Ken Norton fights Jimmy Young in an Eliminator WBC heavyweight fight November 5, 1977 at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. Norton won the fight in a fifteen round split decision. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Ken Norton, the former heavyweight champion who broke the jaw of Muhammad Ali on his way to a major upset in 1973, died Wednesday, his son said. He was 70.
Norton died in Arizona, where he had been living since suffering a stroke last year. He had been in failing health for a several years.
Norton had overcome two earlier strokes, prostate cancer, a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery, and survived a bad car accident in 1986 in which he broke his jaw, ribs and legs, fractured his skull and suffered a brain injury.
In 1978, Norton, won a share of the WBC heavyweight title when Leon Spinks chose to fight Ali for more money. But the title reign was short-lived. He lost it for good in a tough fight against Larry Holmes that June.
Norton, who was born in Jacksonville, Ill., finished with a record of 42-7-1 and 33 knockouts, and went into acting after he retired. He was also a ringside TV analyst.
He was voted by Ring magazine as one of the top 25 heavyweights of all time, and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.
On March 31, 1973, Norton was supposed to be a steppingstone for Ali's climb back to the heavyweight title he lost to Joe Frazier two years earlier.
Norton, who was once a sparring partner for Frazier, was trained by Frazier's trainer, Hall of Famer Eddie Futch. He was mostly unknown coming into the Ali fight, having earned just $300 for his previous fight.
Norton told USA TODAY Sports in 2010 he didn't fear Ali and hired a hypnotist to help him deal with Ali's trash-talking. "I felt I was as smart has he was and I was more physical," Norton said. "My manager thought a hypnotist would be a good thing. It gave me more of a positive feeling."
It apparently worked. He broke Ali's jaw with a straight right in the second round, and Ali fought another 10 rounds to finish the fight. Norton won a stunning split decision.
Their second fight six months later was billed as "The Revenge: Battle of Broken
Jaw." Ali said, "I took a nobody and created a monster and now I have to punish him bad."
He beat Norton, but just narrowly, winning a split decision. They fought a third time at Yankee Stadium three years later, and Ali won again by split decision. Norton always believed he won that fight.
"Ali, to me and the world, was boxing at that point," Norton said. "If I had beat Ali in the third fight, it would've ruined everything."
Despite their rivalry, Ali and Norton remained friends through Norton's life
Norton, despite having a sculpted body, said he never lifted weights.
He told USA TODAY Sports in 2010 that, "Looking back, beating Ali has no bearing on my life now. I see it on TV, but I rarely think about it."
One of his sons, Ken Norton Jr., played for the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers in the NFL and now coaches for the Seattle Seahawks.
Contributing: Associated Press