|Most fight fans never remember Kenny Norton as the real reason for the movie Rocky. We would never have had the great movie Rocky without his fight with Wepner in 1970, which created the spark for Stallone to make this fine film. Yes, Kenny Norton is the real Apollo Creed. Kenneth Howard Norton was born on August 9,|
1945 in Jacksonville, Illinois. He fought at 210-pounds and was 6' 3" (1.91 m) in the ring. He become the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion in 1978, and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in1992. His son worked as a linebacker with the San Francisco 49ers. He entered into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1989. He was an aggressive fighter who could move with a confusing fluidity and he commanded a dangerous repertoire of punches. Unlike many fighters, Norton did not grow up boxing or dreaming of becoming a fighter. He played football, basketball, and track in high school and received a scholarship to Northeast Missouri State, which he attended for two years.
It was not until Norton joined the Marine Corps that he began boxing. In the Marines, Norton compiled a 24-2 amateur record and won the All-Marine heavyweight title three times. He also won a title in the Pan-American Games trials. Norton turned pro in 1967 at the relatively advanced age of twenty-four with a knockout of Grady Brazell. He fought primarily in the Southern California area and won his first sixteen fights before suffering a knockout loss to Jose Luis Garcia, the first ranked contender he ever faced. He avenged this loss five years later. By 1972, Norton appeared in the number nine in The Ring's annual ranking of top contenders. Ken “The Black Hercules’ Norton was a good heavyweight contender for the title in the late 1970’s. His physique was such that he could have had a career as a model, which he sometimes tried. He was an ex-marine and is well known for his win over Muhammad Ali.
Ken began his career in a promising fashion, reeling off an unbeaten streak against mediocre opposition. He was beginning to gain recognition as a top prospect until the roof caved in. A wiry Venezuelan named Jose Luis Garcia bombed Ken out and forced Norton to start all over. It took some time but Ken finally re-established himself with tough victories over men like Jack O'Halloran and Henry Clark. Norton hit the top ten in the rankings, but no one gave him a chance when he met ex-champion Muhammad Ali in March of 1973. In a fight that is forever remembered as "The Jaw Breaker", Norton walked off with the upset decision and Ali left to have his jaw wired. Norton faced Ali for the NABF heavyweight title in a fight broadcast on national television from the San Diego Sports Arena.
In fighting the famous Muhammad Ali, Norton underwent hypnosis to work on flaws in his game. Ali had failed to train adequately for the match and had trouble avoiding Norton's advances. Norton, who was in top form, broke Ali's jaw in the first round. Although Ali went the distance, the injury took its toll and Norton won on a split decision. Ali won the rematch in Los Angeles in September with a blistering final round. Again, the result was a split decision. He lost two other bouts to Muhammad Ali in which he was out-pointed on both occasions.
Norton's pressing style combined with a hook to the body and a right uppercut to the head made him a formidable foe. Norton beat Jerry Quarry in New York in 1975 with a fifth round TKO to take the NABF heavyweight title. Ken got his first shot at the world crown against George Foreman. Foreman had destroyed Ken's friend Joe Frazier in two rounds to capture the title. George duplicated the feat halting Kenny in round two of a mismatch. Again, Norton would rebuild his career and after Ali stripped Foreman ofhis cloak of invincibility in Zaire, Ken became the logical contender. They met in their rubber match for Ali's title in September of 1976 at Yankee Stadium in front of 30,296 fans. Norton led early on but Ali recovered and won an unpopular unanimous decision, though Norton clearly believed that he had won the fight. I think so too. Then hard-hitting Earnie Shavers stopped him in one round. Asked in a 1992 interview, he told the press that most would remember him for the Ali fights. He always respected Ali for bringing in the gait receipts to such a high moneymaking level. Nevertheless, Norton was a key player in the heavyweight wars of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
When Norton destroyed previously unbeaten Duane Bobick in one round in 1977, he put himself in line for a fourth meeting with Ali. Then boxing politics intervened. Ali lost his title in a major upset to Leon Spinks. Norton nonetheless remained as a top contender, even after Ali was beaten by Leon Spinks for the world's title in 1978; Spinks refused to fight Norton and went for a more lucrative rematch with Ali instead. Before that had happened, Norton boxed Jimmy Young in what would later turn out to be a world championship bout, but at the time they fought, nobody knew how much was at stake. Norton won by a fifteen-round decision. After Norton beat Young, Spinks refused to face Norton again, the WBC declared their version of the world heavyweight crown vacant, and one day later, decided to give the crown to Norton, thus Norton became the first boxer in history to become the world's heavyweight champion by default.
In his first defense, Norton and Larry Holmes met in what many consider a classic fight. Round fifteen of that fight is considered one of the most violent in ring history. Norton lost the title by a split decision. Ken would again try to re-establish himself but his age had finally caught up to him. A life and death struggle to secure a draw with journeyman Scott LeDoux pretty much spelled the end. He did re-surface briefly to edge Tex Cobb, but that only led to disaster as a red-hot Gerry Cooney put a final exclamation point on Ken's career with a brutal one round knockout; Norton subsequently retired. Ken did beat some notables during his distinguished career. Contenders like Henry Clark, Jerry Quarry, Boone Kirkman, and Garcia in a rematch, Jimmy Young, Cobb, and Larry Middleton adorn his record.
Norton also did some acting, starring in the motion picture, “Mandingo.’ Ken Norton retired at age thirty-three with an overall record of forty-two wins, seven losses and one draw. Bob Biron managed right-handed Norton from 1967 until his retirement in 1981. Norton fought around 215-pounds and was tough, with good power and had a great trainer in Eddie Futch. In three fights with Ali, he won the first one and in the third for the heavyweight championship, he was robbed over fifteen rounds. Norton simply sat in the ring and cried. Kenny Norton was unfortunate enough to fight in the greatest era of the division. He had to put up with the likes of Ali, Frazier, Jerry Quarry, Foreman, Ron Lyle, Jimmy Young and many other TOUGH heavyweights you may not have heard of.
Kenny Norton received his greatest challenge after his fighting career. Driving up a hill, his car flipped over on him. He nearly died. He adopted a close contact with his God after the accident. To this day, he continues to sign numerous autographs in his travels to represent the sport. A first round knock out to George Foreman hurt his marketability in the history books. However, the world recognizes him for what he was: a gallant warrior during the division's most competitive era. Norton’s fight with Chuck Wepner in New Jersey was Sylvester Stallone’s inspiration to create the movie Rocky Wepner as the brawler representing Rocky and Norton representing Apollo. Today, Norton can feel proud that he inspired the greatest boxing movie of all time. Very few know that Kenny Norton inspired the movie Rocky. Everyone should see the 1970 Norton-Wepner exhibition fight to catch why Sly loved the style of Kenny Norton.