Ken Norton: A heavyweight great is gone

Lee Cleveland Updated
9521   0   1   0
Former heavyweight champion Ken Norton (43-7-1, 33 KO), known most for his three superfights with boxing legend Muhammad Ali, is gone. He died from congestive heart failure today at an Arizona hospital.

Norton, 70, had been in poor health since suffering a stroke last year.

From 1968 to 1978, there may have never been a more talent-rich period in the heavyweight division and Mr. Norton was very much in the thick of it.

A football player in high school, Norton started boxing when he was in the United States Marine Corps and earned an amateur record of 24-2, winning the All-Marine Heavyweight Championship three times.

After turning pro in 1967, this fighter with a supremely chiseled physique worked his way up the heavyweight ranks by defeating a string of fringe contenders and prospects.

In 1970, however, Norton (then 16-0) would suffer his first setback when heavy underdog Jose Luis Garcia shocked the future champion with his superior hand speed and deceptive power en route to stopping the upwardly-mobile contender in the eighth.

But Kenny, as all greats do, bounced back and engineered a 14 fight winning streak that lasted over three years.

Art mercante--ali-norton

In perhaps the greatest moment of his career, Norton, in 1973, won a split decision over Muhammad Ali in a non-title fight, breaking the legend's jaw in the process. It was only Ali's second loss as a pro.

The following year, Norton challenged George Foreman for the heavyweight title. Foreman, perhaps in his bloodcurdling prime, would unleash a terrible fury on Norton, disposing of Kenny in under two rounds.

In the years to follow, Norton would have two more fights against Ali, dropping close decisions both times.


Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazier and Ken Norton three times apiece, winning twice against both legends. And although Frazier's name is more closely associated with Ali, Ken Norton was 'The Greatest's' most difficult opponent. 

Norton was an outstanding, underrated heavyweight who possessed an excellent jab and a monster overhand right.

Crowing of a Champion
When, in 1978, then WBA/WBC Champ Leon Spinks opted to rematch Muhammad Ali instead of defend his title against Norton, the WBC's No. 1 contender, the organization stripped Spinks of its version of the title and awarded it to Norton because Kenny had recently defeated the highly-ranked Jimmy Young.

Norton's title reign would be short but he didn't relinquish his belt without a war.

In June 1978, after 15 brutal rounds with prime contender Larry Holmes, Norton was dethroned compliments of an extremely close split decision in a bout that is still considered one of the greatest, most thrilling heavyweight fights ever.

In a 2009 interview on ESPN SportsNation, Larry Holmes, who would become a legend in his own right, insisted his bout with Norton was his toughest fight.

Later Years
Norton fought inconsistently after the Holmes loss. He was KO'd by Earnie Shavers in 1979, managed a draw with top prospect Scott Le Doux and defeated top 10 heavyweight Randall "Tex" Cobb.

Norton's last attempt at attaining a title shot was derailed in 1981 by Gerry Cooney, a young, strong prospect who brutally knocked out the 35 year old former champ in the first round.  Norton retired from boxing after this bout.

Ken was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992 and the United States Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.

Significant Wins
  • SD 12 Jimmy Young - 1977
  • TKO 1 Duane Bobick - 1977
  • TKO 5 Jerry Quarry - 1975
  • SD 12 Muhammad Ali -1973
  • RTD 7 Boone Kirkman - 1974

Significant Loses
  • KO 1 Earnie Shavers - 1979
  • SD 15 Larry Holmes - 1978
  • UD 12 Muhammad Ali - 1976
  • KO 2 George Foreman - 1974
  • SD 12 Muhammad Ali -1973

  • Awkward stance
  • Punching power; Overhand right
  • Counter-punching prowess

Ken Norton Facts
  • The character of "Apollo Creed" in Rocky was initially going to be played by Norton. However, when he pulled out, Carl Weathers was selected. 

  • His son, Ken Norton Jr, was a standout linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys during the 1990s. In celebration of his father, Kenny Jr would throw punching combinations at the goalpost pad whenever he scored a touchdown.

  • Norton was famous for using the old Crossover defense, also made popular by Archie Moore and George Foreman

  • Kenny fought during a 'golden age' of heavyweight boxing. Other heavyweights during that time included Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Jimmy Young and Earnie Shavers to name a few.

  • Many boxing experts believe Norton would have reigned longer had he lived during most other eras

  • Years later, a few Norton opponents would admit they were intimidated by Norton's well-sculpted physique

  • Years Pro: 1967-81 

  • Height: 6'3"

  • Reach: 80"

  • Origin: San Diego, CA, USA

  • Norton appeared in 20 motion pictures and worked as a television and radio sports commentator in the 1970s and 80s

  • He was twice voted "Father of the Year" by the Los Angeles Sentinel and the Los Angeles Times in 1977.

    "Of all the titles that I've been privileged to have, the title of 'dad' has always been the best," said Norton.

  • In the 1980s, Kenny appeared in an early first-season episode of The A-Team  and in a Knight Rider episode

  • Norton made TV, radio and public speaking appearances until suffering serious injuries in an awful car crash in 1986 which left him with slurred speech.

Thanks for the memories, legend!

Ken Norton (1943-2013) Video Highlights Tribute


Tagged under:

User comments

There are no user comments for this listing.
Already have an account?






Latest Fights Listings

Category: Fights