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'WELCOME TO THE BIG TIME' Losing title still hurts 'The Acorn'



Published: Sun, July 7, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Warren-area native Ernie Shavers had two good shots at being heavyweight champion of the world.

By ED RUNYAN

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

"Welcome To The Big Time," by Ernie Shavers, Mike Fitzgerald and Marshall Terrill (Sports Publishing LLC, $22.95).

The most memorable moments of Warren native Ernie Shavers' life took place in a boxing ring in Madison Square Garden in New York where he fought Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight championship of the world. He would nearly win the title that night, September 29, 1977, but not quite.

In the second round, the 35-year-old Ali took a Shavers left jab to the head that hurt the champ badly. "I stepped back and hesitated, watching Ali put on a rubber legged act that was closer to the truth than he wanted me to know. It was an Oscar-worthy performance that made even me wonder," Shavers writes.

During training for the fight, Shavers had been told to be patient with Ali and to be careful not to punch himself out. "It may have cost me the championship. In fact, I know it did," Shavers states in his autobiography.

"My instincts told me I had the champ reeling, but I let Ali con me into thinking otherwise. If, at that crucial moment, I had taken the fight to him, the title could have changed hands right there."

It was one of 88 fights in his 26-year boxing career which began in 1969 and ended in 1983, although he made a couple comeback fights in 1987 and 1995.

Larry Holmes

Along the way, he also had a title fight against Larry Holmes in 1979 that he lost by technical knock out in the 11th round. But in a way similar to the fight with Ali, there was a moment in the fight when the boxer considered by some to be the hardest puncher in the 20th Century had a chance to be heavyweight champion.

In the seventh round, Shavers, having been gouged by the thumb of Holmes' glove and his retina detached earlier in the fight, hit Holmes with an overhand right that "caught Holmes flush on the button, and he went down as if he'd suddenly been deboned." Holmes had been knocked momentarily motionless, and Shavers started to believe he might be the heavyweight champion of the world.

Holmes would eventually return to his feet, and with glazed eyes hold off Shavers' attempt to end it. Holmes would later describe the impact of the punch as having been "like having a flash from a camera go off in his face."

Newton Falls roots

Such moments made Ernie Shavers, who had grown up in the countryside outside of Newton Falls and attended Newton Falls schools, well-known around the world. It would enable him to buy a large estate in Mecca Township and travel around the world with his wife, LaVerne, and his children.

It would also make him attractive to many women. He admits in his book that among his strengths, such as working hard and being humble, saying no to beautiful women was not among them. He has been married six times and now lives in the countryside near London, England, with his significant other, Sue Clegg.

In "Welcome to The Big Time" Shavers and his writing "handlers" have given some insight into what life was like for Shavers as he started out life in Alabama, moved to Ohio to avoid his father's lynching, through his school years at Newton Falls, early jobs as an adult and start as a boxer in Youngstown.

He gives interesting details about working with local boxing and paving giant "Blackie" Gennaro and his frugal ways as Shavers' trainer and his relationships with Ali, Holmes and boxing promoter Don King.

For anyone who enjoyed knowing Shavers or just watching him in the ring, the memories in this collection should be worth the time to look into.

Runyan@vindy.com




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