Tribute: Ken Norton Was Short-Changed Many Times On Fights He’d Actually Won


Columnist says Norton, who died this week, should’ve been awarded more fights

[Tribute: Ken Norton]

Kenneth Howard Norton Sr., former W.B.C. Heavyweight champion of the mid-seventies died September 18, 2013 of congestive heart failure at age 70.

He was short-changed and denied victory in many fight he won.

When a person like Norton dies you almost fall into a backward mental trance trying to remember the achievements or perhaps his greatness. Norton’s step into the limelight of boxing and greatness for me began when he fought Muhammad Ali.

Norton, a relative unknown with a 31-1, 23kos fight record, not only defeated Ali by a split decision but broke his jaw. It was the beginning of a trilogy between them.

Norton became a boxing celebrity in a star-studded grand central station like community of heavyweights: Ernie Shavers, Ron Lyle, Larry Holmes, Leon Spinks, Gerry Cooney, Joe Frazier, Ali, and George Foreman, to name just a few.

Norton was trained by Eddie Futch who also trained “Smoking” Joe Frazier. He fought Ali three times losing two split decisions.  When he attempted to fight Ali a fourth time Ali refused preferring to fight Leon Spinks and losing.

All of his next two fights with Ali were brutal close losses that many felt (myself included) Norton should’ve won; especially the third fight which left Ali holding on for survival.

Many people believe it was Ken Norton not Joe Frazier or George Foreman who hurt Ali the most and caused his decline.

Sadly, Norton was really never considered a top heavyweight by rating standards. This was due to his knockout losses to Gerry Cooney, George Foreman, Ernie Shavers, Jose Luis Garcia, a journeyman fighter with a punch; plus his losses to Ali and then Larry Holmes, which was considered the fight of the year.

In the fight with Holmes in 1978, they both battered each other round after round with no let-up. It was 15 brutal rounds both hurting each other especially the toe-to-toe battle in the 15th.

Norton lost by a split decision. I honestly felt that Norton had won and retained his crown. Larry Holmes who defended his title the longest, second only to the great Joe Louis, later admitted that his fight with Ken Norton was the toughest of his 70 bouts. He conceded he actually thought he lost.

Ken Norton gave every opponent a tough fight perhaps many thought because he was a move-forward pressure fighter with his arms almost wrapped around his body in the same style of the old legendary “mongoose”, the former Light Heavyweight Champ, Archie Moore.

Many suspected (myself included), that was the real reason Ali refused to fight him a fourth time. His crossed- arm defense was troublesome for all of his opponents and actually was imitated with partial success, by George Foreman, Joe Frazier, and even Tim Witherspoon.

After losing to Holmes, Norton defeated Randy Stephens, then was knocked out by Ernie Shavers in the first round.

Continuing to fight without any real direction Norton then fought a draw with a future contender Scott LeDoux. A tiring Norton began to lose round after round especially after being poked in his eye in round 8 and being knocked down in the final round. The fight was declared a draw.

Ken Norton who was an outstanding athlete in High School playing Football and running Track and winning many championships. He attended Missouri State University on a Football Scholarship, majoring in Elementary Education.

Norton  joined the U.S. Marines after college and started boxing compiling a record of 24-2 record, while at the same time winning 3 All-Marine Heavyweight titles. Norton, because of his super muscular development was called, “Hercules”. He turned professional in 1967 scoring a record of 29-1, 23 knockouts before the first Ali fight which finally gave him instant rise to ring stardom.

When he finally retired at age 37, after losing to another rising boxing star and considered at that time, the “White Hope” of the heavyweights, Cooney, Norton had an enviable record of 50 fights, 42 wins, 7 losses, 1 draw, while scoring 33 knockouts, which of course included winning the W.B.C. Heavyweight crown, and the N.A.B.F. Heavyweight Title, by defeating Jerry Quarry.

After retirement he raised two boys Ken, Jr. and Keith. Norton went on to do Charitable work, helping Urban Youth; he was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame, International Boxing Hall of Fame, the United States Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame, and he was also twice voted “Father of the Year” by the Los Angeles Sentinel and the Los Angeles Times.

“Of all the titles I have been privileged to have, ‘Dad’ has always been the best,” Norton once said.

The son, Ken, Jr. went on to play in the N.F.L. with “America’s Team”, the Dallas Cowboys under coach Tom Landry, winning 3 Super Bowls, while the other son, Keith became a Sports Anchorman for K.P.R.C. in Houston. Ken, Jr. would shadow box in the end zone every time he scored a defensive touchdown to honor his father, Ken, Sr.

He is now a Defensive Coach for the Seattle Seahawks.

As big and successful as Ken Norton was in football in College he still opted for a career in the “hurt” business–boxing.

Ken Norton began a busy career in TV and movies appearing in more than 20 motion pictures the greatest of which was playing the lead role as “Mandingo” in Kyle Onstott’s classic movie of the same name.

Onstott had written a series of 12 novels depicting the tragedy of slavery which to me was an actual precursor to Alex Haley’s “Roots”. Norton was actually the first choice to play Apollo Creed in “Rocky”, but when he pulled out the part of course went to actor, Carl Weathers.

Norton kept very busy making many public speaking appearances as well as TV and radio shows until he suffered the near fatal car accident in 1986 which rendered him very lethargic. He ended up with slow and slurred of speech; and last year he suffered a stroke.

There are many of us who knew Norton and felt that he was among the greatest of all heavyweights.

He got “short-ended” on many decisions that he won.

God’s Blessings always champ.


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