Former W.B.C. heavyweight boxing champion Ken Norton Sr. passed away Wednesday from congestive heart ailure at the age of 70. Norton is most well known for his three fights with Muhammad Ali in the seventies. He was inducted in the International and World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1989 and 1992. In 2004 in was inducted in the U.S.M.C. Sports Hall of Fame. Ken Norton also acted in several films and television shows. One of his most infamous roles were in the sexploitation films "Mandingo" and "Drum". He also appeared in "Knight Rider" and "The A-Team".
Born in Jacksonville, Illinois he attended Jacksonville High School and later studied at Northeast Missouri State. For four years, Norton enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and learned boxing. This would change his life and it steered him towards a career in prize fighting. Whilst in the U.S.M.C. he won three All-Marine Heavyweight titles and earned twenty-four wins. After his four year enlistment was up, he turned pro and won his first sixteen fights before suffering his first lost at the hands of Jose Luis Garcia. Norton went on to win thirteen more fights before facing Muhammad Ali for the N.A.B.F. Heavyweight title. Despite being a 5-1 underdog, Norton shocked everyone by winning the fight via a split decision and broke Ali's jaw in the process. Ali and Norton would fight again six months later but ended up on the short end of the stick losing by a split decision.
The win earned him a title shot against World Champion George Foreman. Sadly the bout ended in the second round when Foreman pummeled Norton before the referee stopped the match. Norton would win seven more fights and regain the N.A.B.F. title in a win over Jerry Quarry. Ali (now the World Heavyweight Champion) would fight Norton again for the third time. Norton would lose the match via unanimous decision. Despite the loss, he would win two more fights before facing off against Jimmy Young for the vacant W.B.C. Heavyweight title. Norton would win the fight (split decision) and become a World Champion. His reign was short lived because he would lose the title (split decision) to rising star Larry Holmes.
Norton's waning boxing skills would continue to diminish, He would win his next fight by knock out (Randy Stephens) but he would end up being knocked out in the bout after by hard hitting Earnie Shavers. Norton would draw his next fight against Scott LeDoux and defeat Randall "Tex" Cobb (split decision) before facing Gerry Cooney for the number one contender's spot. The hungry Cooney was too much for Norton who beaten and battered the former champ before the referee stopped the fight in the first round. After the fight he hung up his boxing gloves for good. Norton life's after boxing was filled with speaking engagements, television appearances and interviews before a near fatal car accident in 1986 whilst driving his Clénet sports car hampered them all. The accident left him with a speech impediment and a few years of intense rehab. In his later years, Ken Norton wrote two autobiographies and participated in several documentaries and guest spots in films.
He has been in poor health for the past year. In 2012 he suffered a stroke and was rehabilitating from the complications. Ken Norton is survived by second wife Jackie and his sons Keith and Ken Norton Jr. (former All-Pro NFL player). Ken Norton Sr. was a no nonsense fighter who did little talking and took care of his business in the ring. He will be missed.