In the second of only five losses in his professional career, Muhammad Ali faced Ken Norton on March 31st, 1973. Considered the underdog of the fight, Norton had recently reached a point of world recognition and had his big break to an agreed fight with Ali.
“Ali thought it would be an easy fight,” Norton’s former manager, Gene Kilroy, was quoted by The A.P. as saying. “But Norton was unorthodox. Instead of jabbing from above like most fighters, he would put his hand down and jab up at Ali.”
Another top heavyweight of the era, Joe Frazier, was a likely contender for Norton, if it weren't for their friendship and shared trainer, Eddie Futch. Frazier at the time was the only other fighter to defeat Ali in the first of their famous trilogy of matches.
Norton went on to win the 12-round bout by split decision, taking the NABF heavyweight title from Ali. In the fight, Norton broke Ali's jaw. Kilroy said after the fight that Norton visited Ali at the hospital where he was getting his jaw wired. Ali told Norton he never wanted to fight him again.
The second bout in their trilogy of fights came only sixth months later, where Ali defeated Norton by split decision. In their final match, Ali retained his WBC and WBA titles by unanimous decision, but was unpopular by many in attendance of the more than 30,000 crowd at Yankee Stadium.
“I was never the same fighter after that,” Norton told Red Smith of The New York Times in October 1979. “I never trained so hard again, never could put the same feeling into it. I was at my best that night, in the best shape I ever was.”
Norton passed on September 18th, 2013. He retired from boxing in 1981 and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.