Although he held one version of the heavyweight championship briefly, Ken Norton is remembered primarily for breaking Muhammad Ali's jaw. This was during Ali's second coming. The fight was held in March 1973 for the North American Boxing Federation Heavyweight Championship. The NABF was formed only in 1968
. Ali and Norton were fighting for the vacant title, which had previously been held by George Foreman, who would remain unbeaten until the famous "Rumble in the Jungle" with Ali in October the following year.
It is unclear in what round much less with what punch Norton silenced the Louiseville Lip, but there was no arguing with the result, even though it was a split decision. That was as good as things got for Ken Norton; five years later, almost to the day, he would briefly hold the WBC title before being relieved of it in a split decision by Larry Holmes, arguably the greatest heavyweight ever to lace up a pair of gloves.
He fought and lost to Muhammad Ali a total of three times; the first was in September 1973, remarkably soon in view of the injury suffered by Ali — this too was a split decision. Their third fight was three years later when he lost a unanimous decision. It has to be said that even dedicated Ali fans were not entirely satisfied with the third result, as this letter published in the October 15, 1976 issue of the British fight publication Boxing News
makes clear. And here is the bloke who wrote it
photographed with Ali in London, 16 years later. Norton's tangles with Ali are a vindication of that old saying "styles make fights."
Norton began his pro career with a fifth-round knockout of Grady Brazell in San Diego. He ended with an ignominious first-round stoppage by the over-hyped Gerry Cooney
. Many of Norton's fights can be found on YouTube, including all three with Ali.
After boxing and indeed before, Norton made a number of film appearances; his first was in the 1972 release Top Of The Heap
, in which he was an uncredited extra. His last was in a Western
five years ago.
Like Ken Norton, Ingemar Johansson held the world heavyweight title briefly; he died in 2009, but today would have been his 81st birthday. The first and only Swede to do so, he won the then-unified title on June 26, 1959 with a third-round stoppage of defending champion Floyd Patterson. Although Patterson was down no fewer than seven times in the final round, after that first devastating punch there was no way back. Like Norton in the first Ali fight, Johansson entered the ring a 5-1 underdog. And like Norton he lost both rematches. In the second fight he was stopped in the fifth, and the third fight in the sixth. It has to be said that unlike most top heavyweights, Johansson's heart was never in it, although he finished his career with four straight wins, the last a 12-round decision in April 1963. Also like Norton he appeared in a few films
both during and after his professional career. (He is not to be confused with other Ingemar Johanssons who appear in the IMDB). Johansson retained his connection to boxing, attending conventions, developed business interests in Sweden, including selling sports apparel, and became a keen marathon runner. He died there on January 30, 2009 at the age of 76.