Former heavyweight champion Ken Norton, who shocked the boxing world in 1973 when he became the second man to beat Muhammad Ali in a fight, died Wednesday at a local care facility. He was 70.
His son, Ken Norton Jr., a coach with the Seattle Seahawks in the National Football League, confirmed the death to The Associated Press.
Norton, the only heavyweight champion never to win the title in the ring, had been in poor health for the last several years after suffering a series of strokes.
"He's been fighting the battle for two years," said Gene Kilroy, Ali's former business manager. "I'm sure he's in heaven now with all the great fighters. I'd like to hear that conversation."
Few gave Norton much of a chance in the 1973 non-title fight against Ali in San Diego, but his awkward style and close-in pressing tactics confused the former champion, who fought in pain after Norton broke his jaw in the early rounds. He won by split decision.
The loss was even more shocking because Ali had only lost to Joe Frazier in their 1971 showdown and was campaigning for the title he would win again the next year against George Foreman in Zaire.
"Ali thought it would be an easy fight," Kilroy said. "But Norton was unorthodox. Instead of jabbing from above like most fighters he would put his hand down and jab up at Ali."
Kilroy said that Norton visited Ali at the hospital after the fight and Ali told him he was a great fighter and he never wanted to fight him again.
Instead, they would meet two more times, with Ali narrowly winning both bouts on split decisions. Their final fight in 1976 at New York's Yankee Stadium went 15 rounds on a night when police were on strike and many in the crowd feared for their safety.
Kilroy said Ali and Norton never had any animosity toward each other and became good friends over the years. Still, Norton always thought he had won all three fights.
Norton came back in 1977 to win an eliminator against Jimmy Young and was declared champion by the World Boxing Council when Leon Spinks was stripped of the title after deciding to fight Ali in a rematch instead of defending his new title against the mandatory challenger.
The following year, Norton lost a bruising 15-round fight to Larry Holmes in what many regard as one of boxing's epic heavyweight bouts and would never be champion again. He finished with a record of 42-7-1 and 33 knockouts.
Norton fought only five more times after losing his title to Holmes. His final fight came on Nov. 5, 1981, when he was knocked out in the first round by Gerry Cooney at Madison Square Garden.