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It took some doing to top Muhammad Ali when he was the king of the heavyweight division.
Ken Norton did just that.
Norton, a former heavyweight champ, died earlier this week at age 70. That doesn’t sound old, of course, but longevity is not the strong suit of most prizefighters.
His win in his hometown of San Diego on March 31, 1973, isn’t nearly as celebrated a match as the Ali-Frazier or Ali-Foreman or Frazier-Foreman contests of the same era, but at the time Norton's split decision over Ali was one of the biggest upsets the heavyweight division had ever seen.
I can’t say, beyond the fact that he became only the second man to beat Ali, I knew much about Norton, so I went on YouTube to check out the 1973 fight between the two.
Despite Howard Cossell’s obvious hometown call in favor of Ali, as well as one of the two ringside judges giving the fight to Ali, that bout was no contest. It was all Norton.
Norton, who was two years Ali’s junior heading in, was quicker, moved better — which is highly unusual, given Ali’s legendary dancing skills — and got inside to land some big punches, including one that cracked Ali’s iron jaw early in the fight.
I don’t know how one judge thought Ali had won the fight, as Norton dominated round 2, rounds 4 through 9 and round 11. The only round Ali clearly won was the third.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same. I don’t know what fight judge CJ Ross was watching last week as Floyd Mayweather dominated Canelo Alvarez, but she scored that bout a draw — many reporters in attendance had Mayweather pitching a shutout on their unofficial scorecards.
Norton never received the same notoriety that his contemporaries in the heavyweight division did during his career.
But for one night at least, he was The Greatest.