Former Heavyweight Champion Ken Norton Dies

Norton broke Muhammad Ali's jaw in their first bout in 1973.

Posted: 09/19/2013 04:30 PM EDT
Ken Norton

In this Sept. 10, 1973, file photo, Muhammad Ali, right, winces as Ken Norton hits him with a left to the head during their re-match at the Forum in Inglewood, California.  (Photo: AP Photo/File)

Ken Norton, the celebrated boxer and one-time heavyweight champion who later acted in films, died on Wednesday at 70. He was ill for several years and suffered a number of stokes.

Norton, who also played professional football, had a long boxing career but was best known for having broken the jaw of Muhammad Ali in an unexpected victory against the former heavyweight champion in 1973. 

Norton was the second boxer to defeat Ali on the professional level. The other was Joe Frazier, who won a 15-round unanimous decision in 1971. In 1978, Norton was awarded a share of the heavyweight title when Leon Spinks decided to fight Ali for more money and was stripped of the title.

Nonetheless, Norton’s time as heavyweight champion did not last long. He would soon lose it in a grueling decision loss to Larry Holmes in a split decision bout. His fight against Holmes is considered one of the greatest boxing matches of all time.

Over the course of his career, Norton amassed a record of 42-7-1 and 33 knockouts. 
He later turned to acting and starred in the 1975 film Mandingo, which offered a graphic depiction of slave life in the South in which Norton played the role of Mede, the Mandingo slave. The movie also starred James Mason and Earl Mason, the pro-wrestler who also went into acting.

For years Norton had dealt with a series of health issues, including two strokes, prostate cancer as well as a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery. In 1986, he was in a serious car accident in which he broke his jaw as well as his ribs and legs. He suffered a fractured skull in the accident and that left him with a brain injury and the inability to speak without slurring his words.

He received a scholarship to play football at Northeast Missouri State University, which has since been renamed as Truman State University. His college football years, however, were marred by a shoulder injury. He left to enter the Marines, where he was an amateur boxer and had a record of 24-2 and became the Marine Heavyweight Championship three times. He turned professional in 1967.

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