By Jason Keidel
When boxing was a vital sport, Ken Norton was a vital boxer.
Before other sports matched the money and none of the danger, boxing was must-watch theater, a distillation of the rags-to-riches narrative that personified the American Dream. And Ken Norton was Exhibit A, morphing from unknown to renowned in 12 rounds in San Diego.
Norton made his bones by beating Muhammad Ali in 1973, cracking the legend’s jaw in the process. The running joke over the years was that Norton was the only fighter – or the only human – to shut the loquacious champion’s mouth.
Had he fought in any other era, Norton may have worn the world title belt for five years. But he was blessed and cursed to have competed during the golden era of heavyweights. Not only was Norton eclipsed by the holy heavyweight trinity of Ali/Frazier/Foreman, the division was ten-deep with with boxing luminaries.
The 1970s were a roll call of household pugilists, especially if you weighed over 200 lbs. After the aforementioned quartet, Ron Lyle. Oscar Bonavena. Earnie Shavers. Jerry Quarry, and Larry Holmes made the decade the most volcanic in boxing history.
Trained by Eddie Futch, the boxing Yoda who sharpened Joe Frazier’s skills, Norton was known for his pawing, praying mantis defense, thunderous right hand, and a chiseled body that would make the Rock blush.
Between the aggregate thumping from the ring and a violent car crash, Norton’s decay became more pronounced over the years, displaying the typical boxer’s slurred speech and slow gestures.
But behind the large hands and Adonis physique was a kindness to Ken Norton, which made his estrangement from his son – famed NFL linebacker Ken Norton, Jr. – profoundly sad. It took the elder Norton’s illness for the two to reconcile.
Ali never publicly …read more
Source: CBS local Boston