Earnie Shavers challenged unsuccessfully twice for the heavyweight championship, losing to Muhammad Ali in 1977 and to Larry Holmes in 1979. He hurt Ali in the second round and scored a seventh-round knockdown against Holmes. Shavers defeated former world champion Vicente Rondon, Jimmy Ellis, and Ken Norton, as well as three-time European heavyweight champion Joe Bugner and top heavyweight contender Jimmy Young.
In 2001, Shavers released an autobiography called Welcome to the Big Time. Since retiring from boxing he has attended boxing events as a special guest, autograph signer, and motivational speaker.
Shavers started boxing at the late age of 22. Before turning professional, he had a short but notable amateur career, winning the 1969 National AAU heavyweight title.
In March 1969, National Golden Gloves director Tony Mange said Shavers "carries a hefty punch." He had nine straight knockout wins before he was himself knocked out by the 230-pound (104 kg).
Shavers vs Norton
In a mandatory title challenge eliminator he knocked out former champion Ken Norton in the first round, possibly the best win of his career.
Shavers vs Holmes
Shavers then fought for the title against world heavyweight champion Larry Holmes at Caesars Palace in Paradise, NV on September 29, 1979, exactly two years after his defeat by Ali. Shavers knocked Holmes down in round seven but after taking punches in the eleventh round without responding, the referee stopped the fight. Holmes, known for his ability to take a punch, later said that Shavers' blow was the hardest he had ever taken in his career.
Shavers attempted two abbreviated comebacks--a fight in 1987, and two in 1995, in the second of which he was KO'd by Brian Yates in round 2. After his loss, Shavers retired for good.
Shavers has been named among the top-10 punchers in boxing history by The Ring and others.
Shavers finished his career in 1995 with a record of 74 wins (68 by knockout, 23 inside the first round, with 46 in the first 3 rounds), 14 losses and 1 draw.
During the early 1980s while preparing for the film Rocky III, Sylvester Stallone explored the possibility of using a real heavyweight boxer in the role of James "Clubber" Land by inviting Earnie Shavers to spar with him. Shavers initially refused to hit Stallone with anything other than a soft jab. This frustrated Stallone, who asked Shavers, "C'mon Earnie, show me something real." Earnie responded by punching him once near the liver, forcing an immediate retirement; Stallone later said: "that nearly killed me. I went straight to the men's room and threw up." However, according to Rhonda Young, the film's casting director, the reason why he was eventually not chosen for the part is that his voice was too high-pitched and not menacing enough (Joe Frazier was also considered, but reportedly couldn't even read the character's lines without stuttering).
Shavers visited Ali several times and he says he, Ali, and George Foreman became very good friends over the years. Foreman, when asked about the toughest and hardest punching opponent he ever met in the ring said "It was Shavers."