Former heavyweight champion Ken Norton, who defeated Muhammad Ali and broke his jaw, has died at the age of 70.
Norton passed away in a care facility yesterday in Arizona after suffering congestive heart failure, his close friend and former manager Patrick Tenore has confirmed.
Norton had been in poor health for several years and will be remembered for breaking Ali’s jaw in their first of three fights in 1973, in which he went on to beat him in a split decision.
Ali narrowly won the second non-title fight encounter by a split decision six months later before he claimed a second victory over Norton on September 28th, 1976, at the Yankee Stadium in New York to retain his heavyweight title.
Mr Tenore told Press Association Sport: “It was early this afternoon. Ken got congestive heart failure and passed away.
“He was recovering from a stroke a year ago. To my shock his wife called me said he he had passed away. He was a fighter. He fought a tough battle and we thought he was out of the woods.
“He was a warm and generous man. He was a champion and a fighter and bright-eyed and anxious to see the next day, and a dear friend of 20 years. Everyone will miss him. He never said a bad word about anyone.”
Following his boxing career, Norton made several film and television appearances before he suffered a near-fatal crash in 1986 when his car veered off the on-ramp to the Santa Monica Freeway in Los Angeles.
Despite being struck with ill-health in later life, Mr Tenore says Norton never blamed this on his professional boxing career, which began with a win over Grady Brazell in 1967 and ended with defeat against Gerry Cooney at Madison Square Garden in 1981.
“Ken Norton never blamed anyone for anything. He never had a bad word about boxing or any of his opponents. This is a man you have never heard say an ill word about anybody,” Mr Tenore said.
"I used to tease him about his fights and say: 'You fought Ali three times and people joke and say you won the first one and Don King won the other two.' He said: 'No, Patrick, no. I was just beaten'.
“He never begrudged Mr Ali ever about winning those fights. He never begrudged boxing. He did have a speech impediment - in the 1980s his car went over a cliff in Los Angeles and a little girl caught it in the corner of her eye and called it in. He was in a coma for a year and he developed a speech impediment.
“I am travelling with him years after and people said: ‘He’s talking like he’s punch-drunk.’ I said: ‘No, he’s not punch-drunk. That was from an accident.”
Mr Tenore also believes Norton’s boxing style will be remembered for pushing Ali all the way in their three fights.
He added: "It did take Muhammed Ali by surprised but he[Norton] was very focused and a very tenacious and a great fighter.
“He was a very religious gentleman who was always kind to everyone.”
Reigning WBA super middleweight champion Andre Ward took to Twitter to express his condolences following Norton's death. He tweeted: "Just heard about Ken Norton passing. Met him last year in the Bay Area. Great champion & great man."
George Foreman, a former two-time heavyweight champion, said on Twitter: "They called us all handsome. Muhammad they called pretty. But the fairest of them all Ken Norton."
The World Boxing Council said: "The #WBC regrets the passing away of our former champion Ken Norton. May he rest in peace."