Remembering a hard hitter…

This isn’t about cancer.  Sometimes it’s just important to remember a life that, in this case, I guess you could say, made an impact on mine.

I’m thinking of heavyweight boxer, Ken Norton Sr. who passed away yesterday at the age of 70.

I remember his arms.  Chiseled and defined like a fine sculptor had worked on them for days.

I also remember his smile and his unassuming manner.  He was a gentle man out of the ring.  He was a nice guy.

He was new to the boxing profession.  I was new to the television sports casting profession.  He would stop by the sports office at the television station I worked at in San Diego back in the early 70’s just to say “Hi” and talk sports.  Kenny made a name for himself as a boxer in the Marines.  He was hoping for a little coverage on the 5 and 11 pm sports segments, always reminding us that he’d be a champ someday.

He was right.

But, he was the overwhelming underdog against Ali at the sports arena in San Diego in March of 1973.  Then, with Ali leaning on the ropes, in the second round, he connected with that right upper-cut and his life changed in an instant.

Most of us at ringside didn’t realize until much later in the fight, that Ali had been rocked by that punch. I remember we all noticed a small trickle of blood dripping off the side of the champ’s mouth, as the fight drew to a close.  Kenny had broken Ali’s jaw alright and he’d win the fight by a split decision.  It was only the second time Ali had lost in his pro career.

That punch gave Ken Norton his boxing career, but it didn’t change the man.

He would quietly visit Ali in the hospital after that fight.

Ali would repay that gesture years later when Kenny suffered terrible injuries in a highway accident.

The man was a warrior by trade but I prefer to remember him sitting at my desk, with a smile on his face and talking sports.

And, I remember those arms.  Who could forget those arms?


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