Late yesterday, the boxing world received sad news about the passing of Hall of Famer and popular 70s heavyweight contender and titlist Ken Norton. Most famous for being the second man to defeat Muhammad Ali (and breaking The Greatest’s jaw in the process), Norton’s career was highly accomplished beyond his three close fights with Ali. Here on BeatsBoxingMayhem, we recount a few signature moments from the career of Ken Norton.
6. JERRY QUARRY (MARCH 24, 1975)
By this time, Norton was already considered a high-level contender having split two fights with Muhammad Ali in 1973, and challenged George Foreman for the title in 1974. After getting blasted out in two by Foreman, Norton was climbing back up the ladder to earn a shot at the title that was in the hands of Ali.
Jerry Quarry was the other top heavyweight to have never won a title. It made perfect sense for these two to meet, especially with Norton having boasted that Quarry was made to order for him. That proved true in spades, as the faded Quarry was no match for Norton’s crab defense or counter-punching, which shook Quarry badly with a frightening array of uppercuts and hooks.
Quarry was game, and even got Norton’s attention a few times with his power, but the writing was on the wall from the opening round. The beating was mercifully stopped in the fifth.
5. JOSE LUIS GARCIA II (AUGUST 14, 1975)
Having just ended the career of Jerry Quarry as a serious contender five months before, Norton sought to excise some demons when he rematched Jose Luis Garcia on August 14.
Back in 1970, Garcia, then a 12-2-1 fighter, knocked Norton out in the eighth round. This time, a mature, confident Norton bullied the hard-hitting but limited Garcia inside with an assortment of hard hooks to the body and head. Like Quarry before him, Garcia had no answer for Norton’s crab defense or physical strength.
A left hook dropped Garcia to his knees in the fourth. Two more hooks to the body would hurt him badly at the round’s end. The fifth and final round saw Garcia take another disembowelment downstairs before another left hook in the gut dropped him good.
4. DUANE BOBICK (MAY 11, 1977)
You’ve seen this story repeated over and over in boxing. A prospect feasts on washed up fighters and builds up a sparkling undefeated record that’s hollow on closer inspection. Said prospect then meets a capable fighter. Now unprepared for the step-up due to the previous low-level of competition, said prospect gets his head handed to him.
This was the case when Duane Bobick, 38-0 going into this fight, faced Ken Norton, in a bout that was supposed to propel Bobick to a title shot against Muhammad Ali. Norton, still obviously angered in losing a highly disputed decision to Ali just four months before, put an end to Bobick’s title hopes with a few hard overhand rights.
3. JIMMY YOUNG (NOVEMBER 5, 1977, WBC HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH)
Facing Jimmy Young was a nightmare for any heavyweight in the late 70s (ask Ali and Foreman). Young made up for his lack of power with elusiveness that made him difficult for most heavyweights to land any clean punches. He drew you into a tactical fight and his fast hands made him adept at counter-punching.
It was no different for Norton, who battled Young to take a controversial split decision to capture his first world title.
2. THE ALI TRILOGY (1973, 1976)
You could make a clear argument that Ken Norton, and not Joe Frazier, was Ali’s most difficult foe. Ali at least got two decisive, albeit physically taxing victories, over Smokin’ Joe. That’s not the case with Norton, where you can easily argue that Ali is 0-3 in their series.
Why did Norton give Ali so many issues? Norton had a strong jab to counter Ali’s own. Shooting it from behind the crab defense, Ali would find himself driven to the ropes where Norton worked the body and forced tie-ups. In addition, Norton fought out of a slight crouch — combined with the crab stance, it made Ali struggle to land his normally accurate right hand.
When Ali moved, he had a much easier time piling up points on the slower Norton, who tended to drag his backfoot due to his stance. But a 70s Ali needed more breaks than his younger 60s counterpart, allowing Norton to always catch up with him by the middle rounds and make it a back and forth battle in the deciding championship rounds.
1. LARRY HOLMES (JUNE 9, 1978)
Making his first defense as champion, Norton faced a young Larry Holmes and engaged in one of the best action heavyweight fights in history. Holmes, with his famed jab, jumped out to an early lead. But much like his mentor Ali, Holmes soon found himself in a complete dogfight in the middle and late rounds as Norton’s aggression never ceased.
Holmes pulled out a razor-thin split decision (143-142 twice, 142-143) over 15 rounds in a fight that legitimized him and served as the last great fight in Norton’s career.