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Boxers of Yesteryear: Ken Norton

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Ken Norton


a natural gifted athlete, made boxing history when he met Muhammad Ali for the North American Boxing Federation title, and won a12-round victory by split decision, on March 31, 1973, breaking Ali's jaw in the process.

Ken Norton, a natural gifted athlete, made boxing history when he met Muhammad Ali for the North American Boxing Federation title, and won a12-round victory by split decision, on March 31, 1973, breaking Ali's jaw in the process.

Norton became the second man to defeat Ali as a professional (after Joe Frazier, who beat Ali via 15-round unanimous decision, on March 8, 1971). He and Ali would fight twice more in their trilogy, with Ali officially winning narrowly both returns, although many felt Norton deserved the decision of their 3rd fight.

Born on August 9, 1943, Norton 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 once entered him in eight events: He placed first in five events and second in three. As a result, the "Ken Norton Rule" was instituted in Illinois high school sports, which limits participation of an athlete to a maximum of three track and field events. After graduating from high school, Norton went to Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State University) on a football scholarship and studied elementary education.

Illinois boxing was not one of Ken Norton's early interests, and it wasn't until he enlisted in the Marine Corps that Ken was introduced to boxing. In time, Ken became the best boxer to ever fight for the Marines, compiling a 24-2 record between1963–1967, 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 (Ken Norton was inducted into the Marine Corp Hall of Fame in 2004).

Success would come slowly, however, as he started off as a sparring partner to Joe Frazier. In his biography Norton said:

 “I wasn’t making any money; I got so depressed I consideredrobbing for food.”

Norton believed in himself and pushed himself he started to build up a string of steady wins, including some over fringe contenders like the giant Jack O'Halloran. But then he suffered a surprise defeat, ironically just after Ring magazine had profiled him as a prospect, at the hands of Jose Luis Garcia in 1970. Down in the first he had a surprise 5 round Knock out. It was Garcia's career peak.

After this loss Norton, engaged a hypnotist. The goal being to change his “over confidence into self confidence” and “make him listen to trainer Eddie Futch.” Following this he went on a fourteen fight winning spree.

Finally in 1973 Norton got his big break when Muhammad Ali signed him up for a contest. When asked about the then upcoming match Joe Frazier, said of Ali " He'll have plenty of trouble!". A very apt prediction it was too.

Norton took his winning streak to fourteen fights with a split-decision victory over Ali in Norton's home town of San Diego to win the NABF Heavyweight Title. It was in this bout that Norton broke Ali's jaw. This would be the start of a trilogy between the fighters. Six months later in the same year, Norton had another bout against Ali, and this time Ken Norton lost a split decision. The two heavyweights met a final time in 1976, for the title, Norton lost this bout in a highly disputed split decision.

During the height of his boxing career, Norton was screen-tested and won the role in Dino De Laurentis' film " Mandingo". This was later followed by a second film "Drum" , both of which were international hits. Ken has appeared in aprox 20 films. On September 9, 1973, Norton was awarded the internationally famed Napoleon Hill Award for being an "outstanding positive thinker." Norton was the first athlete and the first African American to receive the honor. This award seems only appropriate for the man whose motto is, "What the mind can conceive, the body can achieve".

In 1974, Norton fought George Foreman for the World Heavyweight Championship, and was stopped in two rounds. In 1975, Norton regained the NABF Heavyweight Title when he impressively defeated Jerry Quarry by TKO in the fifth round.

Norton then avenged his above-mentioned 1970 loss to Jose Luis Garcia by knocking-out Garcia in round five.

In 1976Norton would again fight Ali, who was now the World Heavyweight Champion since regaining the title with an eighth round knockout of George Foreman in 1974. In one of the most disputed fights in history, the fight was even on the judges' scorecards going into the final round, which Ali won on both the referee and judges' scorecards to retain the World Heavyweight Championship. The January 1998 issue of Boxing Monthly listed Ali-Norton as the fifth most disputed title fight decision in boxing history.

1977 was a good year. Norton knocked out previously unbeaten top prospect Duane Bobick in one round and then beat number 2 contender Jimmy Young in a 15-round split-decision in a WBC big mandatory title-elimination fight. A smart fight from both boxers many however thought the decision also controversial. The winner was supposed to fight Ali for the world title, as some thought it was Norton's deserve from a year earlier. "No way we-want Norton again" was an Ali camp quote in Ring Magazine.

Following the Leon Spinks upset of Muhammad Ali for the championship on February 15, 1978, Spinks elected to fight a return bout against Ali rather than face the more dangerous Norton and the top contender. The World Boxing Council, which had mandated a Spinks-Norton bout for their championship, withdrew its recognition of Spinks as champion. On March 18, 1978, the WBC named Norton its champion by virtue of his win over Young. The WBC stated that they considered Norton's victory over Jimmy Young, which was sanctioned by the WBC as a title eliminator, a retroactive championship

In his first defense of the WBC title on June 9, 1978, Norton and new #1 contender Larry Holmes met in a classic fight. After 15 brutal rounds, Holmes was awarded the title via an extremely close split decision. The March 2001 edition of The Ring magazine listed the final round of the Holmes-Norton bout as the 7th most exciting round in boxing history. Holmes-Norton is ranked as the 10th greatest heavyweight fight of all time by Monte D. Cox, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).

Retirement -Norton retired from the ring in 1979 following a draw with Scott LeDoux. Then at the advanced age of 37, he staged a comeback in 1980 and beat previously undefeated, Randall "Tex" Cobb by a split-decision. Norton was then matched in a 1981 title-eliminator bout with Gerry Cooney. Cooney, who is rated No. 53 in The Ring Magazine's 100 Greatest Punchers, won by KO in round 1. Norton retired from boxing after his bout with Cooney. Norton's professional boxing record was 42-7-1.

In 1986, Norton was in a car crash that left him with a fractured skull, jaw, and broken leg and no recollection of what had happened. Through it all, he remained a positive thinker and would not accept any prognosis but his own. His doctor told him that he would not walk or talk again after the accident, but Norton refused to accept any prediction that did not include what he visualized. Norton said "At first they thought I might die, and if I didn't die, I wouldn't be coherent. Now I'm talkin' and walkin' and I can even chew gum at the same time." The power of positive thinking led Norton by the hand through his rehabilitation, with determination and drive, Norton regained the ability to walk, talk, laugh, and even to chew gum. It is no wonder that he received the Napoleon Hill Award for positive thinking: he deserved it!!

Achievements - Ken Norton is a 1989 inductee of the World Boxing Hall of Fame, a 1992 inductee of the International Boxing Hall Of Fame, a 2004 inductee into the United States Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame, and a 2008 inductee into the WBC Hall of Fame. The 1998 holiday issue of The Ring ranked Norton #22 in "The 50 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time." Norton received the Boxing Writers Association of America J. Niel Trophy for "Fighter of the Year" in 1977. Norton, a proponent of motivational author Napoleon Hill's writings, also received the "Napoleon Hill Award" for positive thinking in 1973. In 2001, Norton was also inducted by the San Diego Hall of Champions into the Breitbard Hall of Fame honoring San Diego's finest athletes both on and off the playing surface.

Ken Norton was twice voted "Father of the Year" by the Los Angeles Sentinel and the Los Angeles Times in 1977. His son, Ken Norton Jr, played football for UCLA and the NFL. In tribute to his father's boxing career, Ken Jr. would strike a boxing stance in the end zone each time he scored a defensive touchdown and throw a punching combination at the goalpost pad.

Ken Norton's other son, Keith Norton, is the weekend sports anchor for KPRC in Houston, Texas.

Ken Norton is very active in children’s charity organizations.

What the mind can conceive, the body can achieve.

Whatever you do in your life.

Always go the distance.

Ken Norton Sr.