September 19th, 2013 By Pedro Fernandez
KEN NORTON GOT BADLY NEEDED ASSURANCE
San Francisco, CA- Having just learned of the passing of Ken Norton, or as Howard Cosell referred to him, “Kenny Norton,“ I remember both the “bitter” and the “sweet” about Norton, who was anointed WBC champ in 1978, then lost in his first defense to Larry Holmes. For some of you, this story is part of a prior story I did about Norton, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Larry Holmes and promoter Ross Fields Sr. (Harold Smith).
STIRRING THE POT & GETTING A REACTION!
After a catered meal, it got so quiet with Ali, Larry, George, Ken, me, Harold, that you could have heard a mouse pee on a wad of cotton in the furthest corner of the room. It was then Muhammad says in not of his most powerful oratories, but one of the most significant, while looking Norton in the eye he said. ”That last fight champ, I think you got the better of it.”
ALI CONFESSION WAS HEART-WRENCHING TO KENNY
A tough guy on the exterior, I always thought Ken Norton was a blockhead ex-Marine when he turned out to be a man who because of the aura of Ali never got his propers, Ken’s eyes watered up as he and Ali hugged. This is what Ken Norton had lived for, it was better to him than winning the lottery. He had heard it directly from Ali himself! This remains one of my most poignant boxing memories.
PEDRO & KENNY DO NEW YEARS ON SOUTH BEACH
It was New Years Eve 1995, the aforementioned promoter Harold Smith was putting on a show at some swank South Miami Beach Hotel (Faults he has, but Smith always tried to roll first class) with future title challenger Diosbely Hurtado in an NBA (National Boxing Assn.) 10 round lightweight (135) fight sanctioned by Irv Abramson (footnote on Irv at end). It’s New Years in Miami, FL, I’m doing the ring announcing and some “live to tape,” introducing greats like Kid Gavilan, (yes, he did the “bolo” punch) for everybody, man it doesn’t get much better than that.
NORTON ALWAYS SEEMED BITTER
Many years later, the Ali admitting to Norton that he had won that third fight, Kenny was adamant that he beat Ali thrice. “I won the first one, the second and the third fight. I only got credit for one. Ali is just a big mouth who was the bigger attraction. It didn’t matter who won the fight, Ali knows I beat him three times. Against Joe (Frazier), he won the last two fights, lost the first. He never beat me.”
ALI CONFESSION CHANGED NORTON’S LIFE
When he passed yesterday at the age of 70, Norton, who was seriously hurt in a car accident many years ago, I know he died with a smile on his face saying, “Ali, he said I won the third fight.” Although there were other events where we meet and it took Ken some time to recognize the face, voice and put it together. In closing, some mock his taking the WBC title sans fighting for it after Leon Spinks opted for an Ali rematch instead of mandatory challenger Ken Norton.
FIGHT WITH HOLMES DEFINING MOMENT FOR BOTH
The 1978 clash with Larry Holmes at the long razed Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion (capacity circa 4,500 seats) was an epic heavyweight battle Holmes would win by decision after 15, some incredible rounds later Holmes had his hand raised and the post Ali-era had really begun. Norton at 38, never good with punchers, Ernie Shavers and George Foreman, that not so sturdy chin was lit up by Gerry Cooney and Ken retired in 1981, after 14 years and a 44-7-1, 33 KOs.
FOOTNOTE ON IRV ABRAMSON & NATIONAL BOXING ASSN. HEAD
Having been around the world with the late NBA guy Irv Abramson, I first met him when he was selling boxing magazines at the fights in Atlantic City,NJ., “With the best boxing writers in the world, $3 bucks.” I bought one and on like page 4, low and behold, there was a copyrighted story I had penned for Professional Boxing Update Magazine some three months prior. Realizing this I went to confront Irv, who had but one thing to say after my bitching, “I told you, the best writers in the world.” Flattery and a smile got Irv a pass.