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Former world heavyweight champion Ken Norton dies

Published: Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 11:21 a.m. CDT

LAS VEGAS (AP) — He was the second man to beat Muhammad Ali, breaking Ali’s jaw and sending him to the hospital in their 1973 heavyweight fight.

Ken Norton frustrated Ali three times in all, including their final bout at Yankee Stadium where he was sure he had beaten him once again.

Norton, who died Wednesday at the age of 70, lost that fight for the heavyweight title. But he was forever linked to Ali for the 39 rounds they fought over three fights, with very little separating one man from the other in the ring.

Norton is the only heavyweight champion never to win the title in the ring, and boxing fans still talk about the bruising battle he waged with Larry Holmes for the title in 1978. But it was his first fight with Ali that made the former Marine a big name and the two fights that followed that were his real legacy.

Few gave Norton, who possessed a muscular, sculpted body, much of a chance against Ali in their first meeting, held at the Sports Arena in San Diego, where Norton lived. But his awkward style and close-in pressing tactics confused Ali, who fought in pain after his jaw was broken.

It was, with Norton breaking Ali’s jaw in the early rounds and having his way with the former champion for much of the night.

Kilroy said after the fight Norton visited Ali at the hospital where he was getting his broken jaw wired. Ali, he said, told him he was a great fighter and he never wanted to fight him again. Norton had been in poor health for the last several years after suffering a series of strokes, Kilroy said.

“He’s been fighting the battle for two years,” he said. “I’m sure he’s in heaven now with all the great fighters. I’d like to hear that conversation.”

Norton didn’t have long to celebrate his big win over Ali. They fought six months later, and Ali won a split decision.

Norton finished with a record of 42-7-1 and 33 knockouts. He would later embark on an acting career, appearing in several movies, and was a commentator at fights.

Norton, born Aug. 9, 1943, in Jacksonville, Ill., started boxing when he was in the Marines, and began his pro career after his release from duty in 1967. He lost only once in his early fights but had fought few fighters of any note when he was selected to meet Ali.

After that bruising first bout, they faced off two more times, including the final fight at Yankee Stadium on a night when police were on strike and many in the crowd feared for their safety. The fight went 15 rounds and Ali won a decision.

Norton would come back in 1977 to win an eliminator against Jimmy Young and was declared champion by the WBC when Spinks was stripped of the title.

His fight against Holmes in 1978 at Caesars Palace was his last big hurrah, with the two heavyweights going back and forth, trading huge blows inside a steamy pavilion in the hotel’s back lot.

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