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Ken Norton Sr.
*Ken Norton was born on August 9, 1943. He was a Black WBC Heavyweight Boxing Champion and actor.
From Jacksonville, Illinois, Kenneth Howard Norton Sr. was an outstanding athlete at Jacksonville High School. He was a state championship football team member and was selected to the all-state team on defense as a senior in 1960. His track coach entered him in eight events, and Norton placed first in all of them. As a result, the "Ken Norton Rule," which limits an athlete's participation to a maximum of three track and field events, was instituted in Illinois high school sports.
After graduating from high school, Norton went to Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State University) on a football scholarship and studied elementary education. Norton started boxing in the United States Marine Corps from 1963 to 1967, compiling a 24-2 record en route to three All-Marine Heavyweight titles.
Following the National AAU finals in 1967, he turned professional. Norton built up a steady string of wins, some against journeyman fighters and others over fringe contenders like the giant Jack O'Halloran. He was learning and improving and was given the motivational book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, which changed his life, as he states in his autobiography, Going the Distance. Upon reading it, he went on a 14-fight winning streak, including a shocking victory over Muhammad Ali in 1973 to win the North American Boxing Federation heavyweight champion title.
Norton once said, "In boxing, and in all of life, nobody should ever stop learning!" He and Ali would fight twice more; with Ali officially winning narrowly both return bouts, although many felt Norton truly deserved their third fight. In a 1977 title elimination bout, Norton beat Jimmy Young and won the WBC title when Leon Spinks declined a mandated title defense against Norton, the number one contender. However, Norton lost it in his first defense on a split decision by 1 point to Larry Holmes.
Norton was a forward, pressing fighter/boxer notable for his unusual guard/stance characterized by arms held crosswise. The left arm was low across the torso, and the right hand was up by the right or left ear. But when under heavy pressure, both arms were bought up high across at face level while one leaned forward. This left the opponent a little target in theory. Norton would bob and weave from a crouch firing well-placed heavy punches. Norton was best when advancing. He'd drag or slide the right foot along from behind.
By comparison, most conventional boxers have elbows in the torso with forearms vertically parallel. The gloves are both near the sides of the face; many trainers believe the conventional style is a better defense and that the cross-arm style leaves the user open far too often. Norton's style gave Ali more trouble than anyone else in history over three fights. Ali’s famous tactics like clinching or rope-a-dope never fazed him and were all for various reasons not as effective as when Ali fought Frazier, the only other man he fought three times.
Trainer Angelo Dundee wrote that Ken's best punch was the left hook. Many others lauded his infamous overhand right. In a Ring Magazine article, Norton said that a right uppercut to Jerry Quarry was the hardest blow he recalled landing. Unlike many boxers, Norton would often not attempt to stare down an opponent while announcements were made before the match started. Instead, he'd often look down at the floor and gather his thoughts. He was also widely noted for his fine athletic build.
As an actor, Norton appeared in twenty motion pictures. Norton additionally worked as a television and radio sports commentator until suffering injuries in a near-fatal car accident in 1986. It left him with slow and slurred speech. He appeared along with Ali, Foreman, Frazier, and Holmes in a video, Champions Forever, discussing their best times, and in 2000 he published his autobiography, Going the Distance.
He was twice voted "Father of the Year" by the Los Angeles Sentinel and the Los Angeles Times in 1977. His son, Ken Norton Jr., played football at UCLA and had a career in the NFL. He is now the linebackers coach for the Seattle Seahawks. Norton's other son, Keith Norton, was once the weekend sports anchor for KPRC in Houston, Texas. Ken Norton Sr. died on September 18, 2013.