Phil Donahue once asked Muhammad Ali plainly about all the boxers he’d fought in his career, “Who’s the strongest?” Before he could even elaborate on his question, Ali answered him candidly: “Earnie Shavers.”
“The Black Destroyer” was notorious for his punching power. Other fighters get immortalized recognition for the strength behind their punches, such as Roberto Duran, George Foreman, and of course, Mike Tyson. But Shavers belongs in the same breath with those gentlemen.
On the other side of the ring from him on Sept. 13, 1975, in Denver, was one Ron Lyle. Faced with imminent death twice before he even took up boxing, Lyle was a hard-nosed warrior lauded for his courage inside the squared circle, with a formidable punch of his own. Much of his style and heart could be attributed to his triumphs over tribulations in his earlier life.
Leading up to the fight, Lyle was coming off of two defeats to Muhammad Ali and Jimmy Young. As for Shavers, he was riding the wave of three consecutive knockout victories, proceeding a split decision draw against the aforementioned Young.
In what many esteem to be the Golden Age of heavyweight boxing, Shavers and Lyle were two fighters who now fall in the shadow of fighters such as Ali, Foreman, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes, and Joe Frazier, all world champions. But when they met, Shavers and Lyle delivered to fans an action-packed bout with all the ingredients for a great fight.
The two fighters took about a minute to feel each other out, with Lyle dancing around the ring. Shavers came out as the aggressor, throwing hooks up and downstairs, before Lyle ran the table in the second half of the round. He buried his forehead into Shavers’ shoulder, backing him against the ropes, before the Dayton, Ohio, native launched an incursion of punches.
Shavers won the second round with flying colors. Both fighters switched up their strategies, as Lyle became more flatfooted, and quite literally only threw jabs and feints until a hook to the body late in the round.
As for Shavers, he also showed dexterity and range, bouncing around the ring, light as a feather on his feet, and throwing almost every punch in his arsenal. He then proved his hands were made of steel with two hooks to the body that broke down Lyle and opened him up for a thunderous right hook upstairs, which was partially blocked. As Lyle came up from that half-deflected punch, he left himself wide open for a Shavers left hook that jellied his legs, resulting in a knockdown.
All credit goes to Lyle, who, saved by the bell, came out in the third with legs rejuvenated just enough to hang on for dear life, as Shavers pressed the notion. At one point early in the round, Shavers, while calculated, was throwing everything he had in his bag, and Lyle broke out into the Philly Shell, showing defensive skill.
Many of Shavers’ punches were deflected, but were probably doing damage regardless, and Lyle came out of that sea of dark gloves with four hooks of his own, which made the crowd instantly rise to their feet as the two sluggers duked it out toe-to-toe.
Lyle showed slight signs of fatigue as he backed from one side of the ropes to the other, but caught enough of a wind to answer anything Shavers had for him.
In close, Shavers exhibited exemplary hand speed, as he hit Lyle with a one-two combination of short hooks to the sides of the face that neutralized Lyle’s onslaught. Everyone in the building (from the camera’s angle at least) was jumping up and down as Shavers resorted to the same move twice: a left hook to the body, followed by a straight right upstairs.
In mirrored fashion, he threw that same combination twice, at rapid speed. Each time, the body shot was partially blocked, but Shavers tagged his opponent with the shot to the face, thrilling those at the Coliseum.
Just because Shavers was doing work, however, doesn’t mean that Lyle was going to sit there and take it. Lyle retorted with a left hook to the face, and a left uppercut that popped Shavers’ head up so quickly he looked like a whack-a-mole. He also showed great timing, making Shavers whiff air several times with wild left hooks upstairs.
In round four, both men took about 45 seconds each, beating each other up while the other was pinned against the ropes, with many uppercuts and 1-2-3 combinations thrown.
While close, Lyle won round five in these books, as he utilized his jab to perfection, more than once scoring a second punch afterwards, including landing five straight punches at one point — three consecutive jabs, followed by two consecutive right hooks, all straight to the moneymaker. Shavers was so out-boxed he did an about-face and turned to Lyle’s corner at the sound of the bell before realizing he was facing the wrong way.
Ultimately, Lyle scored a huge right hand to the jaw 15 seconds into the sixth, hurting Earnie and turning him into a heavy bag at that point, before Shavers tumbled to the canvas, ending the fight.
Lyle completely out-boxed and outclassed Shavers in that fifth round. While round three was perhaps the most exciting, and round two brought fans a knockdown, round five showcased the most tactical precision, as Lyle gained momentum for a fight stopper in the sixth.
For those getting into boxing, or others who may not have seen such a great fight as this one, words only do it so much justice. These two heavyweight heavyweights put on a fantastic show, with massive implications.
A win for Ron Lyle catapulted him to a title contention match against George Foreman for the NABF belt, which meant something in that era, while Shavers riled up enough vengeful fury to beat his next five opponents, four by knockout, before the biggest fight of his career against Muhammad Ali for the WBC, WBA and The Ring heavyweight belts in 1977.