Ali, Norton and golden age of heavyweights

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In this Sept. 10, 1973, file photo, Muhammad Ali, right, winces as Ken Norton hits him with a left to the head during their re-match at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. Norton, a former heavyweight champion, has died, his son said, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. He was 70. (AP Photo/File)

by Tim Dahlberg
AP Sports Columnist

They were young once, and perhaps it’s best to remember them that way.

Magnificent men on stages equally as magnificent, they were part of the golden age of heavyweight boxing. With Muhammad Ali as the common thread, they fought in faraway places like Zaire and the Philippines, in Yankee Stadium and in the parking lot of a faux Roman palace on the Las Vegas Strip.

“On any given night all of us could beat the other,” George Foreman said. “I had Ken Norton’s number and Joe Frazier’s number. Ali had my number, and Norton had Ali’s number. No one would give up.”

For the better part of two decades, no one did. They fought each other and, if that didn’t settle things, they fought each other again. Ali in particular didn’t mind meeting a familiar foe, with three fights each against Norton and Frazier.

For Norton, who died this week at the age of 70, fighting Ali didn’t just put him in the upper echelon of heavyweights at a time when heavyweights reigned supreme. It literally put food on his table for his son, Ken Jr., who would go on to play in the NFL for 13 years and now coaches linebackers for the Seattle Seahawks.

The money was there because Ali made sure it was. He and Frazier met in what was truly the Fight of the Century in 1971, both getting $2.5 million purses that were unheard of at the time.