Champions (not quite) Forever: Ali, Frazier, Norton and the sadness of their final fights

Ken Norton - Ken Norton

It’s proven so, so hard for a number of great fighters to exit the sport on a win. So often we’ve seen legends battle on for too long; taking that ‘fight too many.’ Sadly it happened to at least three of the immortal heavyweights featured in the now 30 year old “Champions Forever” video tribute (still a fantastic watch a full three decades on).

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Video: Ken Norton vs Larry Holmes – Classic Fight Recap

Rummy’s Corner proudly presents another edition of a new ongoing series that will explore some of the greatest bouts in the rich history of professional boxing. This week’s second installment of “Classic Fight Recap” features the epic fifteen round heavyweight championship contest that took place on June 9, 1978, between WBC heavyweight champion Ken Norton (40-4-0) and undefeated challenger Larry Holmes (27-0-0), which took place in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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When the ex-marine broke the draft dodger’s jaw – Norton-Ali

Ken Norton - Ken Norton

It might be something of a morbid subject, but Muhammad Ali, a man who literally gave everything he had in the pursuit of the greatness he achieved in the ring, is, despite the ghastly health problems he has been suffering with for over three decades, outliving his former ring rivals by a quite substantial amount of time. Ali, now aged 74 and more or less housebound, has lived longer than former foes including: Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Jimmy Ellis, Sir Henry Cooper, Jimmy Young, Ron Lyle, Jerry Quarry, Floyd Patterson and even his final ring rival, Trevor Berbick.

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What If A Fight That Never Happened Actually Did Happen? Joe Frazier Vs Ken Norton

Ken Norton - Ken Norton

There are some fights that were possible but they never happened. In the case of Joe Frazier verses Ken Norton a little bit of alternative revisionist history is needed to set the stage for the fight to have happened. The following, of course, is fiction and it is my take on how such a fight may have transpired.

It is May 1974 and former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier is in training to fight fellow highly ranked contender Jerry Quarry who had defeated up and coming contenders Earnie Shavers and Ron Lyle the previous year. Frazier, who was fresh off a loss to fellow ex champion Muhammad Ali, knew a win over Quarry would solidify another heavyweight title shot against the man who had brutally taken his title from him, George Foreman. But as luck would have it Quarry, who was prone to cuts, was cut while training and the injury was severe enough to sideline him for the next couple of months. Frazier was told by several promoters and by representatives of the major sanctioning bodies that he had to beat a top ranked contender in order to be considered for another title shot. But the problem was that if Quarry, who fit the bill, was not available, and both Lyle and Shavers who had already been beaten by Quarry had slipped in the rankings, who was available for Frazier to fight?

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A Tribute To Ken Norton – 1943-2013

norton gangAs fans have no doubt read by now, heavyweight legend and former world champion Ken Norton passed away earlier today. The magnificently conditioned former U.S Marine, most famous for his three epic fights with Muhammad Ali, suffered a stroke last year and had been in poor health since. Today, fans and former champions everywhere are sending out messages of condolence to Norton’s family.

I had the opportunity to meet Kenny last year, in Las Vegas.

By way of a tribute to the Hall of Famer who met such heavyweight titans as: Ali, Larry Holmes, George Foreman, Gerry Cooney, Earnie Shavers and many, many more – I recall the short amount of time I spent with Norton during the Floyd Mayweather-Miguel Cotto fight week of May 2012.

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