Ken Norton, the former world heavyweight boxing champion who rose to prominence when he broke Muhammad Ali’s jaw the first time they met in the ring, died yesterday. He was 70.
Norton, who was badly injured in a car accident in 1986, had been ill for several years after a series of strokes, the Associated Press reported, citing a friend of the boxer that it didn’t identify.
Ken Norton Jr., a linebacker for 13 years for the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers and now an assistant coach with the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks, confirmed his father’s death in a phone call, AP said. The World Boxing Council reported Norton’s death on its website and declared a three-day period of mourning in boxing.
“They called us all handsome; Muhammad they called pretty, but the fairest of them all -- Ken Norton,” two-time heavyweight champion George Foreman said on his Twitter account last night.
Norton won his first bout with Ali in 1973 on a split decision in a non-title fight in San Diego. Ali won the rematch six months later and beat Norton again on Sept. 28, 1976, at Yankee Stadium in New York. Both bouts went the full 15 rounds.
“So saddened by the passing of Ken Norton Sr. and sending condolences to the Norton family,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said on his Twitter feed. “This hits close to home for all of us here.”
Norton was born Aug. 9, 1943, in Jacksonville, Illinois. He started boxing as a Marine before turning professional in 1967 at the age of 23.
Norton was the only fighter not to win the heavyweight title inside the ring. After Leon Spinks beat Ali to take the title in February 1978, the WBC ordered the champ to fight its No. 1 contender, Norton. A month later, after Spinks opted to fight Ali again, the WBC declared Norton its champion.
On June 9 that year Norton lost his title to Larry Holmes in a 15-round contest at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
“The final round of his fight against Larry Holmes showed Ken’s incredible fighting spirit,” the WBC said in a statement on its website last night. “Many consider it the greatest single round in boxing history. It defined Ken as a man.”
Norton fought five more times after losing to Holmes and was knocked out in the first round by Gerry Cooney at Madison Square Garden in his final bout, on May 11, 1981.
“Ken Norton was always nice to me even when I was just an amateur fighter,” former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson said on his Twitter feed. “He always treated me like I was somebody. Remarkable man.”
After retiring from boxing with a 42-7-1 record and 33 knockouts, Norton acted in about 20 movies, according to his website.
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