Ken Norton 1943 - 2013

I’d never heard of Ken Norton until I saw him fight Henry Clark in 1972. He knocked Clark out in the ninth round. He looked like a film star. He was an ex-marine with rugged good looks, droopy moustache and a physique that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Mister Universe contest. No wonder they called him “The Black Hercules.”

Four months later he was fighting Muhammad Ali for the North American Boxing Federation ( NABF) Heavyweight title.

Most experts gave him no chance. Ali would be too good. Ali would dance around the ring and just pick him off round by round. Most believed that Ali would win on points. Comfortably.

The great thing about Norton was that he had no reverse gear. It was just forward. He never stopped going forward. Ali danced, shuffled, used the full size of the ring but no matter where he went Norton was there constantly throwing punches. Norton had an unorthodox style of fighting. He wasn’t head down and bulldozing forward like Frazier. He stood upright with one arm across his torso and the other jabbing away constantly. Early on in the fight Norton caught Ali with a big punch while Ali was doing his usual. Talking!

 Big lesson for all young fighters, never, never have your mouth open while boxing. If you do and get caught with a punch it’ll break your jaw.

Norton broke Ali’s jaw. At the end of the round Ali went back to his corner knowing that there was a major problem. Nothing they could do about it. Ali would have to continue the fight and defend his chin as best he could. Not easy with a man like Norton in front of you who just keeps coming forward and throwing big punches.

The unthinkable happened, Norton won the fight on points. Ali had been beaten.

Six months later and there was a return. This time Ali was fully aware of Norton’s power and style. He fought a great fight and narrowly won on points.

Norton’s next outing was against George Foreman. This was Foreman at his brutal best. He destroyed Norton in two rounds.

Now most fighters would have thought about retirement at this stage, or at least a long rest to fully recover. Not Ken Norton. Twelve weeks later he was back in the ring and beating Boone Kirkman in seven rounds. Over the next two years he had another six fights all against leading American heavyweights. He won them all. Not one of them went the distance. Now it was time to fight Ali again, for the third time.

A date was set for 28th September 1976 at the Yankee Stadium in New York. It was a sell out.

For me, it was his best fight. He had absolutely no fear of Ali. He never stopped going forward and hurt Ali on numerous occasions. At the end of 15 fiercely fought rounds just about everyone had Norton ahead on their score cards. Everyone that is except the judges. They gave it to Ali.

Boxing can be a cruel sport and at times corrupt. Norton was robbed that day.

After such a massive disappointment and at the age of 33 no one could have blamed him if he’d decided to hang up his gloves. But he carried on, winning his next three fights. After beating Jimmy Young he was now the number one contender for the World Title held by Leon Spinks.

Spinks decided that the bigger payday would be a rematch with Muhammed Ali and refused to fight Norton. Because of this he was stripped of his WBC title and it was given to Norton.

Ken Norton was now the Heavyweight Champion of the World without having to step in the ring.

His first defence was against Larry Holmes. He was now 35 and was past his best. Holmes was younger, fitter and in his prime. But it was to be one of the best Heavyweight fights of its time. They were even after 14 rounds and the 15th would decide the winner. It was close, very close. It could have gone either way. Holmes was given the verdict. Perhaps this was the day Ken Norton should have retired. He was never quite as good again. He fought for another three years and retired after being beaten by Gerry Cooney in 1981.

After boxing, his physique and good looks helped him land some acting jobs. He starred in the A-Team and Knight Rider. Unfortunately he had a near fatal car crash in 1986 which left him with slurred speech.

He was featured in a documentary film called “Champions Forever” along with Ali, Frazier and Foreman. If you get a chance, watch it, it shows just how humble this great fighter was.

Ken Norton passed away earlier today at the age of 70.

The word “Great” is too easily used when describing sportsman these days. But think of this, if Muhammad Ali was the greatest of all time, what do you call the man that beat him not just once but ( if justice had been done) twice.

RIP Ken.



I've heard of Ken Norton, but don't know much about him, but the way you write about him makes me want to know more about him. Ali, from what I understand, fed off of other people and himself. He constantly was talking and inciting others to react to what he said. He liked to draw from the positive energy surrounding him and the negative energy too. In this sense, there was a "Tao" to Muhammed Ali and perhaps Ali was even influenced by Bruce Lee and his "chi." Also, Muhammed Ali's fights were not only physical fights. There were really the fights of the Afro-American man vs the white man or the black man. When I say "black," I am referring to those Afro-Americans who cannot trace their heritage due to slavery and whitewashing. Although I have a huge problem with the Nation of Islam, I can understand why he joined the group. Muhammed Ali was a great inspiration to me in times of trouble but again, his womanizing troubles me. He had great charisma, and Will Smith's mediocre portrayal of him does not do him justice. He's the greatest because he made boxing into an event of universal proportions. It was not just a fight, but the fight between good and evil, black vs white, etc. But all that went away when some of his fights were fixed again by the Nation of Islam probably. He got Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Mailer and other excited about boxing. His body was perfect... he was probably illuminated like the Buddha many times in his life because he repressed nothing. He was pure poetry and he danced. By the way illumination is not as rare as the Dalai Lama may think. I am pretty sure that academics at Harvard, Yale and other places get illuminated 3 of 4 times a year. They might think that they are going mad, but their psychology changes and the ego is restructured to absorb the new knowledge that they have acquired. That's why we call Muhammed Ali the Greatest. He was a great actor too. But you're right. If you are talking about sheer physical strength, Muhammed Ali was not necessarily the Greatest. George Foreman was much stronger, but Ali won with the surprise right jab and the African people yelling "Kill Foreman." This was a religious sacrifice of Greek proportions. You don't have to be the strongest to win the fight. If you have a better strategy, you can win against a much superior person. Muhammed was alaways thinking of how to improve his strategy, but then later, he got lazy. Bruce Lee was always thinking of how to improve too. I always loved watching movies or documentaries about Muhammed Ali because I hated America too for much the same reasons that he hated America. There are no yellow angels. Many 1st Generation Koreans, I cannot stand their slavishness, their unwillingness to criticize Americans, and their constant prejudices against the blacks and hispanics. But the blacks and hispanics are pretty rude to asians so it goes back and forth, but what kills me the most is the fact that most Asian-Americans think white is right and agree with what white people say most of the time. Buddhism and this idea of the ego being illusory has really killed the Eastern Ego from being born. Shamanism too. Shintoism is ritualized Shamanism with an intensely hierarchical emphasis.


Thanks for the read Steve and the in debth comment. I'm glad that my writing may want you to find out more about Ken Norton. In an era when the Heavyweights were playing mind games with each other both inside and outside the ring, Ken Norton was the quiet man who just got on with his boxing. he did his "talking" inside the ring only and with both hands. His three bouts with Ali were nothing like the trilogy between Frazier and Ali, where there was real hatred between them after Ali called Frazier an "Uncle Tom".

After they both retired they became quite close ( Ali and Frazier) but there was always a bit of tension there.

Quite simply he was one of the outstanding heavyweights of his generation and shouldn't be overshadowed by names such as Ali, Foreman and Frazier.

Once again thanks for the read. 


I really enjoyed reading this jolono. Everybody knows Muhammed Ali. Few remember Ken Norton. I remember the name and that's about it. I must admit I like the man's style. He's a boxer. He boxes. No circus, just got on with it. Probably that's why he's not remembered as well as the others you mentioned. As we recently saw with that Scottish world champion who broke his jaw and unbelieveably got a draw to retain his world title these things haven't changed much.


Your right CM. Ricky Burns is a loveable guy but didn't win the fight that night. Beltran won it. But it was classed as a draw, so he gets  a re-match. Controversy as always in boxing!


If we all worked together, things would be better in the end. But the simple fact is that we are set against each other. Competition, in biological terms, is the introduction of opposing tendencies in a person's psyche. We compete and we are set against each other and the competition is to prove who is the best. Everyone wants to be the best, but, in the end, only one team or individual can be the best. And then, once someone becomes the best, the goal of the next generation is to beat that person. This has replaced ritual sacrifice. Achilles is the aristos akhaion, the best of the Achaions, and because he is so, he must be sacrificed because he is a threat to the Gods, the old archetypes. In modern times, there are no sacrifices anymore except car crashes (cars kill more than guns), random shootings, etc. I do really admire Ken Norton and you wrote very authentically about him. All this ritual and romance can actually lead to the bringing back of the ancient world... the old aristocratic world of ancient Greece... where the good is the beautiful and the bad is the ugly... where America is thought of as the only civilized country and the rest of the world is barbarian and they need to be conquered.


Thanks Steve.