Kenneth Howard Norton Sr. (August 9, 1943 -
September 18, 2013), best known as Ken Norton, was an American professional
boxer. He was the WBC world heavyweight champion from 1977 to 1978
and is best known for his trilogy with Muhammad Ali, in which he defeated
Ali in their first bout by split decision over twelve rounds in March
1973. Their rematch also ended in a split decision, this time in favour
of Ali. The third fight was won by Ali, but many observers thought
Norton had won. He also is known for his slugfest with Larry Holmes
in June 1978. Although he suffered quick knockout defeats to power
punchers George Foreman, Earnie Shavers and Gerry Cooney, Norton always
matched up well against top boxers and often gave opponents such as
Ali, Jimmy Young and Holmes much trouble with his unorthodox style.
In 1992, Norton was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of
Fame. He died of stroke complications at a care facility in Henderson,
Nevada on September 18, 2013 at the age of 70.
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 seven of them. As a result,
the "Ken Norton Rule," which limits participation of an athlete to
a maximum of four 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. In an
interview with ESPN Fitness Magazine in 1985, Norton said that he
would have become a teacher or a policeman if he had not taken up
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. In time, Ken became
the best boxer to ever fight for the Marines, and was awarded the
North Carolina AAU Golden Gloves, International AAU and Pan American
titles. following the National AAU finals in 1967, he turned professional.
built up a steady string of wins, some against journeyman fighters
and others over fringe contenders like the giant Jack O'Halloran.
He was learning and improving. But he suffered a surprise defeat,
ironically just after The Ring magazine had profiled him as a prospect,
at the hands of heavy hitting Venezuelan boxer Jose Luis Garcia in
1970. It was justifiably Garcia's career peak.
Versus Ali, first
and 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's 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, and also
that they were friends.
For the first match, 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, then rated a number 6 world contender 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 the bout, Norton broke Ali's jaw (he maintains in round
eleven, though Angelo Dundee said it was earlier), leading to only
the second defeat 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 tile in 1974.)
Almost six months later
at The Forum in Inglewood, California, on September 10, 1973, Ali
avenged the Norton loss but only after he got the return by a split
decision. Norton weighted 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 wome
furious exchanges in this hard fought battle.