By Sandra Birungi
Boxer, Ken Norton who defeated Mohammed Ali in the 1973 fight has died aged 70.
Norton passed away yesterday, Wednesday aged 70. Ali’s former business manager and Norton’s food friend Gene Kilroy visited Norton at the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Las Vegas two weeks ago and said he was unable to speak. “He was a good guy and an outstanding fighter,” Kilroy said. “I can tell you this: Ali had tremendous respect for him. He had that awkward style, where he’d shoot his jab up from the waist, and it was very unusual. Most guys throw the jab from the shoulder, and that always gave Ali trouble.”
Norton came from an unknown heavyweight into one of the most famous boxers in the world after beating Ali on March 31, 1973 at the San Diego Sports Arena. An ex-Marine, Norton broke Ali’s jaw in the second round and went on to earn a split-decision victory. Norton was a hit during the days of Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Larry Holmes among many others competing at a high level.
In a rematch, Ali beat Norton but praised Norton saying, “Norton is a better fighter than any other fighter I’ve fought, except maybe Joe Frazier,” Ali said. Norton was 42-7-1 with 33 knockouts and briefly held the WBC heavyweight title. He was awarded the WBC belt in 1978 when then champion Leon Spinks opted to face Ali in a rematch rather than defend it against Norton.
“He was a truly a nice guy and he was a dedicated, brave, hard-working fighter,” said Top Rank’s Bob Arum, who promoted several of Norton’s fights. “He struggled against guys who could really punch: Foreman, Earnie Shavers, [Gerry] Cooney, even a guy like Duane Bobick. But he was a tough out for anyone and when he was fighting someone who wasn’t a massive fighter, he was right in the fight all the time.”
Norton was also an actor and starred in the movie, “Mandingo,” as well as several television shows. He is the father of former NFL linebacker Ken Norton Jr.