Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Former Heavyweight Champ Ken Norton, Sr. Passes!

He will be forever known as the man who broke Muhammad Ali's jaw.  He should also be known as a classy fighter in and out of the ring. The boxing world is learning that former heavyweight champion Ken Norton, Sr. passed away today at the age of 70.

Norton began boxing in the Marine Corps before turning pro in 1967.  On March 31, 1973, Norton set the boxing world on its ear when he broke Ali's jaw en route to winning a 12-round split decision in San Diego, CA.  The two would meet twice more with Ali winning both bouts.  The third bout would have Norton challenging Ali for the title and dropping a close and controversial 15-round decision in Yankee Stadium in New York on September 28, 1976.  Norton also lost a title opportunity to George Foreman on March 3, 1974 but was knocked out in the second round.

Two fights prior to the third bout with Ali, Norton would fight for the only time in the Beltway region, winning a fifth-round TKO over Ron Stander at the Capital Centre on April 30, 1976.  Norton's next bout before facing Ali for the third time would be against Baltimore's Larry Middleton in San Diego on July 10, 1976.  Norton won by 10-round TKO.

On November 5, 1977, Norton defeated Jimmy Young at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas via 15-round split decision to become the number one contender for the WBC championship, then held by Leon Spinks.  However, Spinks decided to defend his title in a rematch against Ali.  The WBC stripped Spinks and awarded the title to Norton.

Norton would lose the title in a classic battle against Larry Holmes at Caesar's on June 9, 1978. Holmes would win by 15-round split decision.  Norton's career would end via first-round knockout loss to Gerry Cooney in Madison Square Garden on May 11, 1981.  Norton had a record of 42-7-1, 33 KO's.

Post-boxing, Norton became an actor, starring in two movies of the so-called "Blaxploitation" era -- "Mandingo" and the sequel, "Drum." Norton also made numerous TV show guest appearances.

In 1986, Norton was involved in a near-fatal car accident that eventually slowed and slurred his speech.  Norton had been battling strokes in the last years of his life.  In 1992, Norton was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Survivors include Norton's son, Ken, Jr., a former all-pro linebacker with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers who is now the linebackers coach with the Seattle Seahawks.

A personal note:  Norton was indirectly involved in what I think was one of the most embarrassing moments on a network TV boxing broadcast.  On May 11, 1977, Norton faced Olympic silver medalist Duane Bobick in an NBC broadcast from Madison Square Garden.  Norton was in his first bout since losing his title shot to Ali and Bobick was the rising young prospect.

NBC had devoted a three-hour prime time block of time to just THAT ONE BOUT.  No prelims or co-features shown on that night.  I was 13 at the time and I was up in my bedroom getting ready to watch the bout.  Just before the bout started, I ran down to the basement where my father was to tell him the bout was getting ready to begin.

By the time I got back to my bedroom, THE FIGHT WAS OVER!!
Norton knocked out Bobick in 58 seconds of the first round!  NBC, with nothing else to show for the night, showed a seemingly endless number of replays of the mismatch!  Network and later, cable, I believe, learned from that night.

Norton was also a fixture at the annual Fight Night charity event in DC where, even when his health was poor, was a very gracious man.  He will truly be missed.


Anonymous said...

for those of you not old enough to have experienced Norton,Holmes,Ali,Shavers young etc really missed something special.

Anonymous said...

Norton beat Larry Holmes and should have gotten the decision. Watch that bout on Classic Sports or the internet if you can. Great fight!

Thanks for the trip down memory lane Gary. I remember when Norton knocked Bobick out quick. I also remember a few years later when Bobick got KO'd in the first by John Tate and I'm pretty sure it was Frank Gifford that said Bobick may need to look for another line of work!

Anonymous said...

Ken Norton was a class act, an annual fixture at the IBHOF Induction Ceremonies every year -- always, approachable and always happy to talk about his fighting days. He will be truly missed.