Former heavyweight champion Ken Norton Sr., who once broke Muhammad Ali's jaw and threatened his self-described status as "The Greatest," died Wednesday at a care facility in Las Vegas where he had been undergoing rehabilitation for a stroke suffered 13 months ago, according to a Los Angeles Times report. Norton, 70, had congestive heart failure.
Although he never actually won a world heavyweight championship fight, Norton carved out a World Boxing Hall of Fame career as a foe who tormented Ali with his rugged style, winning the first of their three fights by breaking Ali's jaw in the 11th round on March 31, 1973 and then losing two subsequent controversial decisions.
Although Norton's home base was San Diego, he had four prominent fights in New York, including wins over Jerry Quarry and Duane Bobick at Madison Square Garden, his third fight against Ali on Sept. 28, 1976 at Yankee Stadium and the final fight of his career on May 11, 1981 at the Garden, when he was stopped by Long Island heavyweight Gerry Cooney in just 54 seconds of the first round.
Born on Aug. 9, 1943, Norton grew up in Jacksonville, Ill. He played college football at Northeast Missouri State but learned to box in the Marines before turning pro in 1967.
Norton carried a 29-1 record into his first bout with Ali, who had lost only to Joe Frazier at that point. Norton won a split decision for the NABF title in San Diego. After the bout, Ali revealed his jaw had been broken.
Ali asked for an immediate rematch, and the two fought slightly less than six months later at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., where Ali got a split decision. Although Norton lost, he earned a shot at the WBC and WBA heavyweight titles held by George Foreman, who stopped him in the second round.
Two years later, Ali and Norton squared off for the third time in the last boxing event ever held in the original Yankee Stadium. The fight came down to the 15th round, which both judges and referee Arthur Mercante Sr. gave it to Ali.
In 1977, Norton defeated Jimmy Young in an elimination bout to put himself in line for another title shot. But after Leon Spinks upset Ali, he refused to fight the mandatory against Norton and gave Ali an immediate rematch. As a result, the WBC stripped Spinks and gave its belt to Norton.
In his first defense of the title, Norton lost a split decision to Larry Holmes. After that bout, Norton (42-7-1, 33 KOs) fought just four more times.
When he faced Cooney, Norton still had the chiseled physique for which he was noted, but it was an empty shell. Cooney wobbled him with the first shot, and referee Tony Perez called a halt after 54 seconds.
Norton was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1989. His son, Ken Norton Jr., starred as a linebacker at UCLA and in the NFL with Dallas and San Francisco.