he was underrated, perhaps?
(Earnie Shavers): Really underrated. He was a great fighter, really underrated. He had a left hand that I can still feel today. I’d see that left jab and then think, ‘Oh, my God he’s back there again!’ Larry was a great, great fighter, but he doesn’t get the credit due him because he defeated Mohammed, but Larry was a much better fighter.
(G) Who was it that you broke your hand on and had to jab your way to a victory?
(Earnie Shavers): It had to be Henry Clark. I think it was in France with Henry Clark. I fought Henry Clark twice. You see, the first time I had broken my knuckle, not my hand, but I needed the money so I kept my mouth shut. I used my left hand and I got the decision. Then, Mr. King came to me and said, ‘Earnie, that wasn’t you!’ I told him what happened and Mr. King got me a return match with the same guy. I destroyed him in two rounds!
(G) What do you think you would have done if you weren’t a professional athlete?
(Earnie Shavers): I would probably have gone to college and played football, but I am glad I didn’t now. Thank God! The Fight Game is going to take care of my family for the next fifty years, longer than that. It’s been really good to me. I’ve met a lot of nice people. I’ve learned so much, and every day I’m still learning because the Fight Game has made me a name. I get phone calls from people all over the world, from Timbuktu. I’m going to England pretty soon to work over there. When I go to England, I’ll spend two weeks there…one hundred and fifty grand for two weeks…not too bad.
(G) I think I read somewhere that you were a bouncer or some kind of security person in The United Kingdom?
(Earnie Shavers): Let me tell you what it was. A good friend of mine started a business and he wanted me to come over and be a greeter. I worked with the doormen over in Liverpool, but my job was to greet people when they came in. I would help the guys if they needed help, if they had a problem. I would step in and help them, but no, my job was to just greet people. People would want to come in and meet me. I’ve got friends all over the world, especially America. They all came there just to see me. The owner of the Lodge is also the operator of the largest security company in Great Britain said to me, ‘Earnie, you made me so much money, you made me so wealthy I want to make sure you are taken care of.” He calls me every week to make sure I got my check. He just wants to make sure that I’m well looked after.
(G) So, let’s ask this question twice, in two different ways: What do you think your biggest weakness was in the ring?
(Earnie Shavers): Tensing up. I was a good puncher, and I would tense up and you burn yourself out. So, I learned to relax. Once I learned to relax, it was o.k. In the early part of my career, I would tense up. I wanted to kill the other guy.
(G) …and the second answer to the same question is, “in life, my weakness is women.”
(Earnie Shavers): Yes, but after a while I learned to leave the women alone.
(G) Tell me about the documentary about you on HBO.
(Earnie Shavers): I talked to the producer the other night. It will be coming out soon. It’s almost done. I don’t know what the title is yet, but when I know I’ll tell you. I would say, probably within the next six months you’ll be able to see it. They are adding the music and doing the final assembly, right now. There’s another program that I will be working on for worldwide distribution, which I will also put in contact with you.
(G) Very good. So you’ve become really good friends with Mohammed Ali and George Forman over the years?
(Earnie Shavers): Over the years we’ve been great friends. Ali has been really good to me, and George is a nice guy. I never had a problem with any of them. I got along with all the guys, but Ali and I probably became very close because he let me come to his training camp and he wouldn’t charge me a dime. He let me use his sparing partners. He was very good to me. He’s a good guy. So was Larry Holmes.
(G) What’s the Full Gospel Businessman’s Fellowship International?
(Earnie Shavers): That’s a group of businessmen who are Christians. I speak to different groups around the country and the world. There are a lot of athletes who come in and speak, because if you have a name people will listen to you more.
(G) Is there anything else in the future that you’d like to let people know about?
(Earnie Shavers): I’ve got a couple of business deals in the works, like I said. One of the programs is going to change a lot of men’s lives. That will be happening soon and I’ll be asked to represent that once or twice a week.
(G) I just want to let you know that the video I did with you for Message in a Bottle, that short inspirational video on Vision-Revision and worldwide dojo.com is a very popular video.
(Earnie Shavers): Well, thank you very much.
(G) This column is called Legends and Legacies, so I need to ask: What do you think you’ll be remembered for?
(Earnie Shavers): Oh, for my punching power. I had tremendous punching power. I was a small guy, but I could punch hard. I grew up on the farm. I threw that hay and bags of wheat. I did a lot of chopping of trees and things that built my back and legs up and that built up my punching power.
(G) If you could be remembered for anything, what would you want to be remembered for?
(Earnie Shavers): How I treated people! I always treated people fair. I’d want to be remembered for being fair with people. I learned that a long time ago and that worked out well for me.
(G) There’s a story about the making of the Rocky movie, where Sylvester Stallone wanted you for the movie and was trying to get you to punch him harder. The story goes that you bruised his liver, or something like that…
(Earnie Shavers): That’s what happened. That’s exactly what happened. I did what he asked; I lost the part, but he was a really nice guy. A very good friend of mine, Mr. T got the part and did very well. He got the part and I’m glad it worked out that way. It worked out well for all of us. You know what? My life has worked out perfectly for me. A lot of guys did well years ago…I’m doing mine now. I’ve got much more sense; I know what to do with it. I know how to handle it. I thank God it’s coming now. I probably would have wasted it when I was younger, like so many guys did.
(G) In the world today, if there were anything you could change, what would you change?
(Earnie Shavers): If there was anything I could change…There are so many people who are really, really hurting health-wise, and everything is really expensive now. A lot of guys’ families are really struggling. If I could change that, I would change that. I wish I could help people get a better income, so that they could take better care of their families and have a better life.
(G) Well, you’ve been a good example of discipline and hard work and sticking with your plan, and of somebody who appreciates their life. I can’t say that I’ve ever talked to anybody who appreciates what they’ve got any more than you.
(Earnie Shavers): My family has always motivated me. I used to work for General Motors and I had a chance to quit GM and become a professional boxer. My ex-wife said to me, “If you quit your job and you don’t make it, I’m going to kill you.” That motivated me! And, she wasn’t a small woman either. That’s why I worked so hard. I’m working hard now, because that’s all I know. I appreciate what I’ve accomplished but I want to succeed by working hard. When you put 110% in, you’ll come out o.k.
(G) Have you ever started on a project, or in a direction and after you’ve been on it for a while, just said, ‘Hey, this is not right, this is not for me,’ and you just stopped?
(Earnie Shavers): I’m sure I have, but everything that I set out to do I usually accomplish, but I’m sure I have. I can’t think of anything right now, but I’m sure I have. The major things that I’ve set out to do, that I’ve stuck with, I did well.
(G) One last question. In all of history, is there one inspirational person who you feel you’ve modeled your life after, or who has really influenced you?
(Earnie Shavers): Rocky Marciano. I met him in ’69. He was good to me. He told me a few things, gave me a pep talk. He made a difference to me.