On March 31, 1973, Ken Norton Sr. would go from being a nobody to a somebody. On that night in San Diego, Norton would break Muhammad Ali’s jaw and go on to defeat “The Greatest” in a 12 round contest; this would be one of only 5 times Ali would lose in his esteemed career.
Everyone had doubts that Norton could defeat Ali, except for Norton himself: “I felt I was as smart has he was and I was more physical. My manager thought a hypnotist would be a good thing. It gave me more of a positive feeling.” Norton hired a hypnotist so that he could deal with Ali’s trash-talking in the ring.
When remembering that fateful day, Ali’s former business manager, Gene Kilroy, would state that “Ali thought it would be an easy fight. But Norton was unorthodox. Instead of jabbing from above like most fighters he would put his hands down and jab up at Ali.” Obviously the strategy worked, as Norton would break Ali’s jaw in the 2nd round and hold on to win a split decision.
Norton would lost the rematch to Ali 6 months later at the Forum in Inglewood in a split decision, and would lose once again in their final match at Yankee Stadium in 1976. Former boxing publicist, Bill Caplan, stated that “You could’ve raised Kenny’s hand as the winner in both the second and third Ali fights. He’s in the club of the top four heavyweights of that era. They all did great round robins with each other.”
In 1978, Norton would become the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion after Leon Spinks opted for a rematch with Ali and lost. However, Norton’s reign would be short lived as he would lose his only fight as champion to Larry Holmes at Caesar’s Palace in 1978 – the contest was a split decision.
Norton would retire in 1981 following a first-round loss at Madison Square Garden. His overall record was 42-7-1, with 33 knockouts. Following his boxing career, Norton would pursue an acting career – even turning down the role of Apollo Creed in Rocky.
Norton died at age 70 due to congestive heart failure. He was living in Arizona to undergo rehabilitation following a stroke last year. USA Today reports that “Norton had overcome two earlier strokes, prostate cancer, a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery, and survived a terrible car accident in 1986 in which he broke his jaw, ribs and legs, fractured his skull and suffered a brain injury that slurred his speech.”
If Ali had a hard time defeating Norton (Ali never even managed to knock Norton down in 39 rounds), you can be damned sure that Death would have a hard time taking him to the grave.
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