It was to be the last time the incomparable Muhammad Ali would ever successfully defend the heavyweight championship. It would be held in boxing’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. It would also feature Ohio’s most popular heavyweight of the last quarter century, Earnie Shavers. The “Acorn” as Ali had dubbed Shavers would be a prohibitive underdog. He was accorded a puncher’s chance at best against the aging but still crafty king of the heavyweights. What transpired the night of September 29, 1977 established Earnie as a legitimate contender and forecast the soon to be demise of “The Greatest”.
The playful Ali continually mocked Earnie during the pre-fight introductions by rubbing the top of the “Acorn’s” head. In this fight the scorecards would be made public as the battle was being contested. Everyone would know the score as the fight was progressing. An idea that has gladly never caught on. The relaxed and confident Ali easily out boxed Earnie in round one and was doing the same in round two. Then out of nowhere a crackling Shavers right hand stunned Ali and sent him wobbling backwards. Hurt and glassy eyed Ali waved Earnie in. Again Shavers landed with dynamite force staggering Ali. Only Muhammad’s tremendous heart, chin and cunning enabled him to survive the round.
Action slowed in the middle rounds as Ali mugged to the crowd and several times he would lay on the ropes and try to lure Earnie in. Shavers refused to become a victim of the “Rope-A-Dope” and the crowd booed wanting more action. They got it as the bout progressed past the seventh round. On numerous occasions Earnie rocked the champion back on his heels with explosive right hand bombs. When Ali kept his distance he dominated with sharp jabs and straight rights.