Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Heavyweight champ Ken Norton dies; he beat Ali

LAS VEGAS — Former heavyweight champion Ken Norton Sr., who beat Muhammad Ali and later lost a controversial decision to the boxing legend in Yankee Stadium, died Wednesday at a care facility. He was 70.

Ken Norton Jr., a linebackers coach with the Seahawks, confirmed the death to the Associated Press before handing the phone to his wife, too distraught to talk.

Mr. Norton, the only heavyweight champion never to win the title in the ring, had been in poor health the last several years after suffering a series of strokes, a friend of the fighter said.

"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."

Mr. Norton, who started boxing when he was in the Marines, had few fights of note when he was selected to meet Ali. But he broke Ali's jaw in their first bout, winning a split decision in 1973 in a non-title fight in San Diego. Six months later, Ali won a split decision. They met for a third time Sept. 28, 1976, at Yankee Stadium and Ali narrowly won to keep his heavyweight title.

The next year Mr. Norton won a heavyweight title eliminator and was declared champion by the World Boxing Council. But on June 9, 1978, he lost a 15-rounder to Larry Holmes in what many regard as one of boxing's epic heavyweight bouts. Mr. Norton was never champion again.

"Kenny was a good, good fighter. He beat a lot of guys," said Ed Schuyler Jr., who covered many of Mr. Norton's fights for the Associated Press. "He gave Ali fits because Ali let him fight coming forward instead of making him back up."

Few gave Mr. Norton, who possessed a muscular, sculpted body, much of a chance against Ali in the first fight. But his awkward style and close-in pressing tactics confused his opponent, and Mr. Norton broke Ali's jaw on the way to the decision. Kilroy said after the fight Mr. Norton visited Ali at the hospital where he was getting his broken jaw wired. Ali, he said, told him he was a great fighter and he never wanted to fight him again. Instead, they would meet two more times, including the final fight at Yankee Stadium that went 15 rounds, won by Ali in a decision.

Mr. Norton (42-7-1, 33 knockouts) later became an actor, appearing in several movies.

Mr. Norton was badly injured in a near-fatal car accident in 1986. He recovered but never regained his full physical mobility.

Kilroy said Mr. Norton was visited at the veteran's hospital in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson by former fighters, including Mike Tyson, Earnie Shavers and Thomas Hearns.

Heavyweight champ Ken Norton dies; he beat Ali 09/18/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 10:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. What Wilson Ramos will mean to the Rays lineup, pitching

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chris Archer was stumping for all-star votes for Corey Dickerson during a live interview Wednesday morning on the MLB Network when he lifted the right earpiece on his headset and said, "I hear a buffalo coming."

    Tampa Bay Rays catcher Wilson Ramos (40) waves to the crowd after being presented with the Silver Slugger Award before the start of the game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
  2. Jameis Winston as 2017 NFL MVP? 66-to-1 odds from Vegas


    Could Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston be an NFL MVP in 2017? It's certainly unlikely, but the sports book at Bovada has opening lines with Winston getting 66-to-1 odds, worse than 22 other players across the league.

    Bucs fans would be very happy if quarterback Jameis WInston can put himself into consideration for the NFL MVP award during the 2017 season.
  3. Deon Cain, Duke Dawson, Derrick Nnadi among SI's top 100 players


    Sports Illustrated's countdown of the top 100 players in college football continues with three more local players.

  4. The greatest coaches never to win it all


    As foregone conclusions go, some things are approaching the death-and-taxes stratosphere: summer humidity in Florida, a Kardashian seeking attention, and Mike Martin coming up short in Omaha.

    Florida State coach Mike Martin walks to the mound to talk to pitcher Cole Sands during the second inning of the team's NCAA College World Series baseball game against LSU Wednesday in Omaha, Neb. [AP photo]
  5. Bucs fans ranked 25th in study of NFL teams


    The Bucs and their fans are ranked 25th in an Emory University study of NFL teams' "fan base and branding analysis."

    Bucs fans were on their feet for this fourth-quarter play at home against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium in 2015.