Orlin Norris - What derailed "Night Train"?

21.07.05 - By Kirk May: Seeking to rebuilt his career after three decisive losses to James Toney, Joe Mesi, and Michael Moorer, Vassily Jirov is faced with a stern test of how much he has lost in his many thrilling wars. Despite sandwiching several wins in since his first loss to Toney, if Jirov prevails tonight, he will have his biggest victory in a long time.. Across the ring from him is a truly astonishing fighter: thirty-nine year old Orlin "Night Train" Norris, the brother of former junior middleweight and pound for pound king Terry Norris.

Outside of hardcore boxing insiders, few remember what a tremendous fighter Orlin was in his heyday in the early 1990’s. Fortunately for Jirov, this is 2005, not 1993, and his opponent isn’t the same journeyman spoiler who gave many promoters some sleepless nights. At the beginning of his career, you wouldn’t have known he was destined to become the solid pugilist he evolved into over the years. After beating two men who also distinguished themselves in the ring eventually-Levi Billups and Lionel Washington-he lost a four round unanimous decision. After that, he rebounded with twenty wins over world class men like Jesse Ferguson, Larry Alexander, Greg Page, and Renaldo Snipes.

Ferguson would later go on to beat Ray Mercer, and then lose a title bid to Riddick Bowe. Page and Snipes were both talented fighters who squandered their skills by overeating and under-training. These wins were beginning to make people look at Norris as a serious contender. His winning run came to a halt when he lost to Tony Tubbs, but the result was later changed to a no contest, after it was found that Tubbs had taken a banned substance prior to the contest.

In his next fight, Norris was upset by Joe Frazier’s journeyman protégé, "Smokin" Bert Cooper, in a fight where, Cooper was ahead on the cards, until Orlin injured his leg and couldn't continue. It went down as TKO8 for Bert in the best win of his career. After essentially two losses, experts were beginning to conclude that Norris was simply overrated, and that he had burned out. Wrong. After this dry spell, he came back with a superb win streak, that saw him beat future champion Oliver McCall, and solid men like Henry Hearns and Tony Willis.

His narrow split decision loss to Tony Tucker only served to enhance his reputation, that was slowly rebuilding itself. Tucker was the only man to go the twelve round distance with both Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis. Putting his most recent loss behind him, he plowed onward, winning 14 fights in a row, including four defenses of his newly won cruiserweight title. Among those dispatched in this time period were prospect David Sewell, Richard Mason, Arthur Williams (twice), and Adolpho Washington. Then, more frustration followed when Nate Miller took his crown, giving Norris another loss by 8th round knockout.

Four more wins, including a split decision victory over past conqueror Tucker got him a fight with 40-1 Henry Akinwande. Akinwande was coming off a horrendous showing against Lennox Lewis, but was still highly regarded by most. Norris was dispatched by a unanimous decision loss, and this time he really seemed finished for good. Instead, "Night Train" put forth his best effort ever, and managed to return the favor on Nate Miller. Then came the infamous Tyson debacle, with which, Norris will always be linked. Fresh of his comeback win over Frans Botha, Mike had shown all of his psychopathic tendency by
actually trying to break Botha’s arm. Tyson did nothing to diminish his aura of insanity by nailing Norris with a massive punch, clearly after the bell.

The blow sent Orlin sprawling, and injured his one of his legs, so that he could not continue. Somehow, referee Richard Steele ruled the blatant foul accidental, making the fight yet another no contest. The true is, Norris was robbed of a disqualification win in the biggest fight of his career. The fight seemed to take everything out of him as a fighter, and he lost a lopsided decision to another loose cannon, Andrew Golata. After this, for several years, Norris would perform with erratic inconsistency. Two fights later he was nearly decapitated by Vitali Klitschko, who pulverized his usually durable opponent in one round.

After a win over professional loser Brian "B52" Yates, Orlin fought a different Brian. This was the 61-1 Neilson version that won over the distance. Then, Norris defied all expectations by putting together five consecutive wins over decent opposition, before dropping a decision to 36-1 Albert Sosnowski. "Night Train" almost managed to pull this one out, but had to settle for a close majority decision loss to the European prospect. We’ve seen that Norris only losses to very good fighters, and has a fairly solid chin. To beat Jirov at the advanced age of 39, he will have to use his hand and foot speed to fight in well-timed spurts. At his age, he will have to use all of his craftiness to avoid Vassily’s horrifying body clouts, and counter with crosses and uppercuts when his eastern European foe gets inside. Comments or question are welcome below.

Article posted on 21.07.2005

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