Born August 9, 1943, in Jacksonville, Illinois, Ken Norton began boxing in the mid-1960s while serving as a U.S. Marine. Shortly after leaving the military in 1967, Norton turned pro. In the 1970s, he fought three memorable bouts against Muhammad Ali, winning the first. He briefly held the WBC title in 1978. After years of health problems, Norton died on September 19, 2013, in Henderson, Nevada.
Hall of Fame boxer Kenneth Howard Norton was born on August 9, 1943, in Jacksonville, Illinois. A standout high school athlete—he starred in football, baseball and track—Norton made his way to Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, on a football scholarship.
Injuries, however, derailed his college career, and after two seasons, Norton left school and enlisted with the U.S. Marines in 1963. It was during his four-year military stint that Norton took up boxing.
Packing a muscular, 6'2" frame, Norton quickly acclimated to the ring and compiled an impressive 24-2 record en route to winning three All-Marine Heavyweight Championship titles.
Shortly after leaving the Marines in 1967, Ken Norton turned pro. For the first several years of his career, he assembled a number of victories—winning his first 16 bouts—but not a lot of notoriety.
He caught a huge break in 1973 when Muhammad Ali, who was looking for a way to win back the heavyweight crown from Joe Frazier, selected the relatively unknown Norton as his next opponent.
Stepping into the ring under relative obscurity, Norton promptly made a national name for himself by breaking Ali's jaw and winning a 12-round split decision at the San Diego Sports Arena. It would be the first of three memorable matches between the two heavyweight contenders.
Six months later, in September 1973 at the Forum in Inglewood, California, Ali got revenge by taking a split decision. At Yankee Stadium in 1976, the pair fought again, with Ali winning a narrow unanimous decision in front of 30,000 rabid boxing fans. For Norton, who was convinced he'd won the last fight, the loss was one he never quite got over. "I was never the same fighter after that," he later said.
In 1978, Norton was named WBC heavyweight champion after new champion Leon Spinks refused to fight Norton, then the No. 1 contender, and accepted a richer purse to fight Ali. But Norton's time with the belt was short—he lost his first title defense to Larry Holmes later that year.
Norton's final bout came in 1981, against Gerry Cooney, and ended with Norton losing by technical knockout. Overall, Norton finished with a record of 42-7-1 with 33 knockouts. In 1992, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.
Norton was the father of four children, one of whom, Ken Norton Jr., played in the NFL as a linebacker for 13 seasons.
Over the last decade of his life, Norton fell on hard financial times, with several friends, including George Foreman, offering their support to the Hall of Famer. Health had also been an issue for Norton for many years. In the 1980s, he suffered a horrific car crash that left him in a temporary coma and affected his speech. In recent years, he'd experienced several strokes.
Norton died in Henderson, Nevada, on September 19, 2013. He was 70 years old.
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