International Boxing Hall of Fame

Ken Norton

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Statistics
Real name Kenneth Howard Norton
Nickname(s) The Black Hercules[1]
Ken "Jaw Breaker" Norton
Rated at 220 lb (100 kg), Heavyweight
Height 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)[2]
Nationality American
Birth date August 9, 1943 (1943-08-09) (age 65)
Birth place Jacksonville, Illinois
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights 50
Wins 42
Wins by KO 33
Losses 7
Draws 1
No contests 1

Kenneth Howard Norton Sr. (b. August 9, 1943, Jacksonville, Illinois) is a former world champion heavyweight boxer. Norton is one of the few to beat Muhammad Ali. Norton was an outstanding athlete at Jacksonville High School. His track coach entered him in eight events and Ken placed first in all. As a result, the "Ken Norton Rule" was instituted in Illinois high school sports which limits participation of an athlete to a maximum of three track and field events. After graduating from high school, Norton went to Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State University) on a football scholarship.

Ken Norton started boxing when he was in the United States Marine Corps (Norton was inducted into the USMC Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.) After making it to the National AAU finals, he turned professional in 1967. In 1973, Norton fought Muhammad Ali. Norton broke Ali's jaw and went on to win by a split decision. Norton's victory over Ali made him the NABF Heavyweight Champion and it was the second defeat for "The Greatest" in his career. Six months later, Ali avenged the defeat when he beat Norton by a split decision. Although Norton felt that he had done enough to win the rematch, most boxing authorities agree that Ali came off best.

In 1974, Norton fought George Foreman for the World Heavyweight Championship, and was stopped in two rounds. Two years later, Norton received another title shot against Ali in their third fight. Many have felt this was the beginning of Ali's decline as a boxer and he should have not accepted the fight. The scorecards had Norton winning six of the first eight rounds and comfortably ahead. Ali won the ninth and tenth rounds, lost the eleventh and took the next three. In one of the closest fights in history, the fight was even going into the final frame. Ali won. Famed referee Arthur Mercante, who was the third man in the ring, felt Norton was the victim of bad advice from his corner who told him to "take it easy" the last round while Ali's trainer told him to go out and fight like hell. The January 1998 issue of Boxing Monthly listed Ali-Norton as the fifth most disputed title fight decision in boxing history.

Norton is somewhat distinguishable for a unique blocking/coverup style characterised by elbows out to the sides, and one hand above the other, where most other boxers (for the same given situation) would have elbows in and hands alongside one another.

In 1975, Norton took a detour into acting by taking the title role in the Paramount Pictures release, Mandingo. The film was notorious for its sexual content and portrayal of race relations during the days of slavery in the Deep South. Although the movie did well at the box office, many critics panned the movie as exploitation. In the 1970s/1980s, Norton continued to act, appearing in a sequel, Drum, as well as a few other minor film and television appearances.

Following the Leon Spinks upset of Muhammad Ali for the championship in February 1978, Spinks elected to fight a return bout against Ali rather than face Norton, the top contender. The World Boxing Council, which had mandated a Spinks-Norton bout for their championship, withdrew its recognition of Spinks as champion.

On March 18, 1978, the WBC made history by naming Norton its champion without benefit of a title match. The WBC stated that they considered Norton's victory over Jimmy Young, which was sanctioned by the WBC as a title eliminator, a retroactive championship match. Norton wouldn't hold onto the title for very long.

In his first defense of the WBC title, 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 September 1998 edition of The Ring magazine listed the final round of the Holmes-Norton bout as one of "The 12 Greatest Finishes of All Time".

Norton remains unique among all heavyweight champions, as he is still the only holder of a World Heavyweight Championship to win a world title fight by a no-contest. In 1981 when Norton was past his prime, he retired after getting knocked out in one round by Gerry Cooney. He had a record of 42-7-1. Norton went on to act in motion pictures and popular television series, such as jailbird "Jackhammer" Jackson in 'Pros and Cons', an early first season epiosde of The A-Team (filmed 1982, broadcast 1983), and as boxer Bo Keeler in the fourth season Knight Rider episode 'Redemption of a Champion' (1986). He continued making such appearances until suffering injuries in an auto accident which resulted in temporary brain and permanent physical damage.

Ken Norton is a 1992 inductee of the International Boxing Hall Of Fame and a 1989 inductee of the World Boxing Hall of Fame. The 1998 holiday issue of The Ring ranked Norton # 22 in "The 50 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time." Norton received the Napoleon Hill Award for positive thinking. Norton received the Boxing Writers Association of America J. Niel Trophy for "Fighter of the Year" in 1977. Ken Norton was twice voted "Father of the Year" by the Los Angeles Sentinel and the Los Angeles Times. His son, Ken Norton Jr, played American football in the NFL. The former San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys star linebacker has the distinction of playing in and winning three consecutive Super Bowl championships (two with the Cowboys and one with the 49ers). Ken Norton Jr. is now the linebackers coach for the University of Southern California Trojans.

  • Autobiography: Going The Distance: The Ken Norton Story
Preceded by
Leon Spinks
Heavyweight boxing champion (WBC)
1978
Succeeded by
Larry Holmes