Vale: Ken Norton

September 19, 2013 at 9:23 am Leave a comment

It was sad to wake up this morning and hear that overnight former heavyweight champion boxer Ken Norton passed away at the age of 70.

Norton took up boxing when he was in the Marines, and his pro career started after his release from the service in 1967. He lost only once in his early fights but had not fought any fighters of note when he was selected to meet Muhammed Ali. Ali was campaigning to try to win back the heavyweight crown he lost to Joe Frazier in 1973 and Norton was meant to be another stepping stone to that goal.

Few gave Norton, who was good looking and possessed a perfectly sculpted body, much of a chance against Ali in the fight, held at the Sports Arena in San Diego. However in his own back yard Norton’s  awkward style and tactics restricted Ali.  Norton broke Ali’s jaw in the fight, but credit to Ali he stayed in the ring and fought on, but it was Norton who won the decision that saw him elevated to be one of the top heavyweights in that era. Many think this was a world title fight but it wasn’t.

The two fought again six months later where this time Ali won on a split decision. They met for a third time on Sept. 28, 1976, at Yankee Stadium and Ali again was given the decision to keep his heavyweight title, but there are many who will tell you Norton was robbed.

One thing that always rankled Norton even though he was a World Champion was that he never won the title in the ring. Norton was awarded the WBC title when Leon Spinks declined a mandated title defense against him when he was the number one contender.

Unfortunately for Norton in his first defense of the WBC title in June 1978, he met the new number one contender a boxer named Larry Holmes. It was another classic fight. After 15 rounds, Holmes was awarded the title. It was however one of the closest fights on record, the three judges’ cards were as follows: 143-142 for Holmes, 143-142 for Holmes, and 143-142 for Norton. The Ring magazine listed the final round of this fight as the 7th most exciting round in boxing history. The fight itself is ranked as the 10th greatest heavyweight fight of all time.

Post boxing with his good looks and physique Norton went into acting, and one little known fact is that the character of “Apollo Creed” in Rocky was initially going to be played by him. However he pulled out.

Sadly in 1986 a near-fatal car accident left him with slow and slurred speech, but it did not see him lose his sense of humour or his determination.

I was fortunate to meet Ken Norton and he was a kind, extremely humble and modest man. He may have been a warrior in the ring but that confirmed that when he stepped through the ropes he was at work. Outside of the ropes he was a very different man.

One thing that probably sums up the heart of Ken Norton is the fact that he  was twice voted “Father of the Year” in the USA. He was quoted as saying at the time  “Of all the titles that I’ve been privileged to have, the title of ‘dad’ has always been the best.”

One of the true greats from the World of boxing has left us. He will be missed, May he rest in peace.


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