Former champ Ken Norton dies
ESPN.com news services
LAS VEGAS -- He was the second man to beat Muhammad Ali, breaking Ali's jaw and sending him to the hospital in their 1973 heavyweight fight.
Ken Norton frustrated Ali three times in all, including their final bout at Yankee Stadium where he was sure he had beaten him once again.
Norton, who died Wednesday at the age of 70, lost that fight for the heavyweight title. But he was forever linked to Ali for the 39 rounds they fought over three fights, with very little separating one man from the other in the ring.
"Kenny was a good, good fighter. He beat a lot of guys," said Ed Schuyler Jr., who covered many of Norton's fights for The Associated Press. "He gave Ali fits because Ali let him fight coming forward instead of making him back up."
Norton is the only heavyweight champion never to win the title in the ring, and boxing fans still talk about the bruising battle he waged with Larry Holmes for the title in 1978. But it was his first fight with Ali that made the former Marine a big name and the two fights that followed that were his real legacy.
Few gave Norton, who possessed a muscular, sculpted body, much of a chance against Ali in their first meeting, held at the Sports Arena in San Diego, where Norton lived. But his awkward style and close-in pressing tactics confused Ali, who fought in pain after his jaw was broken.
"Ali tore up his ankle while training and we were going to call the fight off but didn't," former Ali business manager Gene Kilroy said. "Ali said it's not going to be that tough."
It was, with Norton breaking Ali's jaw in the early rounds and having his way with the former champion for much of the night. The loss was even more shocking because Ali had only lost to Joe Frazier in their 1971 showdown and was campaigning for the title he would win again the next year against George Foreman in Zaire.
"Norton was unorthodox," Kilroy said. "Instead of jabbing from above like most fighters he would put his hand down and jab up at Ali."
Kilroy said after the fight Norton visited Ali at the hospital where he was getting his broken jaw wired. Ali, he said, told him he was a great fighter and he never wanted to fight him again.
Ken Norton Jr., a coach with the Seattle Seahawks, confirmed his father's death to The Associated Press before handing the phone to his wife, too distraught to talk.
Norton had been in poor health for the last several years after suffering a series of strokes, Kilroy said.
"He's been fighting the battle for two years," he said. "I'm sure he's in heaven now with all the great fighters. I'd like to hear that conversation."
Norton didn't have long to celebrate his big win over Ali. They fought six months later, and Ali won a split decision.
They met for a third time on Sept. 28, 1976, at Yankee Stadium and Ali narrowly won to keep his heavyweight title.
Norton would come back the next year to win a heavyweight title eliminator and was declared champion by the World Boxing Council when Leon Spinks decided to fight Ali in a rematch instead of facing his mandatory challenger. But on June 9, 1978, he lost a brutal 15-round fight to Holmes in what many regard as one of boxing's epic heavyweight bouts and would never be champion again.
Norton finished with a record of 42-7-1 and 33 knockouts. He would later embark on an acting career, appearing in several movies, and was a commentator at fights.
Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, who visited Norton at the veteran's hospital in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, tweeted his homage:
Ken Norton was always nice to me even when I was just an amateur fighter. He always treated me like I was somebody. Remarkable man.
Edward Brophy, the Boxing Hall of Fame's executive director, also paid tribute to the iconic boxer, who was inducted into the Hall in 1992.
"Ken Norton was one of the standouts of the talent-filled 1970s heavyweight division," said Hall of Fame Executive Director Edward Brophy. "He was a great fighter in the ring and a great person outside of it. The Hall of Fame joins the worldwide boxing community in mourning his passing."
Ken Norton Jr. was a linebacker for 13 years in the NFL, playing for Dallas and San Francisco, and coaches the position for the Seahawks. He and his father were estranged for a time in the 1990s before finally reconciling.
Norton always gave his father credit for his career, saying he learned how to train hard by watching him go for early morning runs when he was a child.
"It's been noted that my father and I are on speaking terms and everything's back together now," Norton Jr. said in 1995. "It's part of what I do. No matter what I do, I can't get away from boxing."
Norton, born Aug. 9, 1943, in Jacksonville, Ill., started boxing when he was in the Marines, and began his pro career after his release from duty in 1967. He lost only once in his early fights but had fought few fighters of any note when he was selected to meet Ali.
At the time, Ali was campaigning to try to win back the heavyweight crown he lost to Joe Frazier in 1973.
After that bruising first bout, they faced off two more times, including the final fight at Yankee Stadium on a night when police were on strike and many in the crowd feared for their safety. The fight went 15 rounds and Ali won a decision.
Kilroy said Ali and Norton never had any animosity toward each other and became good friends over the years. Still, Norton always thought he had won all three fights.
Norton would come back in 1977 to win an eliminator against Jimmy Young and was declared champion by the WBC when Spinks was stripped of the title.
His fight against Holmes in 1978 at Caesars Palace was his last big hurrah, with the two heavyweights going back and forth, trading huge blows inside a steamy pavilion in the hotel's back lot. The fight was still up for grabs in the 15th round and both fighters reached inside themselves to deliver one of the more memorable final rounds in heavyweight history.
When the decision was announced, two ringside judges favored Holmes by one point while the third favored Norton by a point.
Norton was badly injured in a near fatal car accident in 1986. He recovered but never regained his full physical mobility.
"The doctors said I would never walk or talk," Norton said at an autograph session in 2011 in Las Vegas, lifting his trademark fedora to show long surgical scars on his bald head.
Kilroy said Norton was visited at the hospital by former fighters, including Tyson, Earnie Shavers and Thomas Hearns.
Norton fought only five more times after losing his title to Holmes. His final fight came Nov. 5, 1981, when he was knocked out in the first round by Gerry Cooney at Madison Square Garden.
Information on services and other survivors was not immediately released by the family.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Ken Norton, heavyweight boxing legend, dies at 70
Former US heavyweight boxing champion Ken Norton, who beat Muhammad Ali, has died at the age of 70, his son says.
Norton, who had been in poor health following a series of strokes, died at a care facility in Las Vegas, Nevada.
He broke Ali's jaw in their first bout in San Diego, California, in 1973, which Norton won.
In their last meeting on September 1976 at New York's Yankee Stadium, Ali won a narrow and controversial decision to retain the heavyweight title.
"I'm sure he's in heaven now with all the great fighters," Gene Kilroy, Ali's former business manager, told the Associated Press news agency. "I'd like to hear that conversation."
Norton began boxing during his time in the US Marines, and turned professional shortly after he left the military in 1967.
He was named heavyweight champion in 1977 after defending champion Leon Spinks refused to fight him, but lost the following year in a classic 15-round fight with Larry Holmes.
After his boxing career ended, Norton appeared in several movies and became a fight commentator.
He had five children, one of whom went on to play professional football and now coaches in the National Football League for the Seattle Seahawks.
Famed boxer Ken Norton, who defeated Muhammad Ali, dies at age 70
By Stan Wilson and Greg Botelho, CNN
(CNN) -- Forty years after rising to the top of the boxing world and outdueling Muhammad Ali, Ken Norton lost his final fight -- a battle following a stroke -- at a Nevada medical facility, a friend said.
He was 70 years old when he died Wednesday at a Veterans Affairs' medical facility in Henderson, Nevada, according to Gene Kilroy, who had managed Ali and more recently visited Norton as he recovered from a stroke.
While some younger people may know him best as the father of former Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Ken Norton Jr., the elder Norton was one of the most prominent figures in all of sports during the 1970s -- in large part because of his consistently great bouts with Ali.
Their first showdown, in 1973, ended with Norton earning a split-decision victory -- and breaking Ali's jaw in the process. But Ali got his revenge six months later, winning their rematch in another split decision.
When Ken Norton broke Ali's jaw
The two fighters faced off one more time in 1976 at New York's Yankee Stadium, with Ali again taking the win in what Norton's website calls "a highly disputed split decision."
Well before he became Ali's archrival, Kenneth Howard Norton established himself as a standout athlete. Raised in small central Illinois city of Jacksonville, Norton earned a football, basketball and track scholarship to Northeast Missouri State College.
Norton didn't begin boxing until being introduced to the sport while serving in the Marines Corps between 1963 and 1967. There, he soon flashed his talent in the ring en route to becoming a three-time All-Marine Heavyweight Champion, according to the Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame, which inducted Norton into its 2004 class. He also earned a North Carolina Golden Gloves, International AAU and Pan American titles while still in the service.
The year he left, in 1967, Norton went pro. It took him six more years to get a shot at a championship against Ali, and he won.
While he lost that title back to Ali later the same year, a first-round knockout of Duane Bobick earned Norton the honor of being champ again in 1977. That same year, the Boxing Writers Association of America named Norton its Fighter of the Year.
Still, that championship also proved short-lived after Norton lost a grueling 15-round fight to Larry Holmes. He retired from boxing in 1981 after amassing a professional record of 42 wins (including 33 knockouts), seven losses and one draw.
The International Boxing Hall of Fame inducted Norton in 1992, hailing him as "a fixture in the heavyweight ranks during a time that many consider the finest era of the division." His profile on the hall's websites notes Norton "possessed an awkward and powerful style and always entered the ring in great condition."
One of the other elite fighters of the era, George Foreman, said upon news of Norton's death that Norton deserved his spot in the upper echelon of the sport.
"They called us all handsome," Foreman tweeted. "Muhammad they called pretty. But The fairest of them all Ken Norton."
Yet he was more than a boxer. Starting with Dino De Laurentis' film "Mandingo," Norton appeared in about 20 movies. He also fathered five children, including his namesake, now a linebackers coach with the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.
Norton also became close friends with Ali, whom he visited in the hospital the day after their first bout. According to Kilroy, Ali told Norton, "You hit so hard."
His website also notes that Norton was once counted out before: in 1986, when he refused to accept a doctor's prognosis he wouldn't be able to walk or talk again after a serious accident.
"At first they thought I might die, and if I didn't die, I wouldn't be coherent," he said later. "Now I'm talkin' and walkin' and I can even chew gum at the same time."
His more recent health crisis, a stroke, left him communicating by blinking his eyes, Kilroy recalled. Still, the former Ali manager said there was a lot of laughter in the room during Kilroy's visit along with other legendary boxers Mike Tyson, Earnie Shavers and Thomas Hearns.
"Now that he's gone, he has no pain," Kilroy said. "He's sitting up there in the heavens right now talking with the other greats like Joe Louis."
Beyond touting Norton the boxer, Tyson on Wednesday remembered him first as "a great man" who was "always nice to me even when I was an amateur fighter."
"He always treated me like I was somebody," Tyson tweeted."Remarkable man."
Ken Norton, a Championship Fighter Who Broke Ali’s Jaw, Is Dead at 70
Ken Norton, who fought three memorable fights with Muhammad Ali, breaking his jaw in winning their first bout, then losing twice, and who went on to become the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion, died Wednesday in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Nev. He was 70.
His death was confirmed by his son Ken Jr., an assistant coach with the N.F.L.’s Seattle Seahawks and a pro linebacker for 13 seasons, The Associated Press said. Norton had been in poor health for several years after sustaining a series of strokes, The A.P. reported.
Norton defeated Ali on a 12-round split decision in 1973 to capture the North American Boxing Federation heavyweight title. Norton was an exceptionally muscular 6 feet 2 inches and 220 pounds, but a decided underdog in that first Ali fight.
“Ali thought it would be an easy fight,” Norton’s former manager, Gene Kilroy, was quoted by The A.P. as saying. “But Norton was unorthodox. Instead of jabbing from above like most fighters, he would put his hand down and jab up at Ali.”
Kilroy said that after the fight, Norton visited Ali at the hospital where he was getting his broken jaw wired, and Ali told him he never wanted to fight him again.
But the second bout in their trilogy came six months later when Ali rallied to win a narrow split decision. In their final bout, Ali retained his World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association titles when he defeated Norton on a decision that was unanimous but booed by many in the crowd of more than 30,000 at Yankee Stadium in September 1976.
“I was never the same fighter after that,” Norton told Red Smith of The New York Times in October 1979. “I never trained so hard again, never could put the same feeling into it. I was at my best that night, in the best shape I ever was.”
In 1977, Norton knocked out the previously unbeaten Duane Bobick in the first round and defeated Jimmy Young in a 15-round split decision in a W.B.C. title elimination series and became the mandatory challenger for the winner of the coming fight between Ali and Leon Spinks. Spinks defeated Ali for the championship but shunned Norton for his first defense in favor of a rematch with Ali. The W.B.C. stripped Spinks of the title and awarded it to Norton.
Norton made his first defense of the W.B.C. title in 1978 against Larry Holmes and lost by a 15-round split decision in one of boxing’s most exciting fights.
Kenneth Howard Norton was born Aug. 9, 1943, in Jacksonville, Ill., and starred in high school football, basketball and track. He attended Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State University) on a football scholarship but was hampered by a shoulder injury in his first two seasons and enlisted in the Marine Corps. Norton started boxing while he was in the Marines, compiling an amateur record of 24-2 and winning the All-Marine Heavyweight Championship three times.
He turned pro in 1967 and won 16 straight bouts before being knocked out by Jose Luis Garcia. Soon afterward, he read Napoleon Hill’s motivational book “Think and Grow Rich.”
“I must have read that book 100 times while in training, and I became a stronger person for it,” BoxRec.com quoted him as saying. He said that he believed in the book’s philosophy that a person could do the unexpected if he put his mind to it.
“So I train for my fights mentally as well as physically,” he said. “One thing I do is only watch films of the fights in which I’ve done well or in which my opponent has done poorly.”
Norton fought the undefeated George Foreman for the W.B.C. and W.B.A. heavyweight championships in 1974 and was knocked out in the second round. He stopped Jerry Quarry in five rounds in 1975 to regain the N.A.B.F. crown. In his next fight, Norton avenged his 1970 loss to Garcia with a fifth-round knockout.
After having retired for a time, Norton returned in 1980 and defeated the previously unbeaten Tex Cobb on a decision. The next year, Gerry Cooney, ranked No. 1 by the W.B.A. and the W.B.C., knocked Norton out in the first round in what became his final fight. Norton won 42 fights (33 by knockout), lost seven times and fought one draw.
Norton acted in many movies, most notably the 1975 Hollywood film “Mandingo,” in which he played the slave Mede, who is trained to fight by his owner.
Ken Norton Jr. played linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys from 1988 to 1993 and for the San Francisco 49ers from 1994 to 2000. He was a three-time Pro Bowl player with the 49ers. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available