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Shavers Plans to Trim Ali

By Carl A. Esterhay

Tonight Earnie Shavers squares off against Muhammad Ali in a World Heavyweight Championship fight at Madison Square Garden. Challenger Shavers predicts an easy victory over the reigning champion.

Shavers, considerably more talented in pugilistic pursuits than poetry, says, "Ali is an old 35 and he can't run from age. He is going to be the one surprised, not me, because I have never been in better shape."

It's no secret that Ali has not trained hard in the last six weeks. The champ sparred little and frequently strayed from his Deer Lake, Pa., training camp. Instead of road work, Ali walked the streets of New York City in support of mayoral candidate Mario Cuomo.

Meanwhile in the midst of the cornfields and surrounding woods at Turkana Farms in Calcutta, Ohio, Shavers trained in seclusion like a man possessed. Each day, driven by trainer Frank Lucca, Shavers ran five miles around the fields in the morning and sparred, hit the bags, and jumped rope in the afternoon.

Between sessions, Shavers would walk in the woods with an axe and while chopping trees chant, "If I cut off the head, the body must die."

To make a gym, Shavers cleaned the bales of hay out of the barn and set up a ring and bags. Around the ring several wooden chairs filled up the space not required by tractor equipment.

Two banners stretched across the dark, wooden interior. One read, "Ali Must Fall." The other proclaimed, "Earnie Shavers, Heavyweight Champ."

But the sign on the white-washed barn door was the strongest symbol of Shaver's determination and confidence. The sign listed the "all-time hardest heavyweight punchers." Number one was Shavers: 52 knockouts in 54 wins.

In the number ten spot, after names like Marciano, Louis, Dempsey, and Frazier, came not a name, but the words "And Guess Who's Last?"

Tonight Ali needs no introduction. But most fight fans see Shavers, with his shaved head and bearded face, as another nobody with whom Ali toys around to make easy bucks ($3.5 million for Ali, $300,000 for Shavers) and to satisfy demands that the champ defend his crown.

Shavers must give most of the credit for any recognition he has received to Ali. Ali made Shavers's glazed head nationally famous by rubbing pictures of the challenger's head on television and chiding him as "The Acorn."

The 33-year-old Shavers did not throw his first competitive punch until he was 23, when he came off the General Motors assembly line to win the National Amateur title.

Tonight, after eight years of looking for fights on two continents and being avoided by the "name" fighters, the crown is there for the taking. Lucca said, "Someone was always telling us to beat one more guy but nobody would fight us. Foreman refused us, Norton said he hoped he would never fight Earnie. Earnie was too dangerous."

Shavers displayed his ferocious fists in the afternoon sparring sessions in the barn. To soften the impact of his punches so he would not disable or dismember his sparring partners Shavers had to don special 20-oz. gloves.

Only one heavyweight was in camp to provide hard contact work for Shavers but a bevy of light heavies enabled the challenger to improve his speed and footwork for the shuffling Ali.

There was a more practical reason for having only one heavyweight for sparring. They were afraid of getting hurt. As Shavers's former manager Joseph "Blackie" Gennaro said, "It's hard to get a heavy because Earnie sends them home."

In these sessions, light heavyweight Cookie Wallace provided an imitation of Ali that resulted in Wallace sacrificing his upper mandible for Shavers's benefit. Wallace taunted Shavers, a la Ali, and stuck his face out to receive Shavers's blows in a crude and masochistic simulation of Ali's "rope-a-dope" technique.

After each round Wallace staggered to the outside of the ring, gagged out a rude mass of blood from his mouth, and returned to combat with a gapped tooth sneer to wallow in the next round of punishment at the hands of Shavers.

Las Vegas and Toots Shors' Bar haven't placed their bets against Ali. They have heard that Ali is fat, and slow, and that a washed-up heavyweight named Jimmy Ellis floored him twice in sparring sessions.

But the word is out that the stories are just another Ali con. Ali knows how to train and is such a master of psychological warfare that he knows exactly what it takes to win. Ali's strategy on the small piece of canvas, and his ability to take a punch, could be the determining factors in this fight.

Shavers has never gone more than ten rounds and the closest he has ever been to

Impressive as this all sounds, the boys in a fight of this magnitude was when he would listen to a radio in the locker room after a preliminary bout. He may be too pumped-up when he comes out; he may throw too many punches.

If Ali survives this barrage and Shavers burns himself out, then Ali will get the nod in yet another decision.

In the other corner, Shavers is psyched for 15 rounds. He says, "I trained for a 15-round fight but it won't go that long. Anything I hit will go down and when you knock them out, everybody knows who wins."

In training camp, Shavers ended each workout with a medicine ball drill that brought to a boil his intense determination to be the next champ of the world.

In the drill, Shavers laid outstretched on a table and Lucca pounded Shaver's midsection with the ball. While slamming Shavers with increased effort, Lucca shouted, "Can he hurt you?"

Shavers screamed, "No!"

Lucca yelled, "What are you going to do?"

As Shavers writhed, "Knock him out."

Lucca pounded with a frenzy. "What are you going to be?"

Shavers jumped off the table and yelled, "Champion of the world."

Maybe tonight Shavers will take the mountain from Muhammad Ali.

Gonna clip the wings of the butterfly,

Gonna take the sting from the bee.

The crowd will stand and cheer with glee

Cause they'll count ten over Muhammad Ali.

September 29th the Garden crowd will roar,

Jolting punches will have Ali on the floor.

In Round Number Seven the tension will mount,

Ali will be down while the referee will count,

There'll be a new champion, that's plain to see --

Earnie Shavers by a knockout over Muhammad Ali! -- Earnie Shavers

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