Ken Norton, the 70s heavyweight powerhouse best known for handing Muhammad Ali one of his few losses, died Wednesday at a veterans medical facility where he had been recovering from a stroke. He was 70.
Born and raised in Jacksonville, Illinois, Norton was introduced to boxing while serving in the Marines between 1963 and 1967. According to a Marines website, he boasted a 24-2 record and earned three All-Marine heavyweight titles before he turned pro. In 1973, he got a shot at the North American Boxing Federation heavyweight title versus Ali. Using a distinctive style, Norton went the distance against Ali, winning a 12-round split decision and breaking Ali’s jaw in the process. The defeat was the second of only five in Ali’s fighting career.
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Later that same year, Norton fought Ali again, this time losing in an equally close 12-round bout that also ended in a split decision. He eventually regained the NABF belt in 1975 by defeating Jerry Quarry in a five-round technical knockout.
Norton got one more chance at Ali in 1976 when the two squared off again for the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association heavyweight titles. The 15-round fight ended in a unanimous decision victory for Ali, but is still regarded as one of the most disputed outcomes in boxing history.
However, Norton was given the WBC belt in 1978 when the organization stripped Leon Spinks of the title when Spinks opted to fight Ali, whom he had already beaten, rather than take on Norton. In turn, Norton lost the belt to Larry Holmes, who held the title for seven years.
Norton eventually retired in 1981 with a record of 42-7-1, with 33 knockouts.
Norton was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992. His son, Ken Norton, Jr., played linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers and is now a linbackers coach with the Seattle Seahawks.