Ken Norton, who died Wednesday at the age of 70, is being remembered as a towering figure from a golden time in the sport of boxing
Norton, the man George Foreman called “the fairest of us all,” is best known for fighting Muhammad Ali for 39 rounds over three bouts, breaking his jaw in a 1973 fight.
“I took a nobody and created a monster,” Ali said before their rematch six months later, the one called “The Battle of Broken Jaw.” Norton lost that bout on a split decision and lost the third time they fought, in 1976 in Yankee Stadium, in a fight that many people thought he’d won.
Norton, the only heavyweight champion who never won the title in the ring, fought a punishing fight with Larry Holmes in 1978, but his name is linked with that of Ali.
“Kenny was a good, good fighter. He beat a lot of guys,” Ed Schuyler Jr., who covered many of Norton’s fights for The Associated Press, said. “He gave Ali fits because Ali let him fight coming forward instead of making him back up.”
Others may still link his name to Ali’s, but Norton had moved on, telling USA Today in 2010 that “beating Ali has no bearing on my life now. I see it on TV, but I rarely think about it.”
Norton last fought in 1981, when he lost to Gerry Cooney. He finished with a 42-7-1 record that included 33 knockouts.
They called us all handsome. Muhammad they called pretty. But The fairest of them all Ken Norton pic.twitter.com/ftE06jqqi1
— George Foreman (@GeorgeForeman) September 18, 2013
A modern champion recalled that he was always kind to up-and-coming boxers.
Ken Norton was always nice to me even when I was just an amateur fighter. He always treated me like I was somebody. Remarkable man.
— Mike Tyson (@MikeTyson) September 19, 2013
Holmes tweeted that Norton was the man who gave him a chance, one that he might not have had otherwise.
My deepest condolences to Ken’s family. He was such a great man and fighter and will be incredibly missed in the boxing world and by many
— Larry Holmes (@LarryHolmes75) September 19, 2013
Norton, who died at a Veterans Affairs’ medical facility in Henderson, Nev., had been in declining health and suffered a stroke last year. After his career in the ring ended, he overcame prostate cancer, quadruple-bypass heart surgery and a debilitating 1986 auto accident.
Norton is perhaps best known now for being the father of Ken Norton Jr., who played for the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers now coaches for Pete Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks staff.
Boxing may have had its biggest payday last weekend with the Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez fight. but Norton thrived at a time “when boxing was boxing,” Cooney said (via the New York Post). “He was part of a great time in the game. Unfortunately, we’ll probably never see that again.”