KEN NORTON was a fixture in the heavyweight ranks during a time that many consider the finest era of the division.
Norton, who turned pro in 1967, burst onto the scene in 1973 when he earned a split decision and the NABF heavyweight title with a 12-round decision over Muhammad Ali, which was only Ali's second loss. While many consider Ali the greatest heavyweight in history, it was Norton who gave him three of his closest fights.
Norton broke Ali's jaw in their first fight but lost a split decision to fellow Hall of Famer Ali in a rematch six months later.
Norton possessed an awkward and powerful style and always entered the ring in great condition. He was a tremendous all-around athlete as a youth and earned a football scholarship to Northeast Missouri State. After two years of college football, Norton entered the Marines and began to box.
The pair of fights with Ali in 1973 earned him a title shot with champion George Foreman the next year. Fighting in Caracas, Venezuela, Foreman knocked Norton out in the second round. But Norton remained active and posted wins over Boone Kirkman and Jerry Quarry.
By 1976, Ali was heavyweight champion again and the pair met at Yankee Stadium for their third and final fight. Although Ali won a unanimous decision, many, including Norton, felt the challenger won the fight.
In 1977, Norton knocked out Duane Bobick in one round and decisioned Jimmy Young in a WBC title-elimination fight. When Leon Spinks didn't honor a commitment to defend the title against Norton, the WBC stripped Spinks and awarded the belt to Norton by virtue of his win over Young. For his accomplishments, he was named Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America.
In his first defense, Norton lost the title in a thrilling 15-round fight to Larry Holmes. Over the final four fights of his career -- against Earnie Shavers, Scott LeDoux, Tex Cobb and Gerry Cooney, respectively, Norton was stopped in one round against Shavers and Cooney, drew with LeDoux and decisioned Cobb.
He retired from the ring in 1981. His son, Ken Norton Jr., is a star linebacker in the NFL and has won Super Bowl titles with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.