International Boxing Hall of Fame
Norfolk moved to Panama as a youngster turned pro in 1914 while working construction on the Panama Canal. Norfolk holds wins over many notable boxers of his day, including Billy Miske, John Lester Johnson, Jack Blackburn, Harry Greb, Tut Jackson, Jamaica Kid, Tiger Flowers and Battling Siki.
Norfolk boxed until 1926 when he retired with an 80-16-2 (31 KOs) record, never having challenged for a world title.
Norfolk died in 1953.
Kid Norfolk was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2007.
Kid Norfolk was a short and stocky fighter who was quick and powerful; He possessed a natural instinct for fighting and took on all-comers, large or small; In a career of 103 bouts, he lost just 15 - against top-flight, world-class competition; The Kid is one of the super, over-looked fighters in boxing history who should have had a title shot but never received it
During his career, he defeated such men as Harry Greb, Billy Miske, Battling Siki, Jeff Clark, "Tiger" Flowers, Lee Anderson, Jack Blackburn, Arthur Pelkey, "Big" Bill Tate, Tom Cowler, George Robinson, Dan "Porky" Flynn, Clay Turner, Black Fitzsimmons, Jamaica Kid, John Lester Johnson and James "Tut" Jackson,
The "Kid" was reportedly born on Norfolk Street in Belmont, Virginia; He moved to Panama as a teenager and, as a fighter, adopted the name Kid Norfolk after the street of his birth; He retired in 1926 at age 33. Some sources report his death in 1953 but the exact date is not known
The sea air bit into William's nostrils filling them with a sting that his lungs repulsed. He moved cautiously, his arms in constant motion, his fists squeezing the sweat from his palms. He could see the look in the sailor's eye as he moved closer and closer. It was a hunter's look, a killer's look. The men stood behind, in front and around him, shouting, laughing, roaring. Their voices pierced his ears, "kill the nigger!", he heard. "Hit em!", they shouted. The sailor flashed his fist in mock motion causing William to flinch then flicker. Smiling eagerly the sailor inched forward. A breeze caught the side of William's cheek as the sailor's fist sailed past his head. Another flash and he felt a sledgehammer hit his stomach and then a bat against his chest. William swung up from the docks instinctively, his entire body swinging upward with his fist. A fleshy resistance greeted his knuckles sending a sharp jolt down through his arm. He heard the bone-cracking "SMACK!" that accompanied his pain. William's body came to a halt as he regained his bearing. There was silence. The men had stopped their cheering. William looked for the sailor, trying to gain his balance. It was not until his eyes turned towards the wood soaked docked that he saw his adversary, lying face first, a spat of blood trickling from his open mouth.
-- From The Carmel-Colored Kings
William Ward was a veteran of almost 100 fights when he left Norfolk, Virginia in 1907 to head for Baltimore, Maryland. He started fighting as most black boys did in those days by participating in Battle Royals for gold watches, trophies and occasional coinage. But the money was never that good and William knew there was far more to be made on the docks. By the time he was thirteen he was knocking out men who were twice his size and sometimes nearly three times his age. But young William had a knack for fighting.
Ward made enough of a name for himself in Baltimore that an engineer named VA Mason, assigned to the Canal Project in Panama, decided to take the young pugilist with him to the Isthmus. Panama's fight game was booming and there was a bundle of money to be made catering to the entertainment whims of thousands of soldiers, sailors and laborers who had descended upon the small Central American country. Mason did take Ward to Panama but quickly learned that the fight game was not for him. Ward waded through six or seven managers before settling in with a West Indian importer by the name of Herman Cambridge.
It was under the watchful eye of Cambridge that Ward began his career in Panama. To raise interest in his young charge, Cambridge dubbed his fighter, Kid Norfolk, a name which would stick with him until his death. Norfolk's aggressive style was popular with the Panamanian crowds and he quickly earned himself the reputation as a world-beater. It was in his third season in Panama that Norfolk defeated such top-rate men as, Sam McVey(nd20), Arthur Pelkey(ko1&ko14), Jeff Clark(w20) and Big Bill Tate(W20) all who outweighed the Kid by at least 12 pounds. By the time 1917 had begun, Kid Norfolk was the Heavyweight Champion of South America and looking toward America.
Norfolk was signed by Leo P. Flynn in the spring of 1917 and came to New York with the sole intention of winning the Heavyweight title. Flynn decided to season his new man a little and sent him against the usual suspects of the time; Gunboat Smith(ND10, ND10), Wild Burt Kenny(ND10, KO8), Zulu Kid and George Ashe. Norfolk's biggest win of the year came when he defeated Billy Miske over 10 rounds in Boston. The Kid claimed the Lightheavyweight Title of the World but he was recognized by virtually noone. Regardless, Kid Norfolk had made quite a niche for himself going undefeated throughout the majority of 1917. Then he made a mistake. Facing a faded Sam Langford in Denver, Norfolk got careless and was knocked cold in two rounds. The Boston Terror had stuck again.
Norfolk would loose only one bout over the course of the next year and a half(L12 to Clay Turner), fighting mainly other black heavyweights and white journeymen. Norfolk clamored for a shot at Jack Dempsey, but his challenges would fall on deaf ears. Dempsey had stated publicly that he would fight only white challengers for his crown. Norfolk continued on, racking up victory after victory. And the trouble in finding good opponents (and paydays) that Norfolk would encounter more and more, did little to slow him down. He would again face Billy Miske(the best white fighter he had yet to fight) in 1919, and again he whipped him in ten rounds. The Kid faced off with every good black fighter around, from George Robinson to Lee Anderson, from Silas Green to Tut Jackson, and from Cleve Hawkins to John Lester Johnson. Kid Norfolk beat every one of them.
It was in the summer of 1921 that Norfolk got his first real break when he was matched up with Pittsburgh legend Harry Greb. The fight itself was a torrid affair, with both men giving and taking tremendous amounts of punishment. The Kid outweighed the mighty Greb by twelve pounds but the Steeltown crowd gave the "Human Windmill" his own kind of advantage. Norfolk floored Greb for a six count in the first and gave him quite a beating over the first few rounds. Greb fought back as only he could and took the fight to his heavier foe in the middle rounds. Norfolk's greater strength seemed to be the difference in the closing rounds and he "cut Greb to ribbons in the final frame". The newspaper decision was Norfolk's but it did him little good. He continued to call for Dempsey but the Manassa mauler had a long list of challengers, many of whom meant a bigger payday with a smaller risk. But Norfolk was convinced that he could beat Dempsey and that all he needed was to get the champion into the ring with him.
Norfolk's next move was a risky one. He threw all of his marbles into one basket and challenged Dempsey's most qualified and persistent challenger, Harry Wills. Wills was an awesome physical specimen and in hindsight, it was suicide for Norfolk to challenge him. But the Kid had faced much larger men before and to him Wills was just another giant for him to slay. Wills and Norfolk met in New York on March 2, 1922. When the two battlers met in the middle of the ring the mismatch was apparent to all that surveyed the two men. The disparity in size was alarming (Wills 6'2" 230 and Norfolk 5'9" 185). Wills stood almost a full foot taller that Norfolk and looked as if he could sweep him away with one stoke of his long ebony arms. The fight itself was little more than a public beating with Wills plastering the helpless Norfolk for a full round and a half before depositing him on the canvas with a vicious right hand midway through the second. Norfolk gamely tried to rise but could not find his footing. The fight was waved off when the Kid rose stumbled and then fell back into the ropes.
The loss to Wills was a crushing blow for Norfolk. He was sure that he could beat the big man and asked for a rematch. When he approached Paddy Mullins,( Wills' manager), the pugnacious manager laughed in his face.
Norfolk moved back down to his own weight division and again found success. In what was probably the best year of his pro career, Norfolk knocked out Tut Jackson(3), Jamaica Kid(2) and Tiger Flowers(1) successively. He rounded out the year by ruining the American debut of one time Lightheavyweight Champion Battling Siki, by busting up the Singular Senegalese in 15 rounds. But even his great success did little to advance his championship aspirations. He did manage to secure a rematch with (now) Middleweight Champion Harry Greb, but the title would not be at stake. Norfolk would not have his great advantage in weight when the two met for the second time in Boston on April 19, 1924. They would share a distinct disadvantage however -- both were fighting with only one good eye. Greb had been fighting with only one eye since his last bout with the Kid and Norfolk had lost the use of his left eye in 1921 when he was thumbed by Lee Anderson in a bout in Arizona. Nevertheless, the two warriors put on a fantastic show, which was cut short when Greb hit Norfolk after the bell sounded to end the sixth round. The action had been so hotly contested up until that point that the Mechanics Hall crowd nearly rioted when the fight was discontinued because of Greb's foul.
His battle with Greb would prove to be Norfolk's last stand at the World class level. After the Greb affair he would muster up a few more wins before being stopped in six rounds by Tommy Gibbons in December 1924. The Kid would fight until 1926, when after being knocked stiff by Ted Moore in San Francisco, he finally retired.
Norfolk had managed to save some money from his ring earnings and bought an apartment house in Harlem. He worked briefly as a porter at Yankee Stadium and for years could be found up at Grupp's gymnasium watching the young pugs and whispering with his fellow old timers Harry Wills, Panama Joe Gans and Soldier Jones.
Kid Norfolk is one of the few fighter's whose record speaks for itself. He was 5-0 against world champions and he beat every good black fighter (who many of the white contenders would not face), of his time. His only un-avenged losses during his prime were against Hall of Famers Sam Langford and Harry Wills. He defeated both Harry Greb and Billy Miske twice and he knocked out George Godfrey in 4 rounds.
Kid Norfolk never fought for a World Championship. He died in New Jersey in 1953.
© 1998 Kevin Smith1914 Feb 15 "Steamboat" Bill Scott in Panama W 10 May 17 Jack Taylor in Panama ND 10 1916 Jan 12 "Young" Rough House Colon, Pan KO 2 Feb 5 "Young" Gunboat Smith Colon, Pan KO 2 -Perhaps, this is "Black" Gunboat Smith; Some sources report 2/15/16 ? Mar 6 "Young" Sam Langford Colon, Pan EX 6 Mar 12 "Rough House" Ware Colon, Pan W 25 May 10 Milton Durant Colon, Pan KO 3 Jun 11 "Big" Bill Tate Panama City, Pan W 20 -Heavyweight Championship of Panama Sep 10 Jim Briggs Colon, Pan TK 4 Nov 12 Jeff Clark in Panama W 20 Dec 1 Andres Balsa Colon, Pan D 6 Dec 17 Arthur Pelkey Panama City, Pan TK 1 1917 Jan 10 Sam McVea Colon, Pan ND 6 Feb 11 Arthur Pelkey Panama City, Pan KO 14 -Some sources report "KO 13" Apr 30 Charles "Sailor" Grande Rochester, NY TK 5 -Some sources report 4/29/17 May 10 Morris Tasco Baltimore, Md KO 5 Jun 4 Tom Cowler Rochester, NY ND 10 Jun 25 Tom Cowler Rochester, NY ND 10 Jul 19 Tom Cowler Buffalo, NY TK 8 Jul 20 "Wild" Bert Kenny New York, NY ND 10 -Some sources report 6/20/17 Jul 30 "Wild" Burt Kenny Rochester, NY KO 10 Aug 3 Ed "Gunboat" Smith Buffalo, NY ND 10 Aug 16 Gus Christie Buffalo, NY ND 10 Aug 21 Ed "Gunboat" Smith Rochester, NY ND 10 -Some sources report 8/20/17 Sep 24 George "Kid" Ashe Rochester, NY ND 10 Oct 16 Billy Miske Boston, Ma W 12 -Norfolk claimed the Light Heavyweight Championship; Some sources report 10/17/17 Oct 26 Johnny Espen Harlem, NY WF 7 -Some sources report "KO 7"; Some sources report "ND 10" vs "Jack Espin" Nov 6 Tom Cowler Providence, RI ND 12 Dec 4 Zulu Kid North Adams, Ma ND 10 Dec 17 Sam Langford Denver, Co LK 2 1918 Mar 25 Jack Thompson Philadelphia, Pa ND 6 Apr 5 George Robinson Boston, Ma W 12 Apr 15 George Christian Philadelphia, Pa KO 3 Apr 16 Dan "Porky" Flynn Boston, Ma W 12 Apr 22 "Big" Bill Tate Baltimore, Md TK 7 May 14 George "Kid" Ashe Boston, Ma KO 3 Jul 16 "Battling" Jim Johnson New York, NY EX 4 -Some sources report "W 4" Jul 19 Joe Jeannette Jersey City, NJ ND 8 Oct 18 Joe Jeannette West Hoboken, NJ ND 8 Nov 19 Clay Turner Boston, Ma L 12 1919 Jan 1 Jamaica Kid Philadelphia, Pa ND 6 Jan 8 Clay Turner Boston, Ma KO 4 Jan 20 Clay Turner Buffalo, NY ND 10 Mar 7 Battling Dungy Baltimore, Md KO 4 Mar 19 Jim Hosic Atlantic City, NJ ND 8 -Some sources report 3/20/19 May 22 "Wild" Bert Kenny Atlantic City, NJ ND 8 May 26 Larry Williams Bridgeport, Ct ND 8 Jun 9 Billy Miske Pittsburgh, Pa ND 10 Jun 21 Bob Ward Baltimore, Md KO 3 Jun 30 Larry Williams Jersey City, NJ KO 1 Jul 28 Jamaica Kid Philadelphia, Pa ND 6 Sep 22 Cleve Hawkins North Adams, Ma W 12 Sep 23 Black Fitzsimmons Barberton, Oh KO 3 Oct 1 "Young" Jack Johnson New Orleans, La W 8 Oct 3 John Lester Johnson Baltimore, Md W 15 Oct 24 Jeff Clark Detroit, Mi ND 10 -Some sources report 10/29/19 Nov 4 Jamaica Kid Boston, Ma W 12 Dec 3 Jamaica Kid Columbus, Oh ND 12 Dec 19 Jack Ward Detroit, Mi KO 4 1920 Jan 5 "Original" Gorilla Jones New Orleans, La KO 8 Jan 8 Clem Johnson St. Paul, Mn ND 10 Jan 12 Harry Lindsay Memphis, Tn KO 2 -Some sources report 1/13/20 Jan 13 Jeff Clark KO 2 May 7 Cleve Hawkins Detroit, Mi ND 10 May 17 Jamaica Kid Toledo, Oh ND 12 May 31 Silas Green Baltimore, Md KO 9 Jun 4 "Mexican" Joe Lawson Bayonne, NJ KO 4 Jun 7 John Lester Johnson Rochester, NY LF 3 -Some sources report "LK 3" Jun 14 John Lester Johnson Rochester, NY KO 1 -Some sources report Baltimore, Md" Jun 18 Cliff "Kid" Patillo Philadelphia, Pa ND 8 Jun 21 Jeff Clark Columbus, Oh W 15 -Some sources report "W 10" Jun 22 Jack Blackburn New York, NY KO 4 Sep 3 Jamaica Kid Baltimore, Md W 12 Oct 25 Jeff Clark W 15 Nov 26 Jeff Clark Baltimore, Md TK 2 Dec 14 "Big" Bill Tate New York, NY W 10 1921 Jan 2 George Ward Buffalo, NY KO 3 -Some sources report 1/04/21 Jan 5 Jamaica Kid Detroit, Mi ND 10 Jan 24 Battling Gahee Memphis, Tn W 8 -Some sources report 1/25/21 Feb 2 John Lester Johnson Detroit, Mi ND 10 Feb 18 Pinkey Lewis New York, NY WF 2 Mar 10 Pinkey Lewis New York, NY KO 6 Mar 21 Jack Ward New York, NY KO 3 Apr 18 Phil McNeil Freeport, NY KO 3 May 3 Jamaica Kid New York, NY W 15 May 30 Lee Anderson Phoenix, Az LT 9 -Some sources report 5/13/21 Aug 29 Harry Greb Pittsburgh, Pa ND 10 Dec 30 Jamaica Kid New York, NY W 8 1922 Jan 30 Theodore "Tiger" Flowers Atlanta, Ga KO 3 Feb 20 "Young" Jack Johnson Buffalo, NY TK 8 -Some sources report "Jim Green" Mar 2 Harry Wills New York, NY LK 2 Apr 7 Al Smaulding El Paso, Tx W 8 Jun 2 John Lester Johnson Covington, Ky ND 12 Jun 23 Jack Taylor Omaha, Ne D 10 Sep 11 Lee Anderson Boston, Ma W 10 Dec 22 Lee Anderson Boston, Ma W 12 -Some sources report "W 10" 1923 Jan 30 Wolf Larsen Albany, NY LF 2 -Some sources report 1/31/23 Mar 27 Jack Taylor New York, NY W 12 Mar 31 Wolf Larsen Portland, Me KO 1 Apr 24 "Battling" Jim McCreary Boston, Ma L 10 May 8 Theodore "Tiger" Flowers Springfield, Oh KO 1 Jul 14 Jamaica Kid New York, NY KO 2 -Negro 175-lb Championship of the World Aug 23 James "Tut" Jackson Baltimore, Md KO 3 -Some sources report 8/24/23 Sep 10 "Smiling" Kid Nolan Baltimore, Md KO 3 Nov 20 Battling Siki New York, NY W 15 1924 Jan 9 Sidney Grant Baltimore, Md KO 3 -Some sources report "KO 2" Feb 8 "Battling" Jim McCreary Boston, Ma W 10 Feb 23 Lee Anderson New York, NY W 12 Apr 19 Harry Greb Boston, Ma WF 6 May 12 "Fighting" Bob Lawson Buffalo, NY LF 2 May 28 James "Tut" Jackson Columbus, Oh KO 2 Jun 6 Battling Cavanaugh Aurora, Il ND 6 -Some sources report 9/09/24 Jul 17 "Mexican" Joe Lawson Philadelphia, Pa KO 5 -Some sources report "KO 8" at Atlantic City, NJ Sep 9 "Battling" Jim McCreary Boston, Ma W 10 -Some sources report 9/10/24 Dec 9 Tommy Gibbons New York, NY LT 6 1925 Mar 14 "Fighting" Bob Lawson New York, NY LK 1 Apr 27 -Norfolk was banned from fighting in California because he had only one good eye; However, he did fight three times in California after this May 6 Ray Pelkey Oakland, Ca KO 5 May 25 Jack Reddick Moose Jaw, Sask, Can W 12 Jun 1 Frank Farmer Portland, Or W 10 Jun 17 Floyd Johnson Oakland, Ca LF 4 Sep 21 Frank Moody Bronx, NY LK 4 Ed "Bearcat" Wright D 10 1926 Mar 19 Ted Moore San Francisco, Ca LK 4 -Norfolk retired because of failing vision in his right eye; He purchased an apartment house in the Harlem section of New York and converted it into furnished rooms for rent and lived on the income; For a while, he also worked as a porter at Yankee Stadium *** The Following Bouts Are Reported But Not Confirmed *** 1914 Jack Livingston W 10 Tommy O'Connor W 20 "Young" Joe Gans EX 6 1915 "Rough House" Ware W 20 Jack Louden KO 3 Jeff Clark L 20 Jack Herrick W 20 1920 Billy Miske ND 10 1921 Clem Johnson ND 10 1922 George Godfrey New Orleans, La KO 4 George Lawson Bayonne, NJ KO 5 Jack Ward New York, NY KO 2 1921-1923 Brad Simmons L 10 *** The Following Bouts Are Reported But Are Not For Kid Norfolk *** 1921 Tony Fuente LK 3 -Sources report that Fuente fought Kid Norfolk Jr 1924 Dec 9 Brad Simmons San Antonio, Tx D 10 -Sources incorrectly report this bout as being for Kid Norfolk 1926 Ed "Bearcat" Wright L 10 -Sources report that Wright fought Battling Kid Norfolk
Record courtesy of Tracy Callis, Historian, International Boxing Research Organization