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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Ken Norton shocks Muhammad Ali – March 31, 1973

Ken Norton shocks Muhammad Ali – March 31, 1973

Publish Date: 03/31/2024
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster

Since losing to Joe Frazier in “The Fight of the Century,” Muhammad Ali had won ten consecutive fights. His performances were occasionally uneven.

He looked good against Jimmy Ellis but flabby and bored versus Buster Mathis. He stopped Juergen Blin and won decisions over Mac Foster and George Chuvalo.

Ali tattooed Jerry Quarry, stopped Alvin Lewis and Floyd Patterson, and was too big for light heavyweight champion Bob Foster. He traveled to Las Vegas and defeated Joe Bugner.

Ten fights in 20 months. Ali wanted Frazier in a rematch. The idea was to stay busy and wait for the champ to sign the contract.

Two months before Ali fought big underdog Ken Norton, George Foreman mucked up the plan by demolishing Frazier in two rounds.

Ali spotted Foreman’s trainer, Dick Sadler, in San Diego to witness the Ali- Norton match, holding the championship strap. Ali said after grabbing it, “This is my belt! This belt belongs to me.”

Though virtually unknown, Norton had won 30 wins in 31 contests. Jose Luis Gracia defeated Norton at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA. Despite being a big favorite before the bell, Norton was floored three times and stopped in round eight. Norton was on a 12-fight winning streak when he met Ali – who was listed as a 5-1 favorite.

Ali agreed with the oddsmakers. He worked on his golf swing and hurt his ankle. There were reports he did most of his training in the parking lot

Norton started the fight well. Ali said Norton broke his jaw in round two.

“I felt it go,” Ali said in an article in Sports Illustrated three weeks after the fight. “Didn’t know it was a broken jaw, but I felt it. Got hit with a right cross over a left jab. When I got back to my corner, there was dark red, bluish blood comin’ out of my mouth, but I didn’t want to quit because there was too many people involved, all them people paid to get in to see me, and all them people on television everywhere.”

Norton disagreed, stating years later that the break occurred in the 12th and final round.

Ali fought on, but hitting the awkward Norton was a problem. The ex-marine connected with numerous shots. He didn’t attack; he waited – forcing Ali to lead. Ali did well in round three, turning back the clock to dance. His jab scored as Norton chased him. The problem was, he couldn’t stay on his toes for long.

When he fought flat-footed, Norton cracked him with overhand shots. The crowd was murmuring. Norton was back in control in round four. His plan of jabbing with Ali was working perfectly.

Norton maintained control in the middle rounds. Ali rallied in round eight, using movement and beating Norton to the punch. Norton popped Ali with headshots in the next heat. He forced Ali into the ropes and dug brutal blows to the belly. Ali tried to do something dramatic in the last round, but Norton again outworked him, earning the decision in a massive upset.

No matter the extenuating circumstances, Norton had whipped himself into great shape and fought superbly.

Ali was in the hospital thinking about a rematch.

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