Sports Commentary 9/19/13
Scott on the passing of Boxer Ken Norton…
ONE PUNCH AWAY
One fight, one point, one rubber match. Ken Norton’s boxing career always seemed to be just one number away from transitioning from respectable to great, and most of that respectability resulted from one punch. In 1973, with Muhammad Ali just over the crest of his peak, Norton took a 12 round decision from Ali. The punch that led to the decision was the punch with which Norton broke Ali’s jaw in the first round. While he won the fight, Norton was dogged by questions about why he couldn’t land that one more punch to Ali’s jaw that might have ended the fight short of a decision. Ali never got enough credit for the defensive display he put on for 11 rounds to keep that punch from landing. Norton’s victory led to a rematch, won by Ali, which, in turn, demanded a rubber match, in 1976 at Yankee Stadium, a controversial win for Ali. While Ali was beating all comers, Norton, with an awkward, pressing style, was the one opponent who always seemed to give him fits. His loss to Norton was only the second of Ali’s career, the first a loss to Joe Frazier two years earlier. Neither of Ali’s wins over Norton came easy, but Norton always seemed to be one fight away from that level where Louis, Marciano and Ali resided. He became WBC champion in 1977, a year after his final bout with Ali, but he didn’t win it in the ring, he was given the title in an elimination competition to fill the void when Leon Spinks accepted a fight with Ali rather than defending the title against the mandatory challenger, thereby vacating it. The following year, in his first defense, Norton lost the title to Larry Holmes in a close decision after 15 rounds of bruising action. It would be his last brush with greatness, his last chance to stand on a level field with the greatest of his era. Norton would fight only five more times after that. While the Holmes fight, in defense of the title he briefly held, would have been a fitting legacy for Norton, the three fights with Ali will always stand as the hallmarks of his career, the punch that broke Ali’s jaw in the first round of his victory in their first meeting, probably holding up as the signature he put on the sport. Ken Norton passed away yesterday after a long series of illnesses and strokes. He was 70 years old. He wasn’t Ali, he wasn’t “Smokin'” Joe Frazier. He wasn’t Holmes or Foreman or Tyson. Ken Norton always seemed to be just one more punch away. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.