Driving through the evening mist of Martinsville, Va., Earnie Shavers looks like a kindly, peace-loving soul, if a very large, kindly, peace-loving soul. He's Good Old Earnie or Oh, Daddy, depending on your seat in the car, and he talks in a giggling honey voice. Yet Shavers, the greatest heavyweight knockout puncher of this century, is still throwing fearful right hands to make ends meet, five years after he lost to Muhammad Ali, three years after his last title shot—a TKO in the 11th round by Larry Holmes—three years after a detached retina, and 11 months after his 37th birthday.
"Maybe I'm slower," he says, "but I can be slow, as long as I land. I'll take little fights, ones I can't get hurt in, don't train for, and wait for one last payday."
His record is 67-11-1, and 64 of those victories have been KOs, 49 times inside of three rounds. His KO-to-win percentage is .940. George Foreman is second at .933. No other heavyweight is close.
Shavers retired in August 1980 after being stopped by Randall (Tex) Cobb in eight rounds. He unretired and eventually met Jeff Sims on Dec. 11, 1981 in Nassau, the Bahamas. That night, in the main event, Muhammad Ali, whom Shavers couldn't drop but sorely tested in 1977, had no mirrors left for Trevor Berbick.
"Earnie didn't look like Frazier or Ali coming back, did he?" asks LaVerne, his wife of 18 years. "Earnie always gives them a show."
Against Sims, Shavers was dropped in the first round but got up and knocked out Sims with a thunderous right in the fifth.
Since then Shavers has fought at the drop of a hat, if the right denominations were in it. Say $100,000. Would you believe $50,000? A lousy $20,000, you say? He'll get back to you.
Shavers' last fight was on June 22, a fifth-round knockout of one Billy Joe Thomas in Houston just 11 days after he had lost a close 10-round decision to a once-floored James (Quick) Tillis on the Holmes- Gerry Cooney card in Las Vegas.
In the two months before that, Shavers had knocked out Smiley Sutton in Charleston, S.C., Joe Bugner in Dallas and Ali Hakin in Traverse City, Mich. "Broke his jaw and busted his inner ear," Shavers says of the latter. "He was a kid, cocky, but a kid. He wasn't ready for me." Shavers was to have fought this week on the undercard on the postponed Cobb-Mike Weaver WBA title bout, but now his next fight probably won't be until Aug. 17 when he'll meet Walter Santemore in Lafayette, La.