Boxing fans worldwide have been mourning the death of Ken Norton, who died last Wednesday a year after suffering a stroke. And in the Cayman Islands, many remember the heavyweight slugger with awe.
Norton, 70, famously broke Muhammad Ali’s jaw in their first contest in 1973 and narrowly lost on points to “The Greatest” in two more fights. Many believed Norton deserved the verdict in both bouts, especially their third.
So fearsome were his punches that most of the other heavyweights swerved fighting the ex-marine whose chiselled physique served him well in Hollywood films after he hung up his gloves.
It was the golden age of heavyweights. Besides Ali, George Foreman, “Smokin” Joe Frazier, many others with slightly less talent but immense fighting heart and resilience, were in the mix.
“I remember Norton being the fiercest puncher in the heavyweight division in the ‘70s,” said Tommy Ebanks, a former amateur boxer and past president of the Cayman Islands Boxing Association.
“The boxing fraternity has lost one of its greatest heavyweights and hardest punchers. It’s sad to see him go, but I guess inevitable.
“I had the good fortune of meeting Norton at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, along with other heavyweights Holyfield, Frazier, Foreman, Andrew Golota and Butterbean, and he was a humble, quiet man who rarely said anything but seemed to tower above the others.”
Terence Spencer is the current president of the boxing association and a former amateur boxer, too.
He said, “Ken Norton was a tremendous puncher and was extremely crafty in the ring. He took Ali to the limits and beat him when the world thought he was unstoppable.
“Norton was the David of his era, where Ali was Goliath. Boxing lost an all-time great and the boxing association will keep his family in our prayers.” Bobby Sairsingh is a huge boxing fan and vividly remembers Norton in his heyday.
“Norton probably didn’t get the recognition he deserved,” he said. “He fought honestly and he genuinely beat Ali. I thought he won all three, in fact.”
Growing up in America, Scot Kristal was a big fan of Norton’s. “We used to have to go to the movie theater to see pay-per-view fights,” he said. “I remember seeing the third Ali-Norton fight from Yankee Stadium in a theater. They went toe to toe, pounding each other for 15 brutal rounds.
“We all thought Norton won it on a decision. We were all booing the decision when Ali got it.”
He added: “Norton was part of the most exciting heavyweight boxing era of my lifetime. I met him briefly once after a Marvin Hagler fight in Vegas. Norton lived there and never missed a title fight in the city. We called him over to our table at the bar at the Hilton.
“He was very soft spoken and friendly. He got into a long arcane discussion with a Mexican buddy of mine over the relative merits of several obscure Latin and Asian flyweight fighters.
“He was a student of the game and knew all the players in all the weight classes.”
So fearsome were his punches that most of the other heavyweights swerved fighting the ex-marine whose chiselled physique served him well when he hung up his gloves in Hollywood films.