Former world heavyweight champion;
Born: September 8, 1943; Died: September 18, 2013
Ken Norton, who has died aged 70, was a former world heavyweight champion who was most famous for beating Muhammad Ali and breaking his jaw.
He won the world heavyweight title in 1978 although there was more than an element of farce in the way it happened. Reigning champion Leon Spinks had refused to fight Norton so the World Boxing Council stripped Spinks of his title and handed it to Norton on a plate.
However, Norton deserves to be known for more than being the only world heavyweight champion to be gifted the title without boxing for it. Before being awarded the title, he had already paid his dues by not only comprehensively outpointing Ali in March 1973, but also handing The Greatest only his second loss in the ring.
Ali and Norton met again in 1976 and most knowledgeable judges who were there believe Norton rather than Ali should have been crowned the winner at the end of 15 rounds in which Norton outboxed Ali for long spells.
Norton was born in Jacksonville and showed no real interest in boxing at high school. Instead, he shone in track, field and American football - so much so that he won a scholarship to North-East Missouri State university where he spent two years before joining the United States Marine Corps.
It was there in the USMC that he took up boxing, winning 24 bouts against just two losses and winning the All-Marine heavyweight title three times.
He turned professional in 1967 and boxed mainly in California where he ran up a 16-bout winning streak against obscure opposition before being knocked out for the first time by a rated contender Jose Luis Garcia, whom Norton subsequently defeated in a 1972 rematch.
At this stage, Norton was more famed for his body-beautiful physique than his ranking as a potential world champion and there was more than a touch of the fictional Rocky Balboa scenario in March 1973 when Ali - an ex champion looking to re-establish his titleholder credentials - hit upon Norton as the ideal semi-obscure, not-too-dangerous opponent to look good against, even if the bout did take place in Norton's adopted Californian hometown of San Diego.
But just as the fictional Rocky provided a nasty, unexpected surprise to the fictional Apollo Creed, so too did Norton against The Greatest. In the first round he broke Ali's jaw and his style of jabbing from below rather then the traditional straight forward left jab trajectory flummoxed Ali - as Ali admitted later. Norton's international stock rocketed overnight.
In 1974, Norton was given the chance to fight George Foreman for the world heavyweight title but he froze against the intimidating presence of his opponent and was knocked out inside two very one-sided rounds.
However, Norton proved intimations of his demise as a top world heavyweight contender were exaggerated by going on to beat top Irish-American challenger, Jerry Quarry, for the North American Federation heavyweight title and avenging his previous defeat by Jose Luis Garcia in 1975.
Around this time, Norton's physique won him the part of a slave in the pot boiling bodice ripper movie, Mandingo, with British actress Susan George, but boxing remained his main focus. He fought Easton Pennsylvania's Larry Holmes, in what was to prove to be Norton's first and only defence of his WBC world title.
The fight on June 8 1978 in Las Vegas was a classic with the final 15th round being acknowledged as one of the most excitingly brutal in heavyweight boxing history, with Holmes the judges' pick as winner and new heavyweight champion.
Thereafter, Norton's declining status as a top heavyweight was accelerated by two first round technical knockouts in 1979 and 1981 by big punchers Earnie Shavers and Gerry Cooney. The defeat by Cooney convinced Norton to retire from boxing.
But fortune did not favour the brave after his ring career ended. The thrill of his son Ken Norton junior becoming a top American football star was tempered by the pair falling out and being alienated for a long period, although they made up by the time of Norton's death.
After a road accident in the 1980s, he was left with serious physical and speech brain damage for a time, although he typically fought back to appear on the DVD Champions Forever in which he was reunited with old foes Ali, Foreman, and Holmes. In more recent years a series of strokes had taken their toll on Norton's health.
He was inducted into boxing's International Hall of Fame at Canastota, New York State, in 1992. He is survived by his son Ken Norton junior.
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