Former heavyweight champion Ken Norton Sr, the only boxer to break Muhammad Ali’s jaw in the ring, died Wednesday in Las Vegas due to complications from a stroke. He was 70.
Norton’s death was confirmed by his son, Ken Jr, who works as a linebackers coach for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. Norton was a force to reckon with in the 1970s. He is best known for breaking the jaw of then heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali in a split decision victory in 1973 to win the North American Boxing Federation heavyweight title.
Norton’s former manager, Gene Kilroy, remembers the epic battle.
“Ali thought it would be an easy fight,” Kilroy told The Associated Press. “But Norton was unorthodox. Instead of jabbing from above like most fighters, he would put his hand down and jab up at Ali.”
Kilroy remembers Norton visiting Ali in the hospital where he was getting his jaw wired. Ali told Norton he never wanted to fight again.
But Ali took back his title 6 months later in another 12-round split decision.
The boxing titans’ fought again in 1976. Ali won in a controversial 12-round split decision that Norton never lived down.
Norton told anyone who would listen that he was robbed.
“I was never the same fighter after that,” Norton told Red Smith of The New York Times in October 1979. “I never trained so hard again, never could put the same feeling into it. I was at my best that night, in the best shape I ever was.”
Norton leaves behind two sons, former UCLA standout Ken Norton Jr, who played linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys from 1988 to 1993, and Keith Norton, a former sports anchor.