Ken Norton (1943 – 2013): Boxing legend’s death rekindles memories from historic Yankee Stadium bout

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NEW YORK CITY (PIX11) – Ken Norton called San Diego home.  He became a New York City legend after a night at the office in the Bronx against Muhammad Ali.  Norton’s passing on Wednesday at the age of 70 immediately rekindled memories of what took place inside of what is now a field in the Bronx, Ali-Norton III.

Former heavyweight contender Gerry Cooney was at Yankee Stadium on the night that many said Norton got robbed.  Cooney on Thursday told PIX 11 News that he still remembers it clearly, “It was the most powerful magnetic electric night for me as a young kid,  I just turned pro and this what I got to see.”

What Cooney saw was a modern day Rome.  Two gladiators engaged in a phone-booth brawl to the end.  “The fight was memorable because they went back and forth at each other all night long and you known Ali may have got that decision, people can say it was Norton that got that decision,” said Cooney after giving a tour of the boxing memorabilia room in his home.

That night is part of the city’s lore surrounding its sports scene. This said, it must have been impossible to get a ticket right?

“It was a little bit easier than you might think,” says ESPN-New York’s Wallace Matthews.  Matthews was a teenager the night of September 28, 1976. He was also ringside  “It cost me 27 bucks to sit in the upper deck and because there was no police in the house that night, I was easily able to move down.  My buddy and I we sat ringside, in fact we were very proud that we sat in front of Mick Jagger.”  Norton was the street fighting man that night.  In boxing, styles make a fight and Norton’s style was one that Ali could never quite figure out, “He was tough.  I thought he was amateurish in ways. I thought he threw his punches kind of wild and roundhouse, but did have a style that for some reason always gave Muhammad Ali fits and if you look back through his record, really the only notable fighter he ever beat was Muhammad Ali.”

In his final fight on May 11th, 1981, Norton, also known as the fighting Marine stepped through the ropes at Madison Square Garden. Although he had a strong spirit, his talents were on the decline.  After the first bell, he was stopped within a minute.  Knocked out cold by his 24-year-old opponent, who was a #1-ranked contender named Gerry Cooney, “I caught him with a right hand to the body, he dropped a little bit and I figured let me go with this a for a little bit, spun him in the corner and I had my way with him.”

Cooney shared that it was sad to hear of his old friend’s passing, but he was glad that he was able to tell him how much he meant to a kid from Huntington, “He had a great life, love him.  I was able to tell him that, did a commercial with him and Joe Frazier one time and I was able to tell him that lets shake it off, let’s move on, and we were able to do that.”