On This Day In 1978: Ken Norton Becomes WBC Heavyweight Champion Outside Of The Ring

By James Slater - 03/29/2023 - Comments

In the pantheon of heavyweight greats, Ken Norton ranks highly; the ex-Marine having earned his spurs with epic fights, both of the winning and losing variety, against superstars and nearly stars, Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, Jimmy Young, Jerry Quarry and Randy “Tex” Cobb.

But technically, Norton never won a world heavyweight title – not in the ring, anyway. Norton, who bested Ali and broke his jaw upon doing so, had two official chances at becoming world heavyweight champ. Norton was blasted out in two rounds by a rampaging George Foreman in March of 1974, and Kenny was controversially outpointed by Ali in their third fight, this in September of 1976.

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But, boxing politics being on Norton’s side, Ken was declared WBC heavyweight champ in March of 1978; this after Ali-conqueror Leon Spinks refused to make his first defence of the WBC and WBA titles (just the two belts in those days; the IBF not to spring into existence in 1983) against Norton, “Neon Leon” instead choosing the more lucrative return fight with the ageing Ali.

But as much as Norton’s coronation was less than legit (a bemused, ailing Joe Louis was on hand, paid as he was to place a crown on Norton’s head; the beloved “Brown Bomber” not really knowing what was going on), Norton had beaten WBC #2 Jimmy Young, this in a final eliminator, the winner to fight Ali. Who knows who would have won had Spinks agreed to fight Norton?

As it was, Norton fought an unbeaten Larry Holmes in his first “defence.” Norton lost an epic 15 round war, yet his legitimacy as a genuine champion could not be denied. Indeed, some say the Holmes-Norton war ranks as the last great 15 round heavyweight title fight.

So Norton’s reign was brief, yet Kenny fought them all and he held his own when fighting during a golden era. Some experts say Norton deserved the decision in each of the three Ali fights, while the Holmes classic went right down to the wire and could have gone either way. In many ways, Ken Norton is the most underrated world heavyweight champion ever.

And Ken was a great guy, always willing to give fans the time of day. Norton passed away in September of 2013. He was for a time the heavyweight champion of the world.

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