With the upcoming WBC heavyweight title clash between title holder Bermane Stiverne 24-1-1 (21) and challenger Deontay Wilder 32-0 (32) beginning to garner a lot of attention, because of Wilder’s 100% KO ratio, I thought I’d take a look at some other hyped heavyweight punching sensations who made their pro debut in the late 1960s and later, excluding former undisputed champ George Foreman. I’m excluding Foreman because he turned out to be more than a once in a generation puncher. Foreman really was a once in a lifetime puncher, and perhaps the strongest and most powerful heavyweight of the 19th and 20th centuries. The list below is comprised of the fighters who were really, really hyped as being genuine life-takers. And with the exception of two, the others turned out to be the genuine article.
I didn’t include big punchers the likes of Jeff “Candy Slim” Merritt, Al “Blue” Lewis, Gerrie Coetzee, Mike Weaver, Bonecrusher Smith, Frank Bruno, Ray Mercer and Bert Cooper. And the reason for that is, despite all of them being legit with their power, they were never promoted and hyped to the extent that the fighters below were.
The 10 fighters listed below all received the media hysteria, and then some. This is the type of hype that Deontay Wilder is the benefactor of today.
Mac Foster: Made his pro debut on 11/28/66 and retired with a career record of 30-6 (30). Foster never fought for the title because the gatekeepers during the early 1970s were really tough and he stumbled in his biggest opportunity. At the zenith of Mac’s career he sported a record of 24-0 (24) and then was KO’d by Jerry Quarry in the sixth round in his first real test. Historically, Foster is remembered as being a pretty good puncher who didn’t bring much else to the ring. Definitely not the life-taker he was built up to be, but he was a good puncher among his contemporaries.
Earnie Shavers: Made his pro debut on 11/6/69 and retired with a career record of 74-14-1 (68). Shavers went on to fight for the heavyweight title twice, against Muhammad Ali in 1977 and Larry Holmes in 1979. Earnie hit Ali with some of the hardest shots he was ever caught with, and he was two seconds away from scoring a seventh round one-punch knockout over Holmes in their title bout. Historically, Shavers is considered to be one of the hardest two-handed punchers in boxing history. Both Ali and Holmes have said repeatedly that Shavers was the biggest puncher they ever fought. However, his stamina and delivery system were flawed and that held him back from becoming a great fighter.
Ron Lyle: Made his pro debut on 4/23/71 and retired with a career record of 43-7-1 (31). Like Foster and Shavers, Lyle lost to Quarry in his first high profile bout, the difference being Lyle lost by decision and wasn’t stopped. Lyle could hit with both hands and was a dangerous boxer-puncher, who could also fight inside. He fought for the title once and was stopped in the 11th round by Muhammad Ali. Lyle scored a sixth round knockout over Shavers, and in a pier-six brawl a year later had George Foreman down twice in their 1976 bout. In fact, no other fighter hurt Foreman during his career as badly as Lyle did before he was ultimately stopped by George. Lyle was a legitimate big puncher who could throw every punch in the book. He was fundamentally better than Shavers and had a better chin, but Earnie had the heavier hands.
Gerry Cooney: Made his pro debut on 2/15/77 and retired with a career record of 28-3 (24). Cooney was hyped as the boy-next-door white hope who could really punch. Cooney destroyed a washed up Ron Lyle and Ken Norton, both in one round. He was tall and had a debilitating left hook and was an underrated boxer. He gave Larry Holmes, when he was in his prime, a tough fight before running out of gas and taking too many punches, which led to his demise in the 13th round. Cooney for personal reasons outside of the ring never reached his potential as a fighter, but his power was legit and worthy of the hype it generated. This notion is something Larry Holmes has repeatedly endorsed over the last 30 years.
Mike Tyson: Made his pro debut on 3/6/85 and retired with a career record of 50-6 (44). Tyson was hyped and marketed better than any fighter in history. Mike was a rare blend of speed, power and accuracy. He used his short arms and stature to set up his finishing combinations and shots once inside. Tyson is the youngest fighter in history to win the heavyweight title, at age 20. His power and speed made him one of the most feared fighters of his era. He could hit with both hands, but unlike Foster and Shavers, he always delivered his power regardless of the opponent. Tyson lived up to the hype and was the real deal. He was much more than just a big puncher.
Tommy Morrison: Made his pro debut on 10/11/88 and retired with a career record of 48-3-1 (42). Morrison had a lot of hype behind him, like Cooney, and like Gerry, his Sunday punch was his left hook. Morrison scored some picturesque KOs on the way up and did capture the WBO heavyweight title. However, when he met the upper tier opponents of his era, his chin and stamina turned out to be a bigger liability than his power was an asset. Stand there and let him hit you, you’re in trouble. Like Cooney and Shavers he was easy to hit and seldom came back to win once he was hurt or in trouble. That said, his power was for real.. but he wasn’t a great fighter.
Lennox Lewis: Made his pro debut on 6/27/89 and retired with a career record of 41-2-1 (32). Lennox was a tall heavyweight who could box and punch. He could fight as the attacker or he could step back and counter. He had a terrific jab and uppercut and he could end the fight with a single right hand. Lennox fought a lot of big punchers during his era and never met a fighter he couldn’t beat. His power was for real and his delivery system was exceptional. Like Tyson, Lennox is considered one of the all-time greats, and it’s not just because he could punch. Historically, Lewis probably exceeded his expectations.
David Tua: Made his pro debut on 1/12/92 and retired with a career record of 52-5-2 (43). Tua scored one of the most frightening knockouts ever when he stopped future title holder John Ruiz in 19 seconds. Tua, had two handed power and possessed a cast iron chin. He was short and compact like Tyson. When it came to single shot knockout power, Tua was more dangerous and a bigger puncher than Tyson. However, he wasn’t as fast or accurate. In his only title shot he was dominated by Lennox Lewis and lost by decision. Sadly, he never got near enough to Lennox to catch him good and was easily out boxed by him. Tua is no doubt one of the biggest punchers in heavyweight history, but is seen historically as an under-achiever. His power was authentic and real, but he wasn’t a great fighter because of his poor delivery and accuracy.
Wladimir Klitschko: Made his pro debut on 11/16/96 and is currently 63-3 (53). Wladimir is still in the midst of his career. Due to his reach and size he most resembles Lewis. Klitschko has a great left hook and his right hand has fight-ending power. He doesn’t like to fight inside and isn’t that good at it. He is best fighting at mid range and outside. He enters the ring with trepidation because he was stopped during the first few years of his career. However, he has learned how to use his size and now fights big. He looks as if he can hold the title almost as long as he wants to, and he is most definitely the hardest punching heavyweight in the world today. As it stands right now, Wladimir Klitschko has lived up to the expectations that were placed upon him when he turned pro.
Samuel Peter: Turned pro on 6/2/01 and retired with a career record of 34-5 (27). Peter was hyped to be the next Tua, but as a puncher and fighter he was no Tua. Peter was a crude, wild swinging banger with no game plan and couldn’t box. He didn’t have the greatest chin, and for him to land cleanly, he needed his opponents to stand right in front of him and then dare him to hit them. Based on the early hype that surrounded him, he didn’t come close to matching the hype as a puncher or a fighter.
The 10 fighters above were really hyped on their way to the big-time and were billed as being once in a generation punchers. Most of them lived up to their expectations but never blossomed into being great fighters, with the exception of Lewis and Tyson. They didn’t flourish like that because of other shortcomings in their game, as some couldn’t box and therefore didn’t always deliver their power, and/or some lacked a great chin and the stamina needed at the highest level in professional boxing.
Now the boxing world awaits for Deontay Wilder to show if he’s the real deal and if his perfect record of scoring all knockouts in his 32 bouts is authentic, or if he is just a product of great maneuvering and match-making. One thing is for sure–all big punchers are susceptible to being hit. And Wilder has been chin checked during a few of his early fights and as an amateur. So we have questions about his durability and power, at least I do.
Down the road someone will do a list like this and Wilder’s name will be under Samuel Peter. Only then we’ll have the wisdom of time to find out if he was more Lennox Lewis or Samuel Peter. The only thing we know right now is….if you say you know, you really don’t, you’re just guessing. Most likely we’ll have a better idea as to whether Deontay Wilder is the genuine article on January 18, 2015.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com