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HEAVYWEIGHT HISTORY 1970-s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 REVISITING THE CAREER OF KEN NORTON

1943-2013

TRUFANBOXING SEPT 19--Jay Monte

Former Heavyweight Champion Ken Norton died yesterday, a few days after the 40 year anniversary of his second bout with Muhammad Ali, a close, heated affair that took place in Los Angeles Inglewood Forum on Sept 10, 1973.  It was do or die for Ali, who had broken his jaw against Kenny a few months before.

I first heard of Ken Norton from a back-page results article in Boxing Illustrated in the spring of 1972, where he beat another West Coast fighter, Jack "The Giant" O'Halloran (who went on to star in Superman movies) and that Norton was close to being a fighter to be reckoned with in the heavyweight division. The ex-Marine would go on to win a ten rounder against the crafty New Yorker Herschel Jacobs and would stop James J. Woody and highly regarded Henry Clark later that year.  

This set the stage for a top notch bout against a top contender. Muhammad Ali was on a tour of cleaning out the top talent in the heavyweight division in quest for another bout with champ Joe Frazier, who had defeated Ali in 1971.  After the Frazier bout Ali had defeated the likes of Mac Foster, Jerry Quarry, Jimmy Ellis, George Chuvalo, and Floyd Patterson. The bout with Norton would be held at the San Diego Sports Arena, and Norton was seen as another fringe contender who would be dismantled by the skill set of the former champ.

But Norton did not comply with the script, did not listen to the critics, and banged and banged the body and then went for the head that had Ali and the sports world reeling as the final bell sounded on the afternoon of March 31st, 1973.  The quest for a rematch with Frazier was dealt two blows within two months - Frazier lost his heavyweight title to George Foreman in January, and Ali, mending a broken jaw, had to wait now to get a return at Norton, who bolted from 15th ranked to the top three in the division, depending on what sanctioning body you were looking at.

The rematch concluded with a split decision win for Ali, as the pattern of the first fight remained - the only difference was Ali was in better shape and did not give ground as he did in the previous encounter - but Norton, even sharper, still banged and banged, giving Ali the fight of his life. To this day many say that was Kenny's fight also.

      The two Ali fights earned Norton a shot at George Foreman's title in March 1974. Foreman abolished Norton's hopes with a second round KO and with it a tag of invincibility.  Norton then went on a tour of contenders, impressing many with a stoppage of Jerry Quarry at Madison Square Garden, and victories over Larry Middleton, Ron Stander, and Pedro Lovell. Again Norton proved his worthiness as a threat to the heavyweight title. 

When Ali defeated Foreman in Zaire, Africa in Oct '74, the heavyweight picture changed yet again - leading to an Oct '75 showdown with old foe Joe Frazier. In a bout that lived up to the hype, the "Thrilla In Manila" saw an exhausted Ali the victor when trainer Eddie Futch would not let Frazier out for the 15th.   Many were clamoring for a third Norton bout and on a cool night in Sept '76, the two would meet again, this time for 15rds and the heavyweight title at stake. It was the last heavyweight title bout staged at Yankee Stadium.

Ali won by winning the last few rounds, ironically different from the previous two bouts. And still there are many that Kenny won this one also, and that his style had basically won all three bouts against his opponent.  And based upon his performance Kenny was still highly regarded in the heavyweight picture.

1977 was perhaps the biggest of Norton's career. I remember the outside workout at the Garden in May before a bout with then undefeated Olympian Duane Bobick. Kenny was smooth and spoke with the public, and despite being viewed as somewhat an underdog, gave Bobick props for taking the bout. An overhand right to the throat stopped Bobick in his tracks during a wild first round and Kenny was back in the picture. He followed up with wins over Lorenzo Zanon and Jimmy Young (**which was originally viewed as an eliminator), and again a quest for the elite prize in the division.

Again the heavyweight picture would change. In the winter of '78 Leon Spinks, another Olympian, upset Ali over 15rds  and gain the treasure. With Norton standing by as a mandatory, Spinks chose for a lucrative rematch with Ali. Norton was awarded the interim title and was mandated to defend against an upstart from Scranton, PA - Larry Holmes.

In a 15round slugfest, Holmes was awarded a narrow decision over Norton. Despite a decade of great battles, the Holmes-Norton bout was right up there with the best of them, and Holmes would hold the title for seven years. Kenny would not be a factor again.

Norton would go 2-2-1 in his last five bouts and his last appearance was at the Garden in 1981, a stoppage loss to Gerry Gooney. 

A 1986 car accident would slow Ken down a bit, but he would go on tour with the other champs and be seen at the Hall Of Fame in recent years. He was inducted into the International Hall Of Fame in 1992.

 The 1970's was a tremendous era for heavyweight boxing, and all associated have a special place in boxing history. Ken Norton was the fulcrum, the gatekeeper, the uncrowned champion. Although he was awarded the title on merit rather than a victorious effort in the ring, he earned his place in the history of the sport. He wont be forgotten.

**Note: the Jimmy Young fight was first viewed as an eliminator, then afterward as a championship bout/therefore it can be viewed as Norton gaining the title after 15 rounds.

JLM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos courtesy Cut-man Richard Schwartz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Norton (C) with old welter and middleweight king Emile Griffith (L) with favorite fans a few years ago..


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Last updated: 10/15/17.