The Time Tunnel: Was Ken Norton robbed against Ali in Los Angeles?

16.09.04 - By Rev. Marc Axelrod: One of the charges about Muhammad Ali’s career is that he received a number of gift decisions as he got older. We are told that Norton really won all three of his fights with “The Greatest.” Jimmy Young deserved the nod in his tedious battle with Ali in Landover, Maryland. Joe Frazier was robbed in his second encounter with Muhammad in New York. Even Earnie Shavers was robbed of a hard earned win over Ali in Madison Square Garden. And a case can be made that Neon Leon Spinks deserved the decision in their rematch, despite the wide scoring in favor of Ali. I want to look at these fights and see if there is any credence to the theory that Muhammad Ali was the recipient of decisions that should have gone the other way.

We’ll begin with the second Ken Norton fight. From watching the fight on television, I thought that Ali narrowly took the first five rounds. He danced continually to his left and to his right. He never allowed Norton to corner him. And in a reversal from the first fight, Ali was outjabbing Norton. And he jolted Norton with a good left hook as Norton was coming at him in the fourth round. While it is true that Norton was the aggressor, he just wasn’t in the same zip code as Ali in the early going.

But Ali appeared to tire in the sixth round. Norton began to score with left hooks and overhand rights. Ali got off his toes for the first time in the fight and landed his most meaningful punches. He scored with a couple of great right hand leads as Norton swung and missed with his left hook. I gave the round to Ali, but Norton was definitely coming on.

In the seventh and eighth rounds, Norton was beating and battering Ali all over the ring. He had him hurt in both rounds. Furthermore, a hook by Norton as the bell sounded ending the eighth round sent Ali back to the corner on rubbery legs. Norton won these two rounds more convincingly than Ali had won any of the first six. But Ali was still ahead on points.

The two of them went toe to toe in the ninth round. Ali planted his feet and began to beat Norton to the punch. A great right hand lead jarred Kenny. But Kenny pushed his way forward and slammed Ali against the ropes with a fusillade of punches. It was a great round of action, and Ali had his moments. But I had to give the round the Ken Norton.

Norton won the next two rounds as well. He threw some tremendous body punches early in the eleventh round that had the crowd on their feet. But he seemed to peter out as the round progressed. By the end of the round, Norton was against the ropes and Ali was landing. But because Kenny dominated the bulk of the round, I scored it for him.

Through eleven rounds, I had Ali up 6-5. A case can be made that the 6th round was even or for Norton. Moreover, Norton won his rounds far more convincingly than Ali had won his rounds. I can certainly see why some people could have had Norton out in front after eleven rounds.

But there can be no doubt that Ali took the twelfth round. Norton had pretty much shot his wad in the eleventh round, and Ali sensed it. Muhammad landed some fast combinations to start the final round, to which Norton had no answer. Midway through the round, Ali landed a good right uppercut that snapped Norton’s head back. And even though a weary Norton won the final twenty seconds of the round, it wasn’t enough in my eyes. I gave the round to Ali, and the decision seven rounds to five.

In conclusion, can a case be made that Ken Norton got robbed in Los Angeles that day? I don’t think so. What people have to remember is that even though Norton won his rounds by a wider margin than Ali won most of his rounds, Ali still won at least half of the rounds, and in my view, he took seven of them. Norton would go on to lose to George Foreman in a bid for the heavyweight title, then he would come back with wins over Jose Luis Garcia, Jerry Quarry, and Ron Stander before losing to Ali in a controversial loss at Yankee Stadium. Norton would then fight Duane Bobick, Jimmy Young, Larry Holmes, Earnie Shavers, Tex Cobb, Scott Ledoux, and Gerry Cooney with varying degrees of success and failure. Of course, Ali would go on to win the heavyweight crown a second and third time. But this close decision win over Norton was one of the most important wins of his career. It meant a return match with Joe Frazier, and a shot at the title against George Foreman.

Article posted on 15.09.2004

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