By Jueseppi B.
LAS VEGAS – Former heavyweight champion Ken Norton, who beat Muhammad Ali and then lost a controversial decision to him in Yankee Stadium, died Wednesday at a local care facility, his son said. He was 70.
Norton had been in poor health for the last several years after suffering a series of strokes, a friend of the fighter said.
“He’s been fighting the battle for two years,” said Gene Kilroy, Ali’s former business manager. “I’m sure he’s in heaven now with all the great fighters. I’d like to hear that conversation.”
Norton broke Ali’s jaw in their first bout, beating him by split decision in 1973 in a non-title fight in San Diego. They fought six months later, and Ali narrowly won a split decision.
They met for a third time on Sept. 28, 1976, at Yankee Stadium and Ali narrowly won to keep his heavyweight title.
Norton would come back the next year to win a heavyweight title eliminator and was declared champion by the World Boxing Council. But on June 9, 1978, he lost a bruising 15-round fight to Larry Holmes in what many regard as one of boxing’s epic heavyweight bouts and would never be champion again.
Norton finished with a record of 42-7-1 and 33 knockouts. He would later embark on an acting career, appearing in several movies, and was a commentator at fights.
Norton started boxing when he was in the Marines, and began his pro career after his release from duty in 1967. He lost only once in his early fights but had fought few fighters of any note when he was selected to meet Ali. At the time, Ali was campaigning to try to win back the heavyweight crown he lost to Joe Frazier in 1973.
Few gave Norton, who possessed a muscular, sculpted body, much of a chance against Ali in the fight, held at the Sports Arena in San Diego, where Norton lived. But his awkward style and close-in pressing tactics confused his opponent and Norton broke Ali’s jaw on the way to the decision that put him in the top echelon of heavyweight fighters.
Muhammad Ali vs Ken Norton I – March 31, 1973 – Entire fight – Rounds 1 – 12 & Interviews
Uploaded on Feb 20, 2011
Muhammad Ali vs Ken Norton I
No. 1 ranked Muhammad Ali takes on No. 8 ranked Ken Norton. What was said to be the greatest mismatch of all time turned out to be a great upset, the turningpoint in Ken Nortons career and the start of a great trilogy.
Their records at the time
Muhammad Ali: 41-1
Ken Norton: 29-1
Kenneth Howard Norton Sr. (August 9, 1943 – September 18, 2013) was an American former heavyweight boxer and former WBC world Heavyweight Champion. He was best known for his 12-round victory over Muhammad Ali, when he famously broke Ali’s jaw, on March 31, 1973, becoming only the second man to defeat a peak Ali as a professional (after Joe Frazier, who won a 15-round unanimous decision against Ali on March 8, 1971).
He and Ali would fight twice more in their trilogy, with Ali officially winning narrowly both return bouts, although many felt Norton truly deserved their third fight. Norton was awarded the WBC title (by virtue of his win over Jimmy Young in a 1977 title elimination bout) when Leon Spinks declined a mandated title defense against Norton, the number one contender. However, Norton lost it in his first defense on a split decision by 1 point to Larry Holmes in a great contest (Holmes-Norton is ranked as the 10th-greatest heavyweight fight of all time by Monte D. Cox, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization).
|Real name||Kenneth Howard Norton|
|Nickname(s)||“The Black Hercules”
“The Jaw Breaker” or
|Height||6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)|
|Reach||80 in (203 cm)|
|Born||August 9, 1943
Jacksonville, Illinois, USA
|Died||September 18, 2013
|Wins by KO||33|
Norton was an outstanding athlete at Jacksonville High School. He was a member of the state championship football team and was selected to the all-state team on defense as a senior in 1960. His track coach entered him in eight events, and Norton placed first in all of them. As a result, the “Ken Norton Rule”, which limits participation of an athlete to a maximum of three track and field events, was instituted in Illinois high school sports. After graduating from high school, Norton went to Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State University) on a football scholarship and studied elementary education.
Norton started boxing when he was in the United States Marine Corps from 1963 to 1967, compiling a 24-2 record en route to three All-Marine Heavyweight titles. Following the National AAU finals in 1967, he turned professional.
Norton built up a steady string of wins, some against journeyman fighters and others overs fringe contenders like the giant Jack O’Halloran. He was learning and improving. But he suffered a surprise defeat, ironically just after Ring magazine had profiled him as a prospect, at the hands of Jose Luis Garcia in 1970. It was Garcia’s career peak.
Norton was given the motivational book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, which, as he states in his autobiography, Going the Distance, changed his life (Norton, et al., 2000, p. 46). Upon reading it, he went on a 14-fight winning streak, including a shocking victory over Muhammad Aliin 1973 to win the North American Boxing Federation heavyweight champion title. To quote Norton from his autobiography noted above “These words (from Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich) were the final inspiration in my victory over Ali: Life’s battles dont always go to the stronger or faster man, but sooner or later the man who wins is the man who thinks he can.”
An article which appeared in The Southeast Missourian discussed that Norton credited Napoleon Hill’s philosophy for his success. To quote from the article “Norton says he’s a believer in Napoleon Hill’s philosophy, that a person can do anything he puts his mind to. ‘So I train for my fights,’ he says, ‘mentally as well as physically. One thing I do is only watch films of the fights in which I’ve done well or in which my opponent has done poorly.'”
Versus Ali, first & second fight
‘Name’ opponents were elusive in Norton’s early career. His first big break came with a clear win over respected contender Henry Clark. This helped get him his world recognition break when Ali agreed to a match. Joe Frazier, who’d sparred with Norton, presciently said of Ali, “He’ll have plenty of trouble!” Though both were top boxers in the mid 1970s, Norton and Frazier never fought each other. In part because they shared the same trainer Eddie Futch.
On March 31, 1973, Muhammad Ali entered the ring at the San Diego Sports Arena wearing a robe given to him by Elvis Presley as a 5-1 favorite versus Ken Norton in a bout televised by ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Norton won a 12-round split decision over Ali in his adopted hometown of San Diego to win the NABF heavyweight title. In this bout, Norton broke Ali’s jaw (he maintains in round eleven, though Angelo Dundee said it was earlier), leading to only the second defeat for “The Greatest” in his career. (Ali’s only previous loss was to Joe Frazier, and Ali would later go on to defeat George Foreman to regain the heavyweight title in 1974.)
Almost six months later, at The Forum in Inglewood, California, on September 10, 1973, Ali avenged the Norton loss, but only just, when he got the return by another split decision. Norton weighed in at 205 lbs (5 pounds lighter than his first match with Ali) and boxing scribes discussed that his preparation was too intense and that perhaps he had overtrained. There were some furious exchanges in this hard-fought battle. From Ali’s point of view, a loss here would have seriously dented his claim of ever being “The Greatest”.
Championship challenge against Foreman
In 1975, Norton regained the NABF heavyweight title when he impressively defeated Jerry Quarry by TKO in the fifth round. Norton then avenged his above-mentioned 1970 loss to Jose Luis Garcia by decisively knocking out Garcia in round five.
Third Ali match
On September 28, 1976, at Yankee Stadium in New York City, Norton would again fight Ali, who was now the world heavyweight champion since regaining the title with an eighth-round knockout of George Foreman in 1974. Many observers have felt this was the beginning of Ali’s decline as a boxer. It was a tough bruising battle for Ali. In one of the most disputed fights in history, the fight was even on the judges’ scorecards going into the final round, which Ali won on both the referee’s and judges’ scorecards to retain the world heavyweight championship. The judges scored the bout 8-7 for Ali, and the referee scored it 8-6 for Ali. At the end of the last round, the commentator announced he would be “very surprised” if Norton has not won the fight.
At the time of the third Ali-Norton bout, the last time a heavyweight champion had lost the title by decision was Max Baer to Jim Braddock41 years earlier, and Ali-Norton III did not set a new marker. The January 1998 issue of Boxing Monthly listed Ali-Norton as the fifth most disputed title fight decision in boxing history. The unofficial UPI scorecard was 8-7 for Norton, and the unofficial AP scorecard was 9-6 for Ali.
But Ali had received a pounding. His tactics were to try to push Norton back, but they had failed. He’d refused to ‘dance’ until the 11th when in sheer desperation, although the crowd massively roared it’s appreciation. Norton has said the third fight with Ali was the last boxing match for which he was fully motivated, owing to his disappointment at having lost a fight he believed he had clearly won.
Aftermath: Norton becomes champion
1977 was a top year for Norton. He knocked out previously unbeaten top prospect Duane Bobick in one round, and after despatching European title holder Lorenzo Zannon easily, he beat number two contender Jimmy Young (who himself had beaten George Foreman and Ron Lyle) in a 15-round split decision in a WBC big mandatory title-elimination fight, with the winner to face reigning WBC champion Ali, but Ali’s camp told Ring Magazine they did not want to fight Norton for a fourth time. Both boxers fought a smart fight; however, observers thought the decision controversial.
Plans, however, changed on February 15, 1978. On that night, in front of a nationwide television audience, Ali lost his title to Leon Spinks. The WBC then ordered a match between the new champion and its number one contender, but Spinks chose instead to give the fallen champion the first shot at taking his title rather than face the still dangerous Norton. The WBC responded on March 18, 1978, by retroactively giving title fight status to Norton’s victory over Young the year before and awarded Norton their championship, which split the heavyweight championship for the first time since Jimmy Ellis and Joe Frazier were both recognized as champions in the early 1970s.
Larry Holmes title fight
In his first defense of the WBC title on June 9, 1978, Norton and new #1 contender Larry Holmes met in a classic fight. After 15 brutal rounds, Holmes was awarded the title via an extremely close split decision. The three judges’ cards were as follows: 143-142 for Holmes, 143-142 for Holmes, and 143-142 for Norton. The Associated Press scored it 143-142 for Norton. The March 2001 edition of The Ring magazine listed the final round of the Holmes-Norton bout as the 7th most exciting round in boxing history. As noted above, Holmes-Norton is ranked as the 10th greatest heavyweight fight of all time by Monte D. Cox, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO). Holmes went on to become the second-longest reigning world heavyweight champion in the history of boxing, behind Joe Louis. Holmes years later wrote of his experience that this was his toughest match in over 70 contests.
After losing to Holmes, Norton won his next fight by knockout over sixth-ranked Randy Stephens in 1978 before taking on Earnie Shavers in another compulsory. WBC title eliminator fight in Las Vegas on March 23, 1979. It appeared for the first time that Norton’s career had perhaps hit a decline, as Shavers took the former champion out in the first round (Norton’s peak was 1973-1978.) Then, in his next fight, he fought to a draw with future contender Scott LeDoux at the Met Center in Minneapolis. Norton carried the day until sustaining an injury when he took a thumb in the eye in the eighth round, which immediately changed the bout. LeDoux rallied from that point and Norton became decidedly fatigued. Norton was down two times in the final round, resulting in the draw; Norton fell behind on one scorecard, kept his lead on the second, and dropped to even on the third (the unofficial AP scorecard was 5-3-2 Norton).
After the fight, Norton decided that at 37 it was time to retire from boxing. However, not satisfied with the way he had gone out, Norton returned to the ring to face the undefeated Randall “Tex” Cobb in Cobb’s home state of Texas on November 7, 1980. In a back-and-forth fight, Norton escaped with a split decision, with referee Tony Perez and judge Chuck Hassett voting in his favor and judge Arlen Bynum giving the fight to Cobb.
The win over the title contending Cobb gave Norton another shot at a potential title fight, and on May 11, 1981. at Madison Square Garden he stepped into the ring with top contender Gerry Cooney, who like Cobb was undefeated entering the fight. Very early in the fight it became clear that Norton was no longer the caliber of fighter he once was, as Cooney’s first punch caused Norton’s legs to buckle. Norton continued to take shots from Cooney in his corner for nearly a full minute before Perez, who refereed his last fight, stepped in to stop the bout 54 seconds in, as Norton was slumped in his corner. Norton decided to retire following the match and turned his attention to charitable pursuits.
Norton’s enduring legacy as a fighter is that he is considered second to Joe Frazier as Ali’s main nemesis and toughest opponent. Norton fought Ali to three decisions and was never hurt or knocked down. All three bouts were close and subject to controversy. Unfortunately, Norton was less successful against three of the greatest punchers of all time, losing by KO to Foreman and Shavers and by TKO to Cooney. Norton was considered past his prime in boxing from 1979 to 1981.
Awards and recognition
Ken Norton is a 1989 inductee of the World Boxing Hall of Fame, a 1992 inductee of the International Boxing Hall Of Fame, a 2004 inductee into the United States Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame, and a 2008 inductee into the WBC Hall of Fame.
The 1998 holiday issue of The Ring ranked Norton #22 among “The 50 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time.” Norton received the Boxing Writers Association of America J. Niel trophy for “Fighter of the Year” in 1977.
Norton, a proponent of motivational author Napoleon Hill’s writings (e.g. Think and Grow Rich as noted above and Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude by Hill and W. Clement Stone) also received the “Napoleon Hill Award” for positive thinking in 1973 (Norton, et al., 2000, p. 46).
In 2001, Norton was inducted by the San Diego Hall of Champions into the Breitbard Hall of Fame honoring San Diego’s finest athletes both on and off the playing surface. Norton was also inducted into the California Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.
Norton was a forward, pressing fighter/boxer who was notably for his unusual guard/stance characterised by arms held crosswise. The left arm low across the torso and right hand up by the right or left ear. But when under heavy pressure both arms are bought up high across at face level whilst one leans forward. This leaves the opponent little target in theory. The guard was also used by the legendary Archie Moore. George Foreman later used it very effectively during his famous comeback years. Tim Witherspoon was another practitioner. Joe Frazier even borrowed it for occasions in his third Ali match. The style is named the “cross-armed defense”. It tends to look crablike. Norton would bob and weave from a crouch firing well placed heavy punches. Norton was best when advancing. He’d drag or slide the right foot along from behind. By comparison, most conventional boxers have elbows in at the torso with forearms vertically parallel to each another. The gloves then being both near sides of the face. Most trainers believe the conventional style is a better defense and that the cross-arm style leaves the user open far too often.
But Norton’s style was in itself fascinating. He gave Ali more trouble than anyone else in history over three contests – no small feat by any standard. He could, as they say in the trade, ‘box’ or ‘fight’. Norton was never fazed by Ali’s various famous tactics like clinching or rope-a-dope. In fact, Ali usually found rope-a-dope a particularly unpleasant experience with Norton, as Ken would get many punches through. He seemed to have a unique ability here. Then Ali’s famous clinching and holding or launching sharp shots from a distance were all for various reasons not as effective as when Ali fought Frazier, the only other man he fought three times.
Angelo Dundee wrote that Ken’s best punch was the left hook. Many others lauded his infamous overhand right. In a Ring Magazine article, Norton himself said that a right uppercut to Jerry Quarry was the hardest blow he recalled landing.
Unlike many boxers, Norton would often not attempt to stare down an opponent while announcements were made before the match started. Instead, he’d often look down at the floor and gather his thoughts. He was also widely noted for his fine athletic build.
TV and film career
Norton has appeared in approximately twenty motion pictures. Norton additionally worked as a television and radio sports commentator and appeared in popular TV series, such as jailbird “Jackhammer” Jackson in “Pros and Cons”, an early first-season episode of The A-Team (filmed 1982, broadcast 1983), and as boxer Bo Keeler in the fourth season Knight Rider episode “Redemption of a Champion” (1986). Norton also appeared on the Superstars sports competition on ABC TV (1976) and was a member of the Sports Illustrated Speakers Bureau. The character of “Apollo Creed” in Rocky was initially going to be played by Norton. However, when he pulled out, Carl Weathers was selected.
Video and autobiography
He appeared along with Ali, Foreman, Frazier and Holmes in a video titled Champions forever discussing their best times and in 2000 he published his autobiography titled Going the Distance. ISBN 1-58261-225-0
Ken Norton was twice voted “Father of the Year” by the Los Angeles Sentinel and the Los Angeles Times in 1977. To quote Norton from his biography, Believe: Journey From Jacksonville: “Of all the titles that I’ve been privileged to have, the title of ‘dad’ has always been the best.”
His son, Ken Norton Jr, played football at UCLA and had a long successful career in the NFL. In tribute to his father’s boxing career, Ken Jr. would strike a boxing stance in the end zone each time he scored a defensive touchdown and throw a punching combination at the goalpost pad. He is now the linebackers’ coach for the Seattle Seahawks.
Professional boxing record
42 Wins (33 knockouts), 7 Losses, 1 Draw