LAS VEGAS — Former heavyweight champion Ken Norton, who beat Muhammad Ali and then lost a controversial decision to him in Yankee Stadium, died Wednesday at a local care facility, his son said. He was 70.
Norton had been in poor health for the last several years after suffering a series of strokes, a friend of the fighter said.
“He’s been fighting the battle for two years,” said Gene Kilroy, Ali’s former business manager. “I’m sure he’s in heaven now with all the great fighters. I’d like to hear that conversation.”
Norton broke Ali’s jaw in their first bout, beating him by split decision in 1973 in a non-title fight in San Diego. They fought six months later, and Ali narrowly won a split decision.
They met for a third time on Sept. 28, 1976, at Yankee Stadium and Ali narrowly won to keep his heavyweight title.
Norton would come back the next year to win a heavyweight title eliminator and was declared champion by the World Boxing Council. But on June 9, 1978, he lost a bruising 15-round fight to Larry Holmes in what many regard as one of boxing’s epic heavyweight bouts and would never be champion again.
Norton finished with a record of 42-7-1 and 33 knockouts. He would later embark on an acting career, appearing in several movies, and was a commentator at fights.
Norton started boxing when he was in the Marines, and began his pro career after his release from duty in 1967. He lost only once in his early fights but had fought few fighters of any note when he was selected to meet Ali. At the time, Ali was campaigning to try to win back the heavyweight crown he lost to Joe Frazier in 1973.
Few gave Norton, who possessed a muscular, sculpted body, much of a chance against Ali in the fight, held at the Sports Arena in San Diego, where Norton lived. But his awkward style and close-in pressing tactics confused his opponent and Norton broke Ali’s jaw on the way to the decision that put him in the top echelon of heavyweight fighters.