Earnie Shavers hit harder than Mike Tyson and Deontay Wilder, he floored Larry Holmes and is among the hardest punchers in boxing history who have highlight reels full of dazzling KOs
“It ain’t about how hard you can hit,” the fictional, but legendary Rocky Balboa once told his son in one of his many inspirational moments.
Granted, he was trying to give young Robert a life lesson because in reality, as a top boxer, it’s very helpful if you can hit hard.
Boxing is littered with many heavy hitters – it’s a reason it attracts so many fans and, with the passing of former heavyweight challenger Earnie Shavers, talkSPORT looks at who the most devastating punchers in its storied history are. These ten certainly have a claim.
10. JULIAN JACKSON
W: 55 (49 KOs), L: 6
Not an elite boxer but ‘The Hawk’ had two in-ring advantages: an immaculate flattop hairstyle and the ability to crush you with one punch. Jackson’s right-hand bomb to decimate Herol Graham – in a fight the British slickster was dominating – remains the sport’s ultimate one-hit turnaround demolition.
A 154lb and 160lb world champ, Virgin Islander Jackson dealt with Terry Norris and Buster Drayton in similar, sickening style: top-class fighters laid out cold after tasting his raw power.
9. DEONTAY WILDER
W: 42 (41 KOs), L: 1, D: 1
With respect to Naoya Inoue and Gervonta Davis, only one active fighter belongs on this list. Wilder’s elastic, otherworldly power is made even more amazing by the fact that, despite his 6ft 7in height, he’s skinny by modern heavyweight standards yet can ruin far larger men.
He boasts a 93 per cent KO ratio and only two foes have ever gone the distance: Bermane Stiverne (KO1 in the rematch) and Tyson Fury (who’s tasted the canvas twice). Would be even higher if he could actually box. Don’t tell him we said that.
8. TOMMY HEARNS
W: 61 (48 KOs), L: 5, D: 1
Detroit’s legendary ‘Hitman’ is the epitome of a puncher: tall, long levers, perfect technique and just a bit vulnerable himself. What’s special is how Hearns carried his power. He started off brutalising welterweights but by the end, Hearns was merrily stopping cruiserweights.
Roberto Duran, a man Marvin Hagler couldn’t budge, was put to sleep in four minutes. Yet it’s the two picture-perfect right hands that did for Jose Cuevas which remain his masterpiece.
7. MIKE TYSON
W: 50 (44 KOs), L: 5
Nobody has a better highlight reel of dazzling KOs than the brooding, menacing ‘Iron Mike’. Optimistically listed as 5ft 11in, Tyson specialised in wrecking taller heavyweights with his speed, aggression, footwork and spiteful combinations.
Some opponents seemed defeated before the first bell (Michael Spinks lasted 91 seconds), although it’s also true that if you could survive the early rounds, Tyson became less and less effective. Pretty big “if” though, especially when Tyson was at his devastating early peak.
6. SANDY SADDLER
W: 145 (104 KOs), L: 16, D: 2
Featherweights aren’t supposed to hit this hard. Saddler the puncher took on Willie Pep, the greatest defensive boxer of all time, for the world title in Madison Square Garden. The result: Saddler hammered Pep to the canvas twice then took him out inside four rounds.
A lanky 5ft 9in with a ramrod jab and a vicious left hook, Saddler lost the rematch to Pep but won their iconic rivalry 3-1 and retired with over 100 KOs. Prince Naseem eat your heart out.
5. EARNIE SHAVERS
W: 74 (68 KOs), L: 14, D: 1
“Nobody hits like Shavers. If anybody hit harder than Shavers, I’d shoot him,” wiscracked heavyweight Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb. Despite being a two-time world title challenger ‘The Acorn’ had zero outstanding attributes. Except an ability to punch as hard as man born.
Of his 68 career KOs, 23 came in the first round, 46 inside the first three rounds. Larry Holmes getting up from the late Shavers’ short, right-hand bomb remains one of the great boxing recoveries – and Holmes would later swear it was the hardest he was ever hit.
4. JIMMY WILDE
W: 137 (98 KOs), L: 4, D: 1
His nickname, ‘The Ghost with the Hammer in his Hand’, sounds like a new Marvel film. Apt, because Wilde’s power was superhuman. The 5ft 2in Welshman began his career beating the snot out of far larger men in fairground boxing booths (yes, they were a thing) and would go on to win the world flyweight title.
Wilde knocked out far larger bantamweights and featherweights with his bludgeoning power, once went on a 93-fight unbeaten streak and remains the gold standard in tiny punchers.
3. JOE LOUIS
W: 66 (52 KOs), L: 3
“Like someone jammed an electric lightbulb in your face,” said James J Braddock of being hit by Louis. And Braddock was talking about his jab. Heavyweight king Louis, the best pure finisher in boxing history, caused damage with either fist.
Max Schmeling, the first man to beat Louis was mauled in the rematch, left howling in pain with broken bones in his back. The fight lasted just over two minutes. That was one of 25 successful world title defences Louis made, 22 ending inside the distance. Ouch.
2. SAM LANGFORD
W: 211 (126 KOs), L: 29, D: 38
Stood half an inch over 5ft 6in, fought at 135lb and 147lb, but the Canada-born ‘Boston Bonecrusher’ was a concussive puncher all the way up to heavyweight. Stocky, muscular but with unusually long arms, Langford flattened fighters up to 50lb heavier than himself.
The odious racism of his era meant that this multi-weight great never got the world title chances his skills deserved. But surviving footage shows a fast, formidable, powerful slugger.
1. GEORGE FOREMAN
W: 76 (68 KOs), L: 5
The sheer, thudding, blunt-force trauma of Foreman’s blows led to two jaw-dropping heavyweight title changes. In 1973, Foreman knocked the great, undefeated Joe Frazier down six times in two rounds with a series of monster hooks and uppercuts.
Then 21 years later, Foreman’s right hand laid out another unbeaten champ in Michael Moorer. The scary part? The 46-year-old Big George didn’t even seem to torque his full force behind the punch. Power that we have never seen before or since.