Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Obituary: Ken Norton

Former heavyweight boxing great Ken Norton, famous for defeating Muhammad Ali back in 1973, has died of congestive heart failure.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Norton actually broke Ali's jaw, which never kept The Greatest from talking.

I will never forget this SI cover titled "The Jaw Is Broken But the Mouth Lives On."

From the Sports Illustrated article from 1973, "Bury His Heart at Wounded Jaw":

Nothing much happened in that first round, nothing anyone saw, that is, just a few tentative jabs from each fighter, maybe a fair right hand by Norton. Nothing damaging, certainly. But at the bell Ali had blood on his mouth, and he said to Dundee, "I think I've got a broken jaw." Forty-three bouts as a professional, 329 rounds with some of the world's greatest fighters, and a broken jaw? From what?

Dundee was guessing later when he said, "He must've gotten hit with his mouth open," always a reasonable assumption with Ali. And Dr. Ferdie Pacheco recalled that Ali's jaw is eroded where two rear teeth are missing. He said, "It's like having a bad back all your life, and suddenly one day you can't move."

Here is the fight that shocked the world. I didn't know Ali wore the robe Elvis had given him in this fight:


They fought three times total.

Another notable Ken Norton fight was this one with Larry Holmes in 1978:

Norton also did some boxing commentary during this era. He was present at the famous Foreman-Lyle slugfest in Las Vegas in January of 1976, for my money the best fight of all time:

(As an aside, I didn't note the death of Ron Lyle two years ago, shortly after the death of Joe Frazier. Lyle was a great fighter with quite the life story worthy of a movie.)

I used to watch many if not all of these fights during the "golden age" of boxing in the seventies and early eighties with my dad. Unfortunately, pay-per-view, even more than scandal or the brutality of the game, has virtually killed boxing's popularity.

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