PHOENIX (Reuters) - Ken Norton, the former heavyweight boxing champion who broke Muhammad Ali’s jaw in a 1973 bout, died on Wednesday at an Arizona hospital at age 70, his manager said.
Norton, who died in Bullhead City, near the Arizona-Nevada border, had been suffering from congestive heart failure, said Patrick Tenore, the boxer’s corporate manager and friend.
“He’s been in rehab (for ill health) for almost a year … and early this afternoon, he passed away,” Tenore told Reuters. “He was not only a tremendous boxer, but also the most righteous, polite, generous human being.”
Norton took up boxing as a heavyweight when he was serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, and turned professional after his discharge in 1967, according to ESPN.
A power puncher, he burst on the scene in 1973 when he broke Ali’s jaw during their first fight, claiming the North American Boxing Federation heavyweight title in a split decision over 12 rounds.
Ali’s camp said his jaw broke early in the fight, but Norton told a Reuters correspondent at a boxing convention in Cancun, Mexico, more than three decades later, that a punch thrown in the 11th round caused the fracture.
Ali narrowly won a split decision in a rematch nearly six months later, and held on to his heavyweight title in a bruising third encounter in 1976.
Norton won a heavyweight title elimination tournament the following year, and was subsequently declared champion by the World Boxing Council. He lost the title in 1978 in an epic 15-round fight with Larry Holmes.
Norton retired from the ring in 1981. He ended his career with a record of 42 wins, seven losses and a draw. He had 33 knockouts.
He took on a second career as an actor, making more than a dozen television and film appearances, including the 1975 movie “Mandingo.”
His son Ken Norton, Jr., played in the National Football League with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.
Additional reporting by Edith Honan in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney