Ken Norton, 42-7-1, 33 KO’s was a world champion and a force in the heavyweight division during an era considered the best ever for that weight class. However, does being the fifth best fighter of the heavyweight division during the 1970’s make him a hall-of-famer though?
After playing at Northeast Missouri State on a football scholarship, Norton entered the Marines where he began to box. After compiling an amateur record of 24-2 and winning the All-Marine Heavyweight Championship three times. Norton won the U.S. trials for the 1967 Pan American Games; however, he was passed over for another heavyweight because his “crab-like” style was considered to be flawed for the international games.
Norton, a tremendous all-around athlete, possessed an awkward and powerful style that troubled Muhammad Ali three times. Despite being a 5 to 1 underdog against the #1 contender, Norton broke Ali’s jaw in their first encounter and walked away with a twelve-round split decision verdict. However, in their rematch six months later, Ali rebounded and won a split decision in another grueling twelve-round battle. After splitting a pair of fights with Muhammad Ali in 1973, Norton was given a title opportunity with the world heavyweight champion George Foreman the following year. Foreman blew out Norton in only two rounds.
Norton fought Ali for the third and final time on September 28, 1976. Ali, who regained the World Heavyweight Championship from George Foreman two years earlier, retained the title with a controversial fifteen-round unanimous decision.
In 1977, Norton, who knocked out previously unbeaten Duane Bobick in one round and defeated Jimmy Young by a fifteen-round split-decision in a WBC title-eliminator, became the mandatory challenger for the winner of the upcoming fight between Ali and Leon Spinks. Spinks defeated Ali for the World Heavyweight Championship, but instead of making his first defense against Norton, Spinks chose to have an immediate rematch with Ali. As a consequence, the WBC stripped Spinks of the title and awarded it to Norton by virtue of his victory over Young.
Norton made his first defense of the WBC title on June 9, 1978, against Larry Holmes and lost by a fifteen-round split decision. With the loss, Norton became the only World Heavyweight Champion never to win a world title fight. The fifteenth and final round of the Holmes-Norton fight may be one of the greatest rounds ever in the history of the heavyweight division. The contest itself may have been one of the five best fights ever in the division as well. Unfortunately, Norton, who was never able to earn an opportunity to regain his title, was blown out in one round by one of the division’s hardest punchers, Earnie Shavers in a title-elimination bout.
Ken Norton never fought “Smokin” Joe Frazier, but did fight three of the best heavyweights of his era, winning only one of the five contests. The Ali-Norton trilogy was a great series of fights, with Ali winning two very close fights. However, Norton never won a heavyweight title fight (0-3), and failed to make one successful title defense of his crown that he was handed. There were heavyweight champions that had a more impressive resume than the former-marine, but they will never get in. Some may argue that Ken Norton, who was a very good fighter, should not be in the I.B.H.O.F.
However, Ken Norton played an instrumental role in the heavyweight division during a time when boxing was still in the limelight in the sport’s world. The heavyweight division of the 1970’s gave the world some of the greatest fights in the history of boxing, and Norton was right in the mix of things. For his participation in one of the division’s best decades, Norton rightfully deserves his place in Canastota, N.Y. with the other all-time greats.
In 1977,Ken Norton was the Boxing Writers Association of America Fighter of the Year. Also, Norton was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.Contact the Feature Writers