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A Career on the Edge: Muhammad Ali Beats Ken Norton in Rematch

Publish Date: 09/14/2023
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster

After suffering the second loss of his career, Muhammad Ali had nothing to say. Ken Norton had silenced him – breaking his jaw early or late in their 12-round affair in San Diego.

Norton, the fighting marine, had nullified Ali’s jab and outworked him. Ali hung in, but his conditioning was poor.

Rumors had run rampant before the bout that Ali had spent more time signing autographs than training.

Not Norton. Motivation was no problem. He was hungry, literally. The 50K he would be making for fighting Ali was a king’s ransom.

Ali was on a winning streak since losing his duel with Joe Frazier in 1971. His performances had been uneven. Still, he was winning. One more, and the Frazier sequel was on. The champion was even in attendance to scout Ali.

Norton was better than anyone knew. Well, not everyone. Frazier’s trainer, Yancey Durham, had hired Norton to work with Frazier. He said before the fight, " He’s (Ali) got to respect Norton. He could cost us all a lot of money.”

Exactly.

Norton was sharp, while Ali was sluggish. He pressed the fight, executing trainer Eddie Futch’s game plan. His win was without question.

Howard Cosell, who mocked Norton before the fight, told him after the bout, " Kenny, you made me look silly. “That’s okay, Howard,” replied Norton. “You always look silly.”

In the hospital, his broken jaw wired shut, Ali knew he wanted to fight Norton again.

The sequel was on. The date: September 10, 1973 – at the Forum in Inglewood, CA.

With his career now on the ropes, Ali worked extra hard at his training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. He chopped down trees and ran extra miles.

He wanted to weigh less. Pick up some extra speed – like in the old days. No groupies and crowds. Only work. The quest was on. He ran the lonely paths of Deer Lake and pondered. He had to win.

Video: Muhammad Ali vs Ken Norton 2 ‘ABC’s Wide World of Sports’ September 10th 1973 1080p 60fps

Muhammad Ali vs Ken Norton 2 ‘ABC’s Wide World of Sports’ September 10th 1973 1080p 60fps

He weighed in at a ripped 212, three pounds less than when he fought Frazier.

Norton was just as confident as Ali. He felt he could defeat the former champion again. Ali’s other opponents were age and his enforced layoff. Anyone honest could see he had lost half a step.

Ali dialed back the clock in the early rounds. He was faster than he had been in any of his previous fights. He was dancing effectively and scoring with jabs.

Norton dogged Ali. He’d slow down, he likely figured. He was right.

Ali stopped dancing, and Norton took over. He cut off the ring and worked the midsection. His jab scored. His confidence was growing. Round six was all action. Ali was tired.

Norton chased Ali in round seven – landing some telling shots. Ali fought back, using his legs but still getting trapped. Ali clipped Norton with combinations. The round was close.

Ali’s well of resiliency seemed to have no bottom. He was back in control a few rounds later. He outboxed Norton in round 10, but lost the next heat, as Norton tattooed his midsection.

The fight appeared to be up for grabs. The last round could decide it. Norton was feeling it after a successful 11th round, but Ali, again digging into his endless reserves, came out punching. He fired piston-like combinations that seemed to catch Norton off guard. A big right knocked Norton back a step. The extra miles were paying off. Ali moved around the ring, popping Norton with jabs and occasional rights.

The last round was his, as was the fight.

Video: Muhammad Ali vs Ken Norton II

Muhammad Ali vs Ken Norton II ” The Revenge” HD #ElTerribleProduction​

Ali would defeat Rudi Lubbers a month later, then get revenge against Joe Frazier in 1974. The springboard was set.

George Foreman was next.

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