Former heavyweight champion Ken Norton who broke Muhammad Ali's jaw dies

Sep 19, 2013, 20:00 IST | Agencies

Former heavyweight champion Ken Norton, who beat Muhammad Ali and then lost a controversial decision to him in Yankee Stadium, has died at a local care facility, his son said

Former boxing champion Ken Norton, considered one of the greatest heavyweights of his era, died Wednesday at an Arizona care facility. He was 70.

The fighter was best known for beating Muhammad Ali in 1973, breaking the Hall of Famer's jaw in the process. 

This September 9, 1976 file photo shows Ken Norton (R) exchanging blows with world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali (L) during their 15-round title fight at Yankee Stadium in New York. Ali retained his crown on a points decision. Pic/AFP 

Norton had been in poor health for the last several years after suffering a series of strokes, a friend of the fighter said yesterday.

"He's been fighting the battle for two years," said Gene Kilroy, Ali's former business manager. "I'm sure he's in heaven now with all the great fighters. I'd like to hear that conversation."

Norton broke Ali's jaw in their first bout, beating him by split decision in 1973 in a non-title fight in San Diego.  

Ken Norton. Pic: AFP

They fought six months later, and Ali narrowly won a split decision. They met for a third time on September 28, 1976, at Yankee Stadium in New York and Ali narrowly won to keep his heavyweight title.

In 1974, Norton fought and lost to Foreman in Venezuela for the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association heavyweight titles. The fight was stopped in the second round after Foreman knocked him down three times.

Norton, who was nicknamed "The Black Hercules", won a heavyweight title eliminator in 1977 and was declared champion by the World Boxing Council. But on June 9, 1978, he lost a bruising 15-round fight to Larry Holmes in what many regard as one of boxing's epic heavyweight bouts and would never be champion again.

Norton finished with a record of 42-7-1 and 33 knockouts. He would later embark on an acting career, appearing in several movies, and was a commentator at fights. Norton lost only once in his early fights but had fought few fighters of any note when he was selected to meet Ali.

At the time, Ali was campaigning to try to win back the heavyweight crown he lost to Joe Frazier in 1973.

Tina Turner, Ken Norton
This 1977 handout file photo from the Las Vegas News Bureau shows former heavyweight boxing champion KenNorton helping US pop star Tina Turner jump rope in the ring at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. Pic/AFP

Few gave Norton much of a chance against Ali in the 1973 fight in San Diego, but his awkward style and close-in pressing tactics confused Ali and the win put him in the top echelon of heavyweight fighters. 

He fought in the 1970s era of magnificent heavyweights -- a group that also included Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Leon Spinks and Jimmy Young.

Norton was born in Jacksonville, Illinois, and was an award-winning athlete in American football and track and field at Jacksonville High School. His prowess on the gridiron earned him a scholarship to Northeast Missouri State University. He started boxing during his four year-stint in the United States Marine Corps, which he joined in 1963.

"They called us handsome. Muhammad they called pretty. But the fairest of them all Ken Norton," Foreman wrote on his Twitter page on Wednesday. "What a loss to all of us."

Other tributes also quickly poured in for Norton, who was once given the title of the "Father of the Year" by the Los Angeles Times in 1977.

"My heart has been heavy since hearing the news earlier today," boxer Larry Holmes wrote on Twitter. "He was a good man. #RIP #KenNorton."

Former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson said he met Norton when Tyson was still an amateur boxer.

"Today a great man passed away," Tyson wrote on Twitter. "A legend in the boxing world and a good man.

"Ken Norton was always nice to me even when I was just an amateur fighter. He always treated me like I was somebody. Remarkable man. Condolences to Ken Norton's family on this very sad day."

Norton had what some called an unconventional style. He would lean forward backing his opponent up while holding both arms up high and across his face like he was looking through the bars of a gridiron helmet.

That style helped him win scores of fights and after he retired he starred in movies, appearing in about 20 Hollywood films.

The character of Apollo Creed in "Rocky" was originally going to be played by Norton, but when he back out of the role, Carl Weathers took the job.

Norton was involved in a serious car accident in 1986 on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. He recovered, and three years later he was inducted to the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

Reflecting a strong athletic pedigree, one of Norton's sons, Ken Jr., played in the National Football League for the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.

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