First World Title: Terry Norris

NorrisBy Anthony Coleman - If there was ever a fighter in my lifetime who defined the term “flawed but great,” it would be “Terrible” Terry Norris. No one, that has come to my mind, who has put together such an awesome an illustrious career mixed all-time great skill, with such tragic and fatal failings. It is in many ways his trademark. Let us first talk about the flaws.

Norris had notorious self control issues that resulted in him in losing one of his early fights, surrendering his WBC Junior Middleweight title to Luis Santana, and losing the first rematch all by disqualification. In fact in his most famous victory (his beat-down of a yet again comebacking and badly faded Sugar Ray Leonard), he nearly fulfilled the wishes of Leonard’s fans by nearly getting DQ’d for hitting well after he scored a knockdown. The recklessness sometimes spoiled his technique because he had a tendency to get overconfident, throwing too many punches and leaving cracks in his defense that his opponents capitalized on (i.e his fight with Troy Watters). However, his greatest flaw was unquestionably his weak chin..

There is no way around this fact: his chin sucked. It nearly got him KO’d in the aforementioned Watters fight. He was badly buzzed numerous times in his other title defenses (like in the first round of the first fight with Santana) and it was also responsible for four of his nine losses. This includes his upset losses to both Keith Mullings and Simon Brown, and most famously his highlight reel knockout against the all-time great power puncher Julian Jackson in his first title attempt. Norris won the first round, but then he went to the ropes in the second and got tagged with a huge Jackson right hand. Norris was out on his feet, but the ropes kept him up and then he ate a follow up left hook then another right cross that sent him to the floor. The count wasn’t even necessary, and from that point forward the question was whether or not his chin could hold up against even inferior opposition. However, when he was on Norris was as good or nearly as great as anybody else in the 90s.

Through three reigns of his WBC and the IBF Jr. Middleweight title spanning 7 years and 16 successful defenses, Norris was an expert boxer-puncher with an absolutely beastly repertoire at his disposal. He mixed superb strength, handspeed, and footwork with tremendous technique. In fact a case could be made that he was indeed the best offensive fighter of the 90s. He would throw quick, short punches that were so precise that it seemed to get past anybody’s defense. Added was the fact that his combinations came from every angle imaginable that his opponents couldn’t keep up. Plus we can’t forget about his underrated power.

Don’t let the record fool you: while it suggests that he was a good but unspectacular puncher, the truth is that whenever he sat down on his punches Norris’ power was devastating. He was capable of grinding out and stopping his man in the late rounds with a sustained body attack, but when he was really on, he could blast his man out of the ring in a blitz. Also even though he had a lot of decision wins, what is not often mentioned is the fact that many of the people who went the distance were so badly beaten up that they were just trying to survive his onslaught. Yet another aspect that was his flaw also proved to be one of his greatest attributes: his confidence.

While the tendency to become overconfident occasionally left him defensively vulnerable, it also was the reason why he was able to come back from defeat or near-disastrous setbacks in the middle of a fight. He was so certain in his abilities that he knew when he corrected his mistakes or kept his composure victory wasn’t only possible, but a near certain. In all of his performances there is perhaps no other time when Norris combined his athleticism, confidence, composure, technique and power than on March 31st, 1990. That date was his title winning performance against WBC Jr. Middleweight champion John “The Beast” Mugabi. It was fitting because Norris was taking a second chance at a title, less than a year removed from getting blasted out of the ring by Jackson, against another all-time great puncher. This was his time to prove that the experience didn’t damage him, like it would so many other fighters (and that includes prospects and champions). Yet instead of a tentative Norris who would box from the outside to a decision, we saw a confident Norris who scored a blowout.

The fight began with Norris and Mugabi keeping distance away from each other as they exchanged jabs (the taller Norris jabbing to the head, the shorter Mugabi to the body), but then forty-five seconds into the opening round Norris exploded with a left hook to the champ’s head. At that moment Mugabi was badly wobbled. He was shaking and moving all over the place. Norris then followed up with a combination and finally dropped the champion. Mugabi beat the count, but he was in even worse shape. He got up, and fell directly into the referee and accidentally dropped his mouthpiece. God only knows why the fight wasn’t stopped at this moment because the man clearly didn’t know where he was. Yet the fight was allowed to continue, but Mugabi needed to survive for two more minutes. Meanwhile Norris saw his world title in his view, and the champion wounded and in his crosshairs. He then proceeded to beat him senseless.

Norris immediately approached and landed a lead right cross that rocked Mugabi again, but the champ wisely clinched until the ref broke it up. Norris then followed up with a lightning fast left hook/ right cross combo that sent Mugabi backwards. Then Mugabi managed another clinch that only delayed the beating for a few more seconds. Once broken up again, Norris landed a one two then a few seconds later Norris connected with his best punch in his arsenal: his lead overhand right. The punch stood Mugabi up and then he skipped to the opposite direction in an attempt to not go down. Then Norris really cut loose. Left hooks, right crosses, and a left uppercut that nearly sent Mugabi down again, until he forced another clinch. The only punches of note that landed from the champion were two left hooks, but Norris didn’t fall or wasn’t even hurt. He was in the zone and he was landing bombs. Then with 24 seconds left in the round, Norris landed a jab followed by an overhand right, and the fight was over. Mugabi spun in a half circle, then fell into the ropes, and then finally landed face first onto the canvas. Shockingly the ref didn’t stop his count half-way, though it was clear that he wasn’t going to get up before ten. But the ref completed his count, and Norris jumped and waved his hand in the air in celebration. Less than a year after getting crushed by Jackson he was now not only a world champion, but the KO was selected as Ring Magazine’s “Knockout of the Year” (which was a foolish selection in my opinion because Julian Jackson’s genie-out-of-the-bottle fifth round KO of Herol Graham was obviously better) and the springboard to future greatness.


After this fight Mugabi’s career as a championship level fighter was over. He would continue to fight on, but only sparingly, and in his last meaningful fight suffered another first round KO at the hands of Gerald McClellan in November of 1991. His career ended in 1999 after suffering a KO loss to Glen Kelly. As for Norris, he began a 3 year mark of consistency that put among the pound for pound best fighters in the sport. Included in his run were dominant victories over Meldrick Taylor (KO-4), Brett Lally, Jorge Castro, and Maurice Blocker. Of course he had the setbacks against Simon Brown in 1993, and that bizarre trilogy with Luis Santana in 94 and 95. However, he managed not to foul Santana in the third fight to stop him in the second round, and in his rematch against Brown he put on a boxing exhibition. Brown was barely able to touch him as Norris was landing with his power shots from the outside and using his footwork to stay out of the way of trouble. In December of 1995 he was able to partially unify the division by decisioning IBF titlist Paul Vaden, then followed it up with dominant KO wins over Vincent Pettway, Alex Rios, and Nick Rupa. Then in 1997 his run of greatness came to an end. He relinquished the IBF title, then lost his WBC title when Keith Mullings knocked him out in the ninth round. 1998 would be his swan song year as he was decisioned over 12 rounds in a middleweight fight against Dan Rosenblatt then in November of that year he would be dominated over Laurent Boudouani would KO Norris in nine rounds thus ending his career. In 2005, Norris settled a lawsuit against his former promoter Don King and was awarded 7.5 million dollars. In that same year he was selected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility. The IBHOF gets some of their selections wrong, but putting Norris into the hall was the right decision, and validation on a great career.

While Norris’ flaws kept him short of pound-for-pound all-time greatness, he will always be remembered for what he did at his peak. Thomas Hearns and Mike McCallum, may have fought better competition in the weight class, but in terms of sustained excellence Norris is the most accomplished Junior Middleweight in history. Furthermore, even though he isn’t the best fighter to come out of the 1990s (that title belongs to Pernell Whitaker), he is definitely among the top 10, or possibly top 5 for the decade. Now, thanks to the internet a new generation of boxing fans have begun to appreciate Norris’ career as his fights are among the most widely viewed on Youtube. Norris is definitely a hall-of-famer, and his legacy began with his dominant title winning performance in March of 1990.

Article posted on 10.09.2009

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