Ken Norton, former heavyweight champion of the world, and a man best known for his defeat of Muhammad Ali in 1973, died Wednesday at a local care facility aged 70.
Norton first dabbled in organised boxing during his stint in the American Marines, compiling a 24-2 record en route to three All-Marine Heavyweight titles.
While he immediately began fighting at a professional level upon his discharge in 1967, it was six years before he truly catapulted himself into the public consciousness, breaking Muhammad Ali's jaw during his split decision win over the Kentucky native.
Kilroy remarked: "Ali thought it would be an easy fight. But Ken was unorthodox. Instead of jabbing from above like most fighters he would put his hand down and jab up at Ali."
While the latter would ultimately avenge that loss with a split decision win of his own just 6 months later, their third fight in 1976 has historically overshadowed their second.
Ali, fresh from recapturing his heavyweight title from George Foreman, a man who had himself stopped Norton in the intervening years, ultimately came out on top in the rubber match.
That being said, this unanimous decision victory was, and has since been, shrouded in acrimony, with the January 1998 issue of Boxing Monthly listing Ali/Norton III at number five in the most dubious title bouts in boxing history.
In spite of this setback, Norton still rallied to win a heavyweight title eliminator against Jimmy Young in November of 1977, ultimately being declared bona fide champion by the World Boxing Council when Leon Spinx chose to vacate his belt.
As well as receiving the heavyweight crown, Norton was also christened ‘Fighter of the Year’ in 1977 by the Boxing Writers Association of America. He would, however, go on to lose his first championship defence in June of the following year, coming up second-best in an arduous, 15-round classic with a precocious young Larry Holmes.
In a match which Holmes would later describe as the toughest of his career, two of the three ringside judges scored the bout for him (both at a score of 143-142) while the other scored it to Norton by the same margin.
The March 2001 edition of The Ring magazine ranked the 15th round of the encounter at number 7 in their compiled list of the most exciting rounds of all time, while the IBRO (International Boxing Research Organization) includes it in the top ten heavyweight contests ever.
With all of that notwithstanding, however, the sapping nature of the Holmes battle meant Norton could only muster up five more fights, eventually bowing out in 1981 after suffering a first round knock-out at the hands of Gerry Cooney in Madison Square Garden.
Having ultimately hung up his gloves with an impressive fight résumé that boasted 42 wins (33 inside the distance), Ken Norton was inducted into the the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1982, before receiving the same honour from the International Boxing Hall of Fame a decade later.
Furthermore, the 1998 issue of The Ring also ranked him 22nd in their “50 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time" opus.
Norton was also revered beyond the boxing fraternity, and has since been honoured by, among others, the United States Marine Corps’ Sports Hall of Fame, San Diego’s Breitbard Hall of Champions, and as recently as 2011, the Californian Sports Hall of Fame.
While he will forever be remembered for his supreme accomplishments in the field of pugilism, Ken Norton’s lasting legacy won’t be based purely on the notable W’s he racked up on his record, but more so how he went about getting them.
Although his unconventional style and power often proved a handful for the cream of a then stacked heavyweight division, it was primarily his strength of mind and character which set him apart, a fact which is astutely summed up by this excerpt from Norton’s own 2001 autobiography Going The Distance: “Life's battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man. Sooner or later, the man who wins is the man who thinks he can."
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