Ken Norton Celebrates His 64th Birthday

ken norton09.08.07 - By Jack Carlisle: One-time heavyweight champion and notable challenger Ken Norton (42-7-1, 33 KOs) celebrates his 64th birthday today. One of the hardest punchers during the 1970s, Norton is widely known for his three epic battles with Muhammed Ali, and also for his two-round destruction by the equally murderous punching George Foreman. While he never actually won a heavyweight title during this time, he was the first to win a championship without a title bout when the WBC gave him a title in March 1978.

Norton, an outstanding high school athlete and former U.S. Marine, initially took up boxing while in the service, where he quickly established himself as one of the best boxers in the country. He soon after turned professional, and piled up a string of knockout victories before being upset in a knockout loss to the 6’4” southpaw Jose Luis Garcia in July 1970. Although Norton would later avenge the defeat in 1975, in by stopping Garcia in the 5h round, the earlier loss revealed Norton’s difficulties when facing power punchers, a problem that would continue to haunt him at various times throughout his career.

Three years later, on March 31, 1973, Norton defeated Muhammed Ali by split decision, and in the process broke Ali’s jaw. The fight was entirely one-sided and should have been a clear-cut victory for Norton. However, Norton was facing the great Ali, and it was probably asking too much for people to set aside their bias of that fact. Norton would later fight Ali twice more, in September 1973 and September 1976, losing both fights by close decisions. However, in re-watching both fights, Norton was given a raw deal on each fight and should have come out the winner. These thoughts were echoed by many boxing fans that witnessed the fights.

In March 1974, Norton challenged WBA/WBC heavyweight champion George Foreman in Caracas, Venezuela. After initially starting out well in the first round by staying safely on the outside against the young Foreman, Norton soon after ran into problems in the 2nd round after Foreman connected with three consecutive right hands to knock Norton down. He got up but was soon knocked down again with another right hook. After getting up again, seconds later Foreman finished him with a left hook, right uppercut, right cross and another left hook, all landing flush and sending Norton to the canvas for the third and final time. Though Foreman was almost identical in size, he was much too powerful Norton on this night.

Norton would later have knockout wins over notable fighters Jerry Quarry (5th round KO) in March 1975, and Duane Bobick (1st round KO) in May 1977, including a 15-round split decision over defensive artist Jimmy Young in 1977.

Towards the end of his career, Norton lost a close 15-round split decision to a young and thin Larry Holmes in June 1978. Again, another fight that Norton, perhaps, should have been given the decision based on the busier work rate and heavier punches landed, but it was not to be. This was in a sense the end of the road for Norton, though he would later defeat Randy Stephens and Randall Cobb.

Soon after, Norton would be knocked out in the first round by Ernie Shavers in March 1979, and then fight to a 10-round draw with Scott Ledoux in August 1979, a fight Norton was winning until he was knocked down twice in the 10th round by Ledoux. Finally, Norton’s boxing career came to and a bitter end against big 6’7” left hook artist, Gerry Cooney, who stopped him in the 1st round in May 1981.

Probably more than anything, Norton had the bad misfortune of fighting during an era of outstanding heavyweight fighters such as George Foreman, Muhammed Ali and Larry Holmes. If Norton was fighting now – the era of Russian heavyweight champions – he would have an excellent chance at holding one of the belts, if not all of them.

Happy Birthday, Ken!

Article posted on 10.08.2007

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