Kenneth Howard Norton Sr. (August 9, 1943 – September 18, 2013) was an American professional boxer who competed from 1967 to 1981, and held the WBC heavyweight title in 1978. He is best known for his trilogy with Muhammad Ali, in which Norton won the first fight by split decision, and controversially lost the latter two fights by split and unanimous decision, respectively. Norton also fought a slugfest with Larry Holmes in 1978, narrowly losing a split decision. Having officially retired from boxing in 1981, Norton was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.
Norton was an outstanding athlete at Jacksonville High School. He was selected to the all-state team Football team on defense as a senior in 1960. His track coach entered him in eight events, and Norton placed first in seven of them. As a result, the "Ken Norton Rule", which limits participation of an athlete to a maximum of four track and field events, was instituted in Illinois high school sports. After graduating from high school, Norton went to Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State University) on a football scholarship and studied elementary education. In an interview with ESPN Fitness Magazine in 1985, Norton said that he would have become a teacher or a policeman if he had not taken up boxing.
Norton started boxing when he was in the United States Marine Corps from 1963 to 1967, compiling a 24–2 record en route to three All-Marine Heavyweight titles. In time, he became the best boxer to ever fight for the Marines, and was awarded the North Carolina AAU Golden Gloves, International AAU and Pan American titles. Following the National AAU finals in 1967, he turned professional.
Norton built up a steady string of wins, some against journeyman fighters and others over fringe contenders like the giant Jack O'Halloran. He was learning and improving. But he suffered a surprise defeat, ironically just after The Ring magazine had profiled him as a prospect, at the hands of heavy hitting Venezuelan boxer Jose Luis Garcia in 1970. It was justifiably Garcia's career peak. But Garcia was overpowered, both then as rated contenders, in their rematch five years later.
Norton was given the motivational book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, which, as he states in his autobiography, Going the Distance, changed his life. Shortly before he died, Norton stated "Think and Grow Rich changed my life dramatically. I was going to fight Muhammad Ali. I was a green fighter, but yet I won, all through reading this book." Upon reading Think and Grow Rich, he went on a 14-fight winning streak, including the shocking victory noted above over Muhammad Ali in 1973 to win the North American Boxing Federation heavyweight champion title. To quote Norton from his autobiography noted above, "These words (from Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich) were the final inspiration in my victory over Ali: Life's battles don't always go to the stronger or faster man, but sooner or later the man who wins is the man who thinks he can." Norton also took a complete course by Napoleon Hill on gaining wealth and peace of mind. "It can be related to anybody, to be the best in a career, to think positive", said Norton.
An article which appeared in The Southeast Missourian discussed that Norton credited Napoleon Hill's philosophy for his success. To quote from the article, "Norton says he's a believer in Napoleon Hill's philosophy, that a person can do anything he puts his mind to. 'So I train for my fights,' he says, 'mentally as well as physically. One thing I do is only watch films of the fights in which I've done well or in which my opponent has done poorly.'"
Norton once said, "In boxing, and in all of life, nobody should ever stop learning!"
'Name' opponents were elusive in Norton's early career. His first big break came with a clear win over respected contender Henry Clark. This helped get him his world recognition break when Ali agreed to a match. Joe Frazier, who'd sparred with Norton, presciently said of Ali, "He'll have plenty of trouble!" Though both were top boxers in the mid 1970s, Norton and Frazier never fought each other, in part because they shared the same trainer, Eddie Futch, and also that they were friends.
For the first match, on March 31, 1973, Muhammad Ali entered the ring at the San Diego Sports Arena wearing a robe given to him by Elvis Presley as a 5–1 favorite versus Ken Norton, then rated a number 6 world contender in a bout televised by ABC's Wide World of Sports. Norton won a 12-round split decision over Ali in his adopted hometown of San Diego to win the NABF heavyweight title. In this bout, Norton broke Ali's jaw (he maintains in round eleven, though Angelo Dundee said it was earlier), leading to only the second defeat for "The Greatest" in his career. (Ali's only previous loss was to Joe Frazier, and Ali would later go on to defeat George Foreman to regain the heavyweight title in 1974.)
Almost six months later at The Forum in Inglewood, California, on September 10, 1973, Ali avenged the Norton loss but only after he got the return by a split decision. Norton weighed in at 205 lbs (5 pounds lighter than his first match with Ali) and boxing scribes discussed that his preparation was too intense and that perhaps he had overtrained. There were some furious exchanges in this hard-fought battle. From Ali's point of view, a loss here would have seriously dented his claim of ever being "The Greatest." During the ABC broadcast of the fight, broadcaster (and Ali confidant and friend) Howard Cosell repeatedly told viewers a dancing and jabbing Ali was dominating the action despite Norton's constant offense and Ali's inability to penetrate Norton's awkward defensive style. The close and controversial scoring was in stark contrast to Cosell's fight-long insistence that Ali had matters well in hand.
In 1974, Norton fought George Foreman for the world heavyweight championship and was knocked out in the second round at Poliedro of Caracas, Venezuela. After an even first round, Foreman staggered Norton with an uppercut a minute into round two, buckling him into the ropes. Norton did not hit the canvas, but continued on wobbly legs, clearly not having recovered, and shortly he went down a further two times in quick succession, with the referee intervening and stopping the fight. This fight would become known as the "Caracas Caper".
In 1975, Norton regained the NABF heavyweight title when he impressively defeated Jerry Quarry by TKO in the fifth round. Norton then avenged his above-mentioned 1970 loss to Jose Luis Garcia by decisively knocking out Garcia in round five.
On September 28, 1976, at Yankee Stadium in New York City, Norton would again fight Ali, who was now the world heavyweight champion since regaining the title with an eighth-round knockout of George Foreman in 1974. Many observers have felt this was the beginning of Ali's decline as a boxer. It was a tough bruising battle for Ali. In one of the most disputed fights in history, the fight was even on the judges' scorecards going into the final round, which Ali won on both the referee's and judges' scorecards to retain the world heavyweight championship. The judges scored the bout 8–7 for Ali, and the referee scored it 8–6 for Ali. At the end of the last round, the commentator announced he would be "very surprised" if Norton has not won the fight.
At the time of the third Ali-Norton bout, the last time a heavyweight champion had lost the title by decision was Max Baer to Jim Braddock 41 years earlier, and Ali-Norton III did not set a new marker. The January 1998 issue of Boxing Monthly listed Ali-Norton as the fifth most disputed title fight decision in boxing history. The unofficial UPI scorecard was 8–7 for Norton, and the unofficial AP scorecards were 9–6 for Ali (Ed Schuyler), 8–7 Norton (Wick Temple)..
But Ali had received a pounding. His tactics were to try to push Norton back, but they had failed. He'd refused to 'dance' until the 9th when in sheer desperation, although the crowd massively roared its appreciation. Norton has said the third fight with Ali was the last boxing match for which he was fully motivated, owing to his disappointment at having lost a fight he believed he had clearly won.
1977 was a top year for Norton. He knocked out previously unbeaten top prospect Duane Bobick in just one round. Then dispatched European title holder Lorenzo Zanon in a 'tune-up' fight. Light-hitting but fast, Zanon was actually well ahead until a burst of heavy punches put him down and out.
Norton next beat polished number two contender Jimmy Young (who himself had beaten George Foreman and Ron Lyle) via 15-round split decision in a WBC title-elimination bout, with the winner to face reigning WBC champion Ali. (However, Ali's camp told Ring Magazine they did not want to fight Norton for a fourth time.) Both boxers fought a smart fight, with Norton using a heavy body attack whilst Young moved well and countered. The decision was controversial, with many observers thinking Young had done enough to win.
Plans, however, changed on February 15, 1978. On that night, in front of a nationwide television audience, Ali lost his title to Leon Spinks. The WBC then ordered a match between the new champion and its number one contender, but Spinks chose instead to give the fallen champion the first shot at taking his title rather than face Norton. The WBC responded on March 18, 1978, by retroactively giving title fight status to Norton's victory over Young the year before and awarded Norton their championship, which split the heavyweight championship for the first time since Jimmy Ellis and Joe Frazier were both recognized as champions in the early 1970s.
In his first defense of the WBC title on June 9, 1978, Norton and new #1 contender Larry Holmes met in a classic fight. After 15 brutal rounds, Holmes was awarded the title via an extremely close split decision. The three judges' cards were as follows: 143–142 for Holmes, 143–142 for Holmes, and 143–142 for Norton. The Associated Press scored it 143–142 for Norton. The March 2001 edition of The Ring magazine listed the final round of the Holmes-Norton bout as the 7th most exciting round in boxing history. As noted above, Holmes-Norton is ranked as the 10th greatest heavyweight fight of all time by Monte D. Cox, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO). Holmes went on to become the third-longest reigning world heavyweight champion in the history of boxing, behind Joe Louis and Wladimir Klitschko. Years later, Holmes wrote of his experience that this was his toughest match in over 70 contests.
After losing to Holmes, Norton won his next fight by knockout over sixth-ranked Randy Stephens in 1978 before taking on Earnie Shavers in another compulsory WBC title eliminator fight in Las Vegas on March 23, 1979. It appeared for the first time that Norton's career had perhaps hit a decline, particularly after the Holmes match as Shavers took the former champion out in the first round. But it also created a view that his confidence wasn't good against all-time great hitters Foreman, Shavers and later Cooney. Although Norton himself always denied this and he was past his prime when he was stopped by Shavers and Cooney. 
In his next fight, he fought to a draw with unheralded but durable lower ranked contender Scott LeDoux at the Met Center in Minneapolis. Norton dominated until sustaining an injury when he took a thumb in the eye in the eighth round, which immediately changed the bout. LeDoux rallied from that point and Norton became decidedly fatigued. Norton was down two times in the final round, resulting in the draw; Norton fell behind on one scorecard, kept his lead on the second, and dropped to even on the third (the unofficial AP scorecard was 5–3–2 Norton).
After the fight, Norton decided that at 37 it was time to retire from boxing. However, not satisfied with the way he had gone out, Norton returned to the ring to face the undefeated Randall "Tex" Cobb in Cobb's home state of Texas on November 7, 1980. In an all action back-and-forth fight, Norton escaped with a split decision, with referee Tony Perez and judge Chuck Hassett voting in his favor and judge Arlen Bynum giving the fight to Cobb.
The win over the title-contending Cobb gave Norton another shot at a potential title-fight, and on May 11, 1981. at Madison Square Garden he stepped into the ring with top contender Gerry Cooney, who, like Cobb, was undefeated entering the fight. Very early in the fight it became clear that Norton was no longer the caliber of fighter he once was, as Cooney's first punch caused Norton's legs to buckle. Norton continued to take shots from Cooney in his corner for nearly a full minute before Perez, who refereed his last fight, stepped in to stop the bout 54 seconds in, as Norton was slumped in his corner. Norton decided to retire following the match and turned his attention to charitable pursuits. Norton's enduring legacy as a fighter is that he is considered second to Joe Frazier as Ali's main nemesis and toughest opponent. Norton fought Ali to three decisions and was never hurt or knocked down. All three bouts were close and subject to controversy. Unfortunately, Norton was less successful against three of the greatest punchers of all time, losing by KO to Foreman and Shavers and by TKO to Cooney. Norton was considered past his prime in boxing from 1979 to 1981.
Norton was a forward-pressing fighter/boxer who was notable for his unusual guard/stance characterised by the cross arm defence. The left arm low across the torso and right hand up by the right or left ear. But when under heavy pressure both arms were brought up high across at face level whilst one leant forward. This left the opponent little target in theory. The guard was also used by the legendary Archie Moore. George Foreman later used it very effectively during his famous comeback years. Tim Witherspoon was another practitioner. Joe Frazier even borrowed it for occasions in his third Ali match. The style is named the "cross-armed defense". It tends to look crablike. Norton would bob and weave from a crouch, firing well placed heavy punches. Norton was best when advancing. He'd drag or slide the right foot along from behind. By comparison, most conventional boxers have elbows in at the torso with forearms vertically parallel to each another, the gloves then being both near sides of the face. Most trainers believe the conventional style is a better defense and that the cross-arm style leaves the user open far too often.
Angelo Dundee wrote that Norton's best punch was the left hook. Many others lauded his infamous overhand right. In a Ring Magazine article, Norton himself said that a right uppercut to Jerry Quarry was the hardest blow he recalled landing.
Unlike many boxers, Norton would often not attempt to stare down an opponent while announcements were made before the match started. Instead, he'd often look down at the floor and gather his thoughts. He was also widely noted for his fine athletic build.
Norton is a 1989 inductee of the World Boxing Hall of Fame, a 1992 inductee of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, a 2004 inductee into the United States Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame, and a 2008 inductee into the WBC Hall of Fame.
The 1998 holiday issue of The Ring ranked Norton #22 among "The 50 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time." Norton received the Boxing Writers Association of America J. Niel trophy for "Fighter of the Year" in 1977.
Norton, a proponent of motivational author Napoleon Hill's writings  (e.g. Think and Grow Rich  as noted above and Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude by Hill and W. Clement Stone) also received the "Napoleon Hill Award" for positive thinking in 1973.
In 2001, Norton was inducted by the San Diego Hall of Champions into the Breitbard Hall of Fame honoring San Diego's finest athletes both on and off the playing surface. Norton was also inducted into the Marine Corps Hall of Fame in 2004 and into the California Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.
In 1975 at the peak of his boxing career, Norton made his acting debut starring in Dino De Laurentiis blaxploitation film Mandingo, about a pre-Civil War slave purchased to fight other slaves for their masters. After starring in the 1976 sequel Drum Norton went on to bit parts in a dozen other productions.
Norton worked as an actor and TV boxing commentator following his retirement from boxing. He also was a member of the Sports Illustrated Speakers Bureau and started the Ken Norton Management Co., which represented athletes in contract negotiations.
He appeared along with Ali, Foreman, Frazier and Holmes in a video, Champions Forever, discussing their best times, and in 2000 he published his autobiography, Going the Distance.
Norton was married three times and had four children. His first marriage (1966–1968), while still in the Marines, was to Jeannette Henderson, and produced football player and coach Ken Norton Jr.. In 1977 he married Jacqueline 'Jacquie' Halton, and birthed to sports anchor Keith Norton, daughter Kenisha Eronda (1976) and son Kene Jon (1981) before Jacquie and Ken divorced in 2000. Around 2012 he married Rose Marie Conant who was his constant companion until his death.
Ken Norton was twice voted "Father of the Year" by the Los Angeles Sentinel and the Los Angeles Times in 1977. To quote Norton from his biography, Believe: Journey From Jacksonville: "Of all the titles that I've been privileged to have, the title of 'dad' has always been the best."
His first son, Ken Norton Jr, played football at UCLA and had a long successful career in the NFL. In tribute to his father's boxing career, Ken Jr. would strike a boxing stance in the end zone each time he scored a defensive touchdown and throw a punching combination at the goalpost pad. Ken Jr. was a member of three Super Bowl Champion teams as a player and one as an assistant coach. He later became the linebackers' coach for the Seattle Seahawks and formerly worked as the defensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders.
Norton died at a care facility in Las Vegas on September 18, 2013. He was 70 years old and had suffered a series of strokes in later life. Across the boxing world tributes were paid, with George Foreman calling him "the fairest of them all" and Larry Holmes saying that he "will be incredibly missed in the boxing world and by many".
|Professional record summary|
|50 fights||42 wins||7 losses|
|50||Loss||42–7–1||Gerry Cooney||TKO||1 (10), 0:54||May 11, 1981||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|49||Win||42–6–1||Randall Cobb||SD||10||Nov 7, 1980||HemisFair Arena, San Antonio, Texas, U.S.|
|48||Draw||41–6–1||Scott LeDoux||SD||10||Aug 19, 1979||Metropolitan Sports Center, Bloomington, Minnesota, U.S.|
|47||Loss||41–6||Earnie Shavers||KO||1 (12), 1:58||Mar 23, 1979||Las Vegas Hilton, Winchester, Nevada, U.S.|
|46||Win||41–5||Randy Stephens||KO||3 (10), 2:42||Nov 10, 1978||Caesars Palace, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.|
|45||Loss||40–5||Larry Holmes||SD||15||Jun 9, 1978||Caesars Palace, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.||Lost WBC heavyweight title|
|44||Win||40–4||Jimmy Young||SD||15||Nov 5, 1977||Caesars Palace, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.|
|43||Win||39–4||Lorenzo Zanon||KO||5 (10), 3:08||Sep 14, 1977||Caesars Palace, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.|
|42||Win||38–4||Duane Bobick||TKO||1 (12), 0:58||May 11, 1977||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|41||Loss||37–4||Muhammad Ali||UD||15||Sep 28, 1976||Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York, U.S.||For WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles|
|40||Win||37–3||Larry Middleton||TKO||10 (10), 2:17||Jul 10, 1976||Sports Arena, San Diego, California, U.S.|
|39||Win||36–3||Ron Stander||TKO||5 (12), 1:19||Apr 30, 1976||Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland, U.S.|
|38||Win||35–3||Pedro Lovell||TKO||5 (12), 1:40||Jan 10, 1976||Las Vegas Convention Center, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.|
|37||Win||34–3||Jose Luis Garcia||KO||5 (10), 1:50||Aug 14, 1975||Civic Center, Saint Paul, Minnesota, U.S.|
|36||Win||33–3||Jerry Quarry||TKO||5 (12), 2:29||Mar 24, 1975||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.||Won vacant NABF heavyweight title|
|35||Win||32–3||Rico Brooks||KO||1 (10), 1:34||Mar 4, 1975||Red Carpet Inn, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S.|
|34||Win||31–3||Boone Kirkman||RTD||7 (10)||Jun 25, 1974||Center Coliseum, Seattle, Washington, U.S.|
|33||Loss||30–3||George Foreman||TKO||2 (15), 2:00||Mar 26, 1974||Poliedro, Caracas, Venezuela||For WBA, WBC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles|
|32||Loss||30–2||Muhammad Ali||SD||12||Sep 10, 1973||Forum, Inglewood, California, U.S.||Lost NABF heavyweight title|
|31||Win||30–1||Muhammad Ali||SD||12||Mar 31, 1973||Sports Arena, San Diego, California, U.S.||Won NABF heavyweight title|
|30||Win||29–1||Charlie Reno||UD||10||Dec 13, 1972||San Diego, California, U.S.|
|29||Win||28–1||Henry Clark||TKO||9 (10)||Nov 21, 1972||Sahara Tahoe, Stateline, Nevada, U.S.|
|28||Win||27–1||James J. Woody||RTD||8 (10)||Jun 30, 1972||San Diego, California, U.S.|
|27||Win||26–1||Herschel Jacobs||UD||10||Jun 5, 1972||San Diego, California, U.S.|
|26||Win||25–1||Jack O'Halloran||UD||10||Mar 17, 1972||Coliseum, San Diego, California, U.S.|
|25||Win||24–1||Charlie Harris||TKO||3 (10)||Feb 17, 1972||Coliseum, San Diego, California, U.S.|
|24||Win||23–1||James J. Woody||UD||10||Sep 29, 1971||Coliseum, San Diego, California, U.S.|
|23||Win||22–1||Chuck Haynes||KO||7 (10), 1:08||Aug 7, 1971||Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, California, U.S.|
|22||Win||21–1||Vic Brown||KO||5 (10)||Jun 12, 1971||Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, California, U.S.|
|21||Win||20–1||Steve Carter||TKO||3 (10)||Jun 12, 1971||Valley Music Theater, Woodland Hills, California, U.S.|
|20||Win||19–1||Roby Harris||KO||2 (10), 1:35||Oct 16, 1970||Coliseum, San Diego, California, U.S.|
|19||Win||18–1||Chuck Leslie||UD||10||Sep 26, 1970||Valley Music Theater, Woodland Hills, California, U.S.|
|18||Win||17–1||Roy Wallace||KO||4 (10)||Aug 29, 1970||Coliseum, San Diego, California, U.S.|
|17||Loss||16–1||Jose Luis Garcia||KO||8 (10)||Jul 2, 1970||Grand Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
|16||Win||16–0||Ray Junior Ellis||KO||2 (10), 0:53||May 8, 1970||Coliseum, San Diego, California, U.S.|
|15||Win||15–0||Bob Mashburn||KO||4 (10), 1:40||Apr 7, 1970||Cleveland Arena, Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.|
|14||Win||14–0||Stamford Harris||TKO||3 (10), 1:59||Mar 13, 1970||Coliseum, San Diego, California, U.S.|
|13||Win||13–0||Aaron Eastling||KO||2 (10), 3:06||Feb 4, 1970||Silver Slipper, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.|
|12||Win||12–0||Julius Garcia||TKO||3 (10)||Oct 21, 1969||Coliseum, San Diego, California, U.S.|
|11||Win||11–0||Gary Bates||TKO||8 (10)||Jul 25, 1969||Coliseum, San Diego, California, U.S.|
|10||Win||10–0||Bill McMurray||TKO||7 (10)||Jul 25, 1969||Grand Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
|9||Win||9–0||Pedro Sanchez||TKO||2 (10)||Mar 31, 1969||International Sports Center, San Diego, California, U.S.|
|8||Win||8–0||Wayne Kindred||TKO||9 (10)||Feb 20, 1969||Grand Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
|7||Win||7–0||Joe Hemphill||TKO||3 (10), 1:52||Feb 11, 1969||Valley Music Theater, Woodland Hills, California, U.S.|
|6||Win||6–0||Cornell Nolan||KO||6 (10)||Dec 8, 1968||Grand Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
|5||Win||5–0||Wayne Kindred||TKO||6 (10)||Jul 23, 1968||Circle Arts Theatre, San Diego, California, U.S.|
|4||Win||4–0||Jimmy Gilmore||KO||7 (8), 1:20||Mar 26, 1968||Community Concourse, San Diego, California, U.S.|
|3||Win||3–0||Harold Dutra||KO||3 (6)||Feb 6, 1968||Memorial Auditorium, Sacramento, California, U.S.|
|2||Win||2–0||Sam Wyatt||PTS||6||Jan 16, 1968||Community Concourse, San Diego, California, U.S.|
|1||Win||1–0||Grady Brazell||TKO||5 (6)||Nov 14, 1967||Community Concourse, San Diego, California, U.S.||Professional debut|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ken Norton.|
|Regional boxing titles|
|NABF heavyweight champion
March 13, 1973 – September 10, 1973
Title last held byMuhammad Ali
|NABF heavyweight champion
March 24, 1975 – January 1976
|World boxing titles|
|WBC heavyweight champion
March 18, 1978 – June 9, 1978