Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. recalls his father’s fights and friendship with Muhammad Ali

Ken Norton and Muhammad Ali fought three times, with Ali winning twice. All were extremely close (AP photo)

Ken Norton and Muhammad Ali fought three times, with Ali winning twice. All were extremely close (AP photo)

ALAMEDA _ When Muhammad Ali passed away Friday, the memories came to Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. in a rush.

His first thoughts were of being a 6-year-old kid, sitting in a room at the LaJolla Village Inn with his grandmother. His father, Ken Norton Sr., was fighting Ali at the nearby San Diego Sports Arena on March 31, 1973.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Norton said Tuesday in an interview with the Bay Area News Group. “My father didn’t allow me to go to the fights, so we had to sit around and wait for the news to get back to the hotel. We finally got the news that he had won, that he had broke (Ali’s) jaw . . . it was one of the most exciting times of my life.”

It turned out to be a life-changing experience for father and son. Ali and Norton would fight twice more, with each one as close as the split-decision win awarded to Norton in the first bout.

Ali, a 5-to-1 favorite, entered the ring in their first bout wearing a robe furnished by Elvis Presley, hoping to get in position for a rematch with Joe Frazier to capture the heavyweight title.

Ken Norton Sr. was 29-1, but had no opponents of note and an eighth round knockout loss to Jose Luis Garcia, a fight in which he hit the canvas twice.

“He was kind of a tune-up for Ali in between fights, and it was considered one of the biggest mismatches,” Norton said. “It was early in his career, and he was really fortunate Ali agreed to fight him. And at that point, my father was in the best shape of his life.”

Ken Sr. was a single father at the time, working at a Ford plant during the day, training at night. He would occasionally leave Ken Jr. with neighbors to make sure his son would get a good meal.

“There were so many things we didn’t have,” Ken Jr. said. “We were in a one-bedroom apartment. I was always begging him for a bike. We were never able to get one. I was begging him, `Dad, can we have a home?’ After the fight, he became a contender.”

Ken Jr. got his bike, Ken Sr. bought a home in Carson, and the nobody had become a contender who also happened to develop a friendship with the most famous person on the planet.

“He and my father became real good friends, competitors that came to respect one another,” Norton said. “We were very thankful for the start that he gave us.”

Ken Jr. met Ali on a handful of occasions, finding him to be “very kind, very approachable and playful. He used to do magic tricks, showing us how he could levitate off the ground. Always smiling, asking how we were doing. Even now my sister is best friends with one of his daughters. Our families were intertwined like that.”

When Ken Sr. was in a serious auto accident in 1986 and wasn’t expected to survive, Ali spent two days visiting with him at the hospital. By the time Ken Sr. died after a series of strokes in 2013, Ali, stricken with Parkinson’s Syndrome, couldn’t speak out but reached out to Ken Jr. and family through his wife Lonnie.

Ken Jr. understands his father not wanting to see him fight, but as he became older and an athlete, they watched tapes of the Ali bouts together.

“I kind of talked them through with him. I just wanted to see what my father had,” Norton said. “He was athletic, he was long, he was quick, he had intensity, he was smart. I see a lot of carryover between boxing and football, so I understand what he went through.”

Norton takes pride in the fact that his father fought 39 rounds with Ali that were nearly dead even. Many ringside observers felt that Ken Sr. had won their third bout, which was given to Ali by an extremely close unanimous decision.

“(My father) arguably won all three of them,” Norton said. “As great as Ali was, my father was the one guy who was able to stand toe to toe with him. It’s something I’m very proud of.”

If styles make fights, Norton’s style was always troublesome for Ali.

“He felt he had a really good job. Ali really used his jab, and my father was one of the few people who fought Ali who was out-jabbing him, really sticking his arm out there,” Norton said. “When you listened to Ali talk, he thought Norton fought awkward. He felt off-balance. Ali wasn’t quite sure how to ht him because he covered up well.”

Norton had also sparred with Frazier, and borrowed some tactics from the first person to beat Ali.

Boxing is very much a part of Norton’s philosophy when it comes to motivating his defense.

Every Raiders defensive scheme is named for a heavyweight champion.

“We have Tyson, we have Holyfield, we have Ali, we have Foreman, we have Frazier,” Norton said.

He’s even incorporated a “Fury,” named after Tyson Fury, currently a heavyweight champ from the United Kingdom.

Last season, his first as a coordinator, Norton set up the Raiders season as a 16-round bout.

“I would show them a championship round (from a boxing match) and use each game as a round,” Norton said. “We’d talk about what it took to get through that round, the grit, the smarts, the toughness, the defense, the aggression. All the things it takes to get through a championship round.”

The Norton-Ali trilogy

Results of the three bouts between Ken Norton and Muhammad Ali:

March 31, 1973, Sports Arena, San Diego: Norton by split decision, 12 rounds

Sept. 10, 1973, The Forum, Inglewood: Ali by split decision, 12 rounds

Sept. 28, 1976, Yankee Stadium, New York City: Ali by unanimous decision, 15 rounds











Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer

  • Rik/ Whatever/

    All because of da super delegates yes?

  • lol

  • M.Shorter

    Nope. He can’t even dribble when well defended. Shump should play more

  • BigTed707

    Good one Jerry!

  • DutchRaid

    Lost a lot of weight….

  • M.Shorter

    lol. 3pt specialist is all he is.

  • inonewordraider

    Shes 300 pledge ahead 3 mill votes ahead

  • inonewordraider

    Why what magic say?

  • inonewordraider

    Bern was no slouch, every millenial voted for him


    Derek Carr and Amari Cooper had a big day at the office. #ACDC

    Other practice notes: http://bit.ly/22NF7qV

    Taiwan Jones Turns On The Jets One aspect of running back Taiwan Jones’ game that has never been up for debate is his speed, and that speed was on full display Tuesday afternoon.
    During a team session early in practice, Jones took a
    routine handoff from the quarterback, cut outside and proceeded to blow through the defensive line and cruise through the secondary untouched.

  • PC Raider

    From raiders.com

    AC/DC Owns The Day
    Tuesday’s highlight from the Raiders’ time on the field was impressive, and there wasn’t even a close second to challenge it
    In one of the team’s seven-on-seven periods, Carr dropped back to pass, and found a streaking Amari Cooper running down the right sideline after leaving the opposing cornerback in his wake.
    Carr delivered an absolute dime to Cooper, who impressively located the ball in midair, and was able to get both of his feet down in bounds, all while securing possession of the football.
    The Carr-to-Cooper connection proved to be an incredibly potent one at times during 2015, and another year together will hopefully yield even more impressive results.
    If Tuesday’s work serves as any indication, the pair is certainly off to a good start in 2016

  • DutchRaid

    The “showtime” Lakers would beat the 2016 GSW….

  • Rifflicks

    The Frazier fight was great

  • inonewordraider

    Im pretty sure most would agree, im sure east bayers disagree, but was he asked that? If so whatd you expect him to say?

  • M.Shorter

    Thats impressive his speed is still there. He gained about 15lbs of muscle in the offseason last year

  • Rik/ Whatever/

    Some of us…… Are behind ya all the way Reg..

  • DutchRaid

    Love to see this in a game…hurry up mode…flexes out in coverage!


    “Later – in another team setting – Jones showed off his receiving skills, matched up against a linebacker this time, and after the ball was snapped, he easily burned past the defender, and proceeded to haul in an impressive over-the-shoulder-catch from Carr, before turning upfield down the right sideline.”

  • PC Raider

    Interesting article on Raiders receivers leading the league in dropped passes last year.


  • BigTed707


  • PC Raider

    Only thing that would take away from it is if the opposing corner was #25…

  • BigTed707

    Sneaky weapon. As long as he is untouched, he is a burner.
    It’s when they catch him, that’s the problem.

  • Dakota

    They like free stuff!

  • Heck Legler

    JR Smith is a dented can. All the talent in the world, but totally undependable, except you can depend on him doing something stupid. I feel bad for the poor SOB.

  • Dakota

    They are switching him to MLB.

  • DutchRaid

    Klay Thompson said Sunday night they would and Klay Thompson’s father agreed…me, no idea…don’t really care…both are great teams.

  • Heck Legler

    Not like the HOF squad Trump had to defeat, led by PG Ted Cruz, who’s own daughter turns away in revulsion.

  • BigTed707

    Coop played against some studs last year, and looked like he could get open anytime 1-on-1.
    I was more remarking about Carr and Coop biuiding that chemistry – hopefully results in fewer drops and blunders.

  • Heck Legler

    Everybody likes free stuff, except those that gotta pay for it.

  • DutchRaid
  • BigTed707

    Raiders Ticket Member conference call just started.

  • Heck Legler

    Up to 170lbs?

  • R8der4evr

    Another New Post
    Starrng the Son of the champ

  • Dakota

    New post.

  • Heck Legler

    Rough post, JFB. Hardball…

  • BigTed707

    JDR is taking questions. Says KO is gonna make run game successful. Force opponents to load the box, then smoke them outside.

  • inonewordraider

    If he would have thrown in free Laker tickets I would have felt the burn

  • M.Shorter

    He’s 185

  • M.Shorter


  • R8erEduc8er

    You’re in for quite a surprise

  • I hope Helu is healthy and ready to compete this camp – I would really love to see him be the man.

  • PlunkforHOF

    He’s not, shall we say, manly.

  • inonewordraider

    Too bad he can’t get hand transplants

  • PlunkforHOF

    Is this thing on?

  • Heck Legler

    I kid, I kid.

  • Dan78


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