*Former heavyweight champion Ken Norton returned to God yesterday, and one could not forget the contributions that he left in the world of boxing.
He fought in an era of true modern heavyweights ranging from “Smokin” Joe Frazier, Jimmy Ellis, Ernie Shavers, Jerry Quarry, Ron Lyle, big George Foreman, to the great Muhammad Ali whom he went against three times, the first in which he broke Ali’s jaw and won the bout at the end of fifteen.
This bout was held at the Sports Arena in San Diego, Calif., in 1973.
He was a big man with a Hercules type of body that other fighters envied. The interesting thing about him though was the fact that he was a mild mannered man with a low key personality.
In this writers opinion, he didn’t get the accolades that he deserved.
He could punch hard , and had an awkward defense and he stood up to the very best that was out there.
He was awarded the WBC heavyweight title when Leon Spinks refused to defend it and instead chose to fight Ali for a more lucrative deal. That set up a bout with Larry Holmes in which would be his first defense of that title. A match that would go down in the annuls of boxing history.
This bout was held on June 9th 1978 in Las Vegas, Nevada at Caesars’ Palace in the Sports Pavilion live on ABC Wide World of Sports in what many boxing observers consider to be one of the greatest fights in boxing history.
This bout went the distance of fifteen and ended on a split decision with two of the ringside judges scoring it 143-142 for Holmes, and another scoring it 143-142 for Norton.
He went on from boxing and established a movie career appearing in several films including Dino De Laurentiis’ “Mandingo,” in which he played the role of an African slave.
One of his five children Ken Norton jr. became a pro football player with the Dallas Cowboys, and the San Francisco 49’s and is currently a coach with the Seattle Sea Hawks.
He ended his boxing career with an impressive ring record of 42-7-1 with 33 coming by way of knockout.
He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canasota, New York in 1992.
He was one nice guy and one of the last times I had a chance to see him was a couple of years ago when he Joe Frazier, Ernie Shavers, Leon Spinks, Ron Lyle, and Mike Tyson were signing autographs in the lobby of the MGM Grand the week when Timothy Bradley was going against Juan Marquez.
And although he had a couple of strokes in recent years he was still getting around gingerly at the time.
He died yesterday in Arizona of congestive heart failure at age 70.
He truly will be missed, may God’s peace and blessings be upon him.
Southern California based Mohammed Mubarak’s Ringside Update column can also be seen in the Pace News, the Inland Valley News, and the High Desert Inland Valley News. Mohammed is a portrait artist as well. He can be contacted at [email protected] for your comments.