Earnie Shavers Power pt. 2

T he next issue forwarded by idiot is the following:

Does knocking out fighters – i.e. beating them senseless – who are heavier serve as a primary factor in determining a puncher’s relative power?

Not really if taken at face value. There are several issues to take into consideration.
1.  The author of the aforementioned screed has compiled a comprehensive list of opponents of several fighters who were considered powerful, and then listed the subsequent KO percentages in each weight stratification. Well, there is precisely one website that is a categorical documentation of fighters and the maximum possible info on their fights.  It is www.boxrec.com, and if boxrec can’t tell you what weight a fighter was I’m guessing nobody really knows. These dudes are thorough, and I highly doubt, particularly considering his lack of free time owing to his tea bagging the Klitschkos, he went through about two hundred microfiche records from the 70’s and 80’s on the outside chance that the information even exists.
So f- him. I don’t believe he was able to compile that information in the first place.
2.  Anyone who knows anything about boxing knows that weight doesn’t have a whole lot to do with KO power. George Chuvalo is the quintessential example of this. Chuvalo was never knocked down in his career, and he took beatings from guys like Frazier and Foreman, as well as vicious punishment from Ali and many other upper-tier fighters.  His weight when he fought Foreman was 214 lbs., and he was 217 when he fought Frazier. In other words, a man’s chin has as much if not more to do with a KO than does his opponent’s power.
On the other hand, according to Tyson, former world welterweight champion Thomas Hearns’ right hand was so powerful that he could have easily knocked out a heavyweight with it. Do I think that applies to a 6’6” 246 lb. fighter like Wladimir Klitschko who has shown that he has a questionable chin? Absolutely. I’m not saying he’d get inside, but if he landed a shot it might do the trick. But could he do it if that heavyweight was a 6’0” 217 lb. George Chuvalo? No way, and to this day Chuvalo speaks clear as a bell.
3. Therefore, when we talk about punching power, the real questions are:
“What was the quality of the opponent’s skill set – i.e. how hard was it to land a shot cleanly – how good was their chin, and how much damage was done?”
Well, let’s take a look.
Our fair douchebag posits a series of quotes from the fighters who credit Shavers as, by far, the single hardest puncher they ever faced. They aren’t the only ones either. There’s “everyone he ever fought” and “every commentator in the history of the sport” who all seem to draw a similar conclusion, but let’s stick to the issue in front of us. He also maintains that Shavers was only really effective against guys who were 199 lbs. and under (See point 1 above). Therefore, it seems fair to analyze the fighters who made those quotes and see what Shavers was actually dealing with.
Of his 74 wins, (68 knockouts), the average time a man he beat was 3.47 rounds. This includes the full 10 rounds for six fights that went the distance. Of the quoted fighters, two are his biggest KO’s: Joe Bugner, and Ken Norton  His notable losses to that group are Larry Holmes , Muhammad Ali, Ron Lyle, and Randall Tex Cobb.
Let’s start with Joe Bugner: 245 lbs.
Joe Bugner had the skill set of a particularly angry donkey with a profound disdain for combat as a codified set of rules. I have nothing more to say.
Bugner was only ever knocked out by three men.
1. Frank Bruno when he was 47
2. Some forgettable asshole a year later
3. And Earnie Shavers…in 2 rounds. Bugner was 32 and in his prime, fresh off fights with that went the distance with Ali (twice), Joe Frazier, and Ron Lyle.
Additional resume for his chin: One of only three men who went the distance with Joe Frazier when Frazier won. Ron Lyle (split decision, by the way), and Henry Cooper, the man who nearly derailed Ali’s career with the worst shot Ali ever took.
Ken Norton: 220 lbs.
Norton fought Ali three times, losing the first by a highly controversial split decision. An immediate rematch was in order, and Norton won a split decision during which he broke Ali’s jaw. To his credit, Ali finished the fight. I could go on about his other great fights, but much like the men who defeated Sugar Ray Robinson, it only takes a single resume line to get into the hall of fame if the opponent is of that quality.
Ken Norton was knocked out three times in his career:
1. Jerry Cooney, the most destructive left hook in the business in 1. Norton was 38, and it ended his career.
2. Earnie Shavers in 1. Norton was 36, but was fresh off the single greatest heavyweight championship fight of all time against Larry Holmes that was literally decided by the last round of the fight. He was definitely still incredibly capable, and Shavers essentially ruined him.
3. George Foreman in 2. Foreman needs no introduction. Getting knocked out by George Foreman is about as noteworthy as owning one of his grills. Being able to continue your career in a meaningful way afterwards is about as rare as still having one of his grills.
Additional resume for his chin: Ron Standard (His first loss was to Frazier and it ruined his career), Jerry Quarry,  Larry Holmes (SD and a brutal slugfest that is widely considered one of the greatest heavyweight fights of all time owing to the amount of damage each fighter took).
Ron Lyle: 219 lbs.
Ron Lyle went to jail, and did 1,000 sit-ups in and hour every day to kill time. He also was a very good fighter who gave Foreman and Ali a run for their money, and enough so that his name will always be remembered when the heavyweight division comes up in conversation.
He was knocked out five times in his career:
1. Jerry Cooney, when he was 44 years old.
2. George Foreman in 5 (he nearly killed Foreman, and the fight essentially came down to who was better conditioned as both men were basically dead by the end.
3.  Muhammad Ali in 11. This is universally considered a horrible stoppage granted to a great champion who was very likely going to face down a highly uncertain decision.
4. An unheralded Lynn Ball when he was 43 years old.
Additional resume for his chin: Obviously Earnie Shavers, who damn near killed him in the third round, Joe Bugner (SD when he was 41), Jerry Quarry, and to be fair, George Foreman again, as Lyle was not only able to get up twice but also managed to have the wherewithal to come back and knock Foreman down several times. He could have just as easily won that fight as lost it.
Larry Holmes: 254 lbs.
Nutsack… Besides that, he was a sparring partner of Ali and a heavyweight champion who went 48-0 before his first – and questionable – defeat. His jab was fantastic, and overall he was the greatest fighter of his era and the last of the Golden Era fighters.
Larry Holmes was knocked out only once in his career:
1. Mike Tyson in 4. He fought him at 38 after two year return from retirement, and got up three times before it was stopped.
Additional resume for his chin: Earnie Shavers twice (we covered this, and he went the distance the first time around), Ken Norton, Mike Weaver twice, the second being at the age of 51, Gerry Cooney (KO’d Cooney in 13), and Ray Mercer.
Muhammad Ali: 225 lbs.
One of the best chins in the history of the sport, and I’m not going to bother commenting on his skill set.
He was stopped only once in his career:
1. Larry Holmes, when he was 38 and already showing signs of Parkinson’s Syndrome. Basically, he couldn’t fight anymore.
Additional resume for his chin: Sonny Liston twice (Liston was nearly killing people, and is considered one of the most powerful and feared men in the history of the sport), George Foreman, Joe Frazier three times (The legendary status of the beatings in those fights require no input from me), Henry Cooper twice, Jerry Quarry twice, Joe Bugner, Ken Norton 3 times (and once with a broken jaw), Ron Lyle, and Earnie Shavers (Shavers nearly knocked him out. Considering all the other opponents who beat on him with no success, it’s probably Shavers’ most impressive achievement).
Randall Tex Cobb: 238 lbs.
No skills whatsoever, just incredibly durable.
He was knocked out only once in his career:
1. Dee Collier. Lucky shot, and Cobb was way out of shape for the fight.
Additional resume for his chin: Earnie Shavers (Shavers was horribly out of shape, and still managed to hurt him badly several times), Ken Norton, Larry Holmes (gave him such a beating that, well, we covered this.), and virtually everyone he fought because of his horrible defense (that’s not a joke. He was a punching bag).
The takeaway from this is two-fold. First, I will again reference point 1 above and say that every fighter listed, and submitted as testaments to Shavers’ power by the author himself, is well above 200 lbs., and their combined weight over 200 lbs. is, in fact, over 200 lbs. – 201 to be precise.
The second piece of information is that all of those individuals have extraordinary chins. Every one to a man. So when these guys say Shavers is the hardest puncher they ever fought, they are all in a position to remember the actual shots they took from other guys who can hit.
But before we go any further, we need to address Shavers’ average 3.47 rounds-per-win percentage. Just because a guy is knocking out “bums”, as dilshspigot calls them, doesn’t mean those KO’s aren’t meaningful. Marciano fought a lot of bums too, and KO’ing most of them is extraordinary considering the percentages of guys like Ali against similar opposition. Also, it cannot be overstated that many of those hurt fighters will go into survival mode once they’re hurt. In order to actually knock them out, you’re going have to step on their foot while their against the ropes and blast a shot clean through their gloves and into their cerebral cortex to get that KO. In other words, a rounds-per-fight average for his wins of 3.47 is ridiculous.
Compare that to 3.45 for Foreman who fought just as many bums as every other fighter on Earth does on the way up the ladder. However, Foreman was an Olympic gold medalist in the 1964 Mexico City games, and had a far, far better defense than Shavers. So it’s wholly unsurprising that he’s two one-hundredths of a percentage better than Shavers, as Foreman wasn’t losing time getting slapped around by anyone until he got his chance to swing. If Shavers was of Foreman quality, he likely would have a much lower percentage, and I’m ready to argue that point any time you want.
Even Tyson rings in at 3.41 for the first part of his career before he went to jail for which he is truly known as a knockout artist, and he had incredible speed and a bobbing and weaving defensive style that allowed him to get inside very quickly and land clean punches to the chin. Also, when the quality of his opposition went up, he quickly began going into the later rounds as he couldn’t land cleanly.
Shavers on the other hand never needed to land an excellently placed shot to detach a fighter from his senses. Any shot would do, even if it was partially blocked or slipped., and again, if Shavers had both Tyson’s skill set and the power he naturally possessed, he would probably still be heavyweight champion to this day. Finally, it is of considerable note that Tyson fought very, very few fighters with truly respectable chins.  Seriously, whose on the list? Tony Tucker at best?
Now to the main point: if you look at Shavers’ losses until he gets into the very end of his career when he’s pushing 40, we need to consider the ability he should have to actually catch some of these guys. As an example, Larry Holmes, Norton, and Ali were extremely slippery, crafty, and true scholars of the art. The fact that he was even able to land a glancing punch was incredible enough, much less something clean, and when he did, well, the results speak for themselves.
If we consider the KO percentage in his record including against guys where his damage was essentially a “punchers chance” connection that was apocalyptic, we come up with something like this:
68 + Ron Lyle, Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes 2, and James Tillis (keep in mind we are now considering his record as a whole). All four of those guys were severely injured by Shavers, and that would be 72 out of 74 fights he very nearly or very actually killed someone. Except for Tillis, those are three astonishing chins to even stagger, much less put in the s-, and I mean real s-. Ali was out on his feet for godsake sake, and Larry Holmes may still be falling through the canvass for all I know. And Tillis? He’s remembered primarily for one thing: he was the first man to go the distance with Tyson.
In closing, we have to recognize when we talk about Shavers that we have a man with basically no skills who was able to get fights with the very best of the era based almost exclusively on the fact that he was able to kill people, and killing people moves you up in the ranks. He had absolutely no other business in the ring with the likes of the men listed above, but he got the fights because when you win, you win. Period. And when he got his shot he made the most of it he possibly could, and almost beat them all. Seriously, complaining because someone can’t knock out Ali and Holmes is like complaining that your car can’t fly.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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