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Q&A with Ken Norton

Jan 30, 2004 

Ken Norton rose to prominence with an upset win over Muhammad Ali in a bout that saw him break Ali’s jaw en route to the decision. Although that bout is the one that made him famous, he would go on to fight Ali twice more in closely contested battles, including the rubber match in Yankee Stadium which many observers felt he won. He would later win recognition as the World Boxing Council (WBC) Heavyweight Champion after his victory over Jimmy Young, and then fight an absolute war against Larry Holmes. He also holds victories over Jerry Quarry, Duane Bobick, and Ron Stander in his illustrious career, and finished with a mark of 42-7-1 with 33 knockouts.

Ken Norton proved himself a champion in and out of the ring a long time ago, and he continues to prove it today. He is currently involved in charity work for children, and makes appearances the proceeds from which help fund the charities. One will not find a kinder person than Ken Norton, nor will they find one more giving. His legendary heart, skills, charisma and fighting career ensure that he will never be forgotten. Mr. Norton took time out of his busy schedule to talk to and let everyone know what has been going on in his life.

DB: Mr. Norton, please tell us what's been going on for you lately.

I’m involved in a thing called Emergency Alert System. A lot of people have been hurt or killed in a police car chase, or by a fire engine, or an ambulance because the cars today are soundproof. The radio is going or the windows are up, and so many people don’t hear these vehicles approaching. So we invented a thing where all four traffic lights all turn yellow, and a car will appear in the middle. We’ve been doing pretty well with it. It’s gonna be first probably in Orange County, San Diego, and L.A.

DB: How did you get into boxing?

I got into boxing in the Marine Corps. A friend of mine in the Corps talked me into it. I was 26 when I got involved. That was the first boxing in my life, and to my way of thinking that was a late start.

DB: I hear you have a pretty interesting story about your first sparring session with Muhammad Ali. Please tell us about that.

I was working out in L.A. at the time at the Hoover Street Gym, and Ali came in and wanted to box someone. I told my trainer at the time, Eddie Futch, that I wanted to do it. So Eddie said, "okay, we have a heavyweight you can use." So we boxed and I think I got the better of him. The next day he came back and wanted to fight, and Eddie Futch said "the next time you two get in the ring together it will be for money."

DB: Everyone remembers you for, among many other things, your first fight with Muhammad Ali, where you broke his jaw on the way to winning a decision. What is your recollection of that fight?

In that fight, even without his jaw broken, I think Ali would have still had a hard time beating me. I was so focused, so into fighting Ali that night that my main purpose in life was to defeat him. The only people who believed that I could win were my trainer, myself, and my manager.

DB: A lot of people thought you were robbed in the third fight with Ali at Yankee Stadium—

(cutting in) If you ask me I'll tell you the same thing! (laughs)

DB: and a lot of people think the second fight was very close. How did you feel about the decisions in those fights?

At that time, Ali was boxing and boxing went as Ali went. So every time anyone had a close fight with Ali, he won.

DB: You were trained by the legendary Eddie Futch. What was it like to work under such a respected and knowledgeable trainer?

I respected Eddie in every way. Whatever Eddie said, I would try to do. Whatever he instructed you to do, you did. Once you had confidence in Eddie Futch, who I felt was one of the greatest trainers of all time, he lifted you from point zero to point ten in no time.

DB: Another fighter who was trained by Eddie Futch was Joe Frazier. All of the great heavyweight fighters of the 1970’s including yourself, fought each other, except that you and Frazier never fought. Why was that?

One of the main reasons is that Joe and I fought many rounds because I was more or less his sparring partner, in my learning process of the profession. I was just becoming a professional fighter. We just became too friendly. I liked Joe a lot, and obviously Joe felt the same way about me. I just didn’t feel there was enough money around at the time to fight him. I think Joe felt the same way.

DB: You fought Larry Holmes in one of the greatest fights of all time. Did you know, going into the final round of that fight, that it was up for grabs?

No I didn’t, but then again, I felt I won that fight. That was a very good fight for both Larry and myself. I still felt that I had at least earned a split decision because you just don’t beat a champion that way.

DB: What do you feel was your toughest fight ever?

One was Larry Holmes, another was Ali. Ali was a man who knew the ins and outs of boxing totally. He could psyche you out mentally, he could psyche you out physically, and while you were doing certain things, he was a master of boxing and he would counter that.

DB: Who was the hardest puncher you ever faced?

It would have to be either George Foreman or Earnie Shavers.

DB: What do you think was your best performance?

Number one was the first fight with Ali. Number two was the night I fought Jerry Quarry.

DB: What was it like to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame?

It showed me that people who were participants and the public recognized me, an individual, for what he had done for them. It felt really good.

DB: You make an annual trip to the Hall of Fame for Induction Weekend. What keeps you going back?

Number one, Ed Brophy is a very nice man. Number two it’s a chance to be back with some of my competitors. It’s something that I feel very proud to be a part of, and I will support it as long as I can.

DB: Please tell our readers a little about the accident in which you were involved in 1986, and how that led to the charity work you do now.

Actually, I can’t say much about the accident, because I don’t remember anything. I know what happened. I was driving on Vermont on-ramp to the Santa Monica freeway, and I went over the hill. I don’t remember anything three or four years before and three or four years after. It’s a total blank. When it happened a child, a little girl, was playing in her back yard at 10:30 at night, and she saw the accident and told her parents. If she hadn’t been there at that time, it’s possible that I wouldn’t be here today because you couldn’t see the car from the freeway. I felt like my life was spared for some reason, that God left me here for a reason. Because of that, I’ve devoted most of my time to having a home for abandoned and abused children. I think the accident was God’s way of telling me what I needed to do. The way I see it, why else would the little girl have been in the back yard at 10:30 at night?

DB: What are your plans for the future?

My plan is to get the home started for abandoned and abused children, and to continue working on solving problems that the world has, such as with the stop light. But the main thing is, I feel like I was left here to do things for children, and that is one of my priorities.

DB: Is there anything you’d like to add to your fans who will be reading this?

I just want to say that I believe, in life, the man who wins is the man who thinks he can.

DB: Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Norton.

Pro Record: 50 fights; 42+ (33 KO), 1=, 7-

1978: W.B.C. Heavyweight
- 1967 -
+ (Nov-14-1967, San Diego) Grady Brazell ko 5
- 1968 -
+ (Jan-16-1968, San Diego) Sam Wyatt 6
+ (Feb-6-1968, Sacramento) Harold Dutra ko 3
+ (Mar-26-1968, San Diego) Jimmy Gilmore ko 7
+ (Jul-23-1968, San Diego) Wayne Kindred ko 6
+ (Dec-5-1968, Los Angeles) Cornell Nolan ko 6
- 1969 -
+ (Feb-11-1969, Woodlands Hills) Joe Hemphill kot 3
+ (Feb-20-1969, Los Angeles) Wayne Kindred ko 9
+ (Mar-31-1969, San Diego) Pedro Sanchez ko 1
+ (May-29-1969, Los Angeles) Bill Mc Murray kot 7
+ (Jul-25-1969, San Diego) Gary Bates ko 8
+ (Oct-21-1969, San Diego) Jose Luis Garcia ko 3
- 1970 -
+ (Feb-4-1970, Las Vegas) Aaron Eastling ko 2
+ (Mar-13-1970, San Diego) Stanford Harris ko 3
+ (Apr-7-1970, Cleveland) Bob Mashburn ko 4
+ (May-8-1970, San Diego) Ray Ellis ko 2
- (Jul-2-1970, Los Angeles) Jose Luis Garcia ko 8
+ (Aug-28-1970, San Diego) Ray Wallace ko 4
+ (Sep-26-1970, Woodlands Hills) Chuck Leslie 10
+ (Oct-16-1970, San Diego) Roy Harris ko 2
- 1971 -
+ (Apr-24-1971, Woodlands Hills) Steve Carter ko 3
+ (Jun-12-1971, Santa Monica) Vic Brown ko 5
+ (Aug-7-1971, Santa Monica) Chuck Haynes ko 7
+ (Sep-29-1971, San Diego) James Woody 10
- 1972 -
+ (Feb-17-1972, San Diego) Charlie Harris kot 3
+ (Mar-16-1972, San Diego) Jack O'Halloran 10
+ (Jun-5-1972, San Diego) Herschel Jacobs 10
+ (Jun-28-1972, San Diego) James Woody kot 7
+ (Nov-21-1972, Stateline) Henry Clark kot 9
+ (Dec-13-1972, San Diego) Charlie Reno 10
- 1973 -
+ (Mar-30-1973, San Diego) Cassius Clay 12
- (Sep-10-1973, Los Angeles) Cassius CLAY 12 (North America, Heavyweight)
- 1974 -
- (Mar-25-1974, Caracas) George FOREMAN kot 2 (World, Heavyweight)
+ (Jun-24-1974, Seattle) Boone Kirkmann retiring 8
- 1975 -
+ (Feb-13-1975, Oklahoma City) Reco Brooks ko 1
+ (Mar-24-1975, New York) Jerry QUARRY kot 5
+ (Aug-14-1975, Saint-Paul) Jose Luis Garcia ko 5
- 1976 -
+ (Jan-10-1976, Las Vegas) Pedro Lovell kot 5
+ (Apr-30-1976, Landover) Ron STANDER kot 5
+ (Jul-10-1976, San Diego) Larry Middleton kot 10
- (Sep-29-1976, New York) Cassius CLAY 15 (World, Heavyweight)
- 1977 -
+ (May-11-1977, New York) Duane BOBICK ko 1
+ (Sep-14-1977, Las Vegas) Lorenzo ZANON ko 5
+ (Nov-5-1977, Las Vegas) Jimmy YOUNG 15
- 1978 –
- (Jun-9-1978, Las Vegas) Larry HOLMES 15 (W.B.C., Heavyweight)
+ (Nov-10-1978, Las Vegas) Randy STEPHENS kot 3
- 1979 -
- (Mar-23-1979, Las Vegas) Earnie SHAVERS kot 1
= (Aug-19-1979, Bloomington) Scott LEDOUX 10
- 1980 -
+ (Oct-31-1980, San Antonio) Randy COBB 10
- 1981 -
- (May-10-1981, New York) Gerry COONEY ko 1

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