A look at tomorrow night's fight for the World Boxing Council version of the heavyweight title between champion Ken Norton and challenger Larry Holmes leaves the inescapable impression that fans are in for one whale of a match.
Norton has to have things a certain way for him to show his best. When he fought Muhammad Ali he was allowed to set the pace, coming forward behind a left jab and hook. Ali was fighting Norton's fight. Of course, Ali liked to move, but he could, when a younger man, lay claim to a part of the ring if he wanted to and not surrender it. He never did that against Norton.
When Norton fought Jerry Quarry, he was allowed to set the pace, coming forward while dragging his right leg behind. That was Quarry's first mistake. In addition, Quarry made the fatal mistake of standing directly in front of Norton without movement or at least some feints. Norton showed his best form as he proceeded to take Quarry apart.
Duane Bobick was another who elected to stand in front of Norton with no movement of any kind. Norton simply picked him off from a crouch as Bobick's head was up high like a periscope. Norton pounded him brutally.
Holmes is another man who likes to stand directly in front of an opponent, but, unlike Quarry and Bobick, uses his stiff left jab effectively.
It is true that Holmes moved around against the dangerous Earnie Shavers, but that movement came after he had tired the bald one by using his longer reach and strong chin which he managed to move most of the times Shavers whistled his knockout punches toward him.
Ken Norton can't fight going backward. It must be because of his right knee, which appears to have been injured at some time.
In his fight with George Foreman he had no chance. Foreman would not let him move forward at all. Foreman did the same thing to Joe Frazier. He simply stood his ground while throwing punches and Smokin' Joe had to fight in an unaccustomed style.
Holmes is not the kind of fighter who backs his man up. He moves in straight lines as a rule and depends on his left hand and his sturdy chin to get by. He has a good right to the heart which he usually throws when squared off. Against Shavers he didn't use that effective punch because it would have exposed him to a heavy counterpunch more than if he simply moved and jabbed.
In tomorrow's fight I see Norton coming forward behind his jab which he shoots upward. Holmes will have the advantage there because his jab is stiffer and travels less distance.
It is when Norton tries to get inside Holmes' superior jab that we'll see the way the fight will go. Holmes does not have the head feints of Jimmy Young to make Norton hesitate, so he will have to do it physically with movement or some stiff punching with combinations.
This corner has never been too impressed with Norton's claims of world supremacy of the heavyweights. In his second fight with Ali he pounded the former champion for five straight rounds without much return because his man was dead tired. But when he, Norton, also tired, Ali showed better stuff as he rallied to win in the final two rounds.
We look for Holmes to outbox Norton early, take some heavy shots in the middle rounds, then come on to win clearly.