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Ken Norton-Duane Bobick: Gone in 58 seconds

Ken Norton. Photo: THE RING archive
11
May

The last time he had been in a prize ring, Ken Norton had wept his eyes out.

On September 28, 1976, Muhammad Ali had claimed a contentious 15-round decision over the ex-marine at Yankee Stadium in New York to retain the heavyweight championship of the world. Norton thought he had won the fight – knew it in fact – but Ali’s cunning and, perhaps, his immense popularity got him over the finish line.

The tears had burned Norton’s face more than any punch he had taken.

The Adonis-like Californian was now disenchanted with his profession. Norton had lost two title fights, the other to George Foreman by second-round stoppage, and was down 2-1 to Ali, who was unlikely to give him a rematch following such a close call. If Norton, who was 34 years old, was going to come back, then he needed serious motivation.

Step forward, Duane Bobick.

The unbeaten Bobick was a 6-foot-3, 215-pound heavyweight from Bowlus, Minnesota. He had won 38 professional fights, 32 by knockout, and was boxing’s latest “Great White Hope”. His opposition had been undistinguished, however, and a victory over Teofilo Stevenson at the 1971 Pan Am Games was Bobick’s only true claim to fame. Stevenson had later avenged the defeat in style at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

There was more. Bobick was coached by future Hall-of-Fame trainer Eddie Futch, who had worked with Norton for several years. They had split in late-1973, after Futch agreed to manage former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier. Yank Durham, Frazier’s manager, had passed away and Futch was honoring a promise he had made to look after him.

Bob Biron, Norton’s manager, viewed this as a conflict of interest and selected Los Angeles-based trainer Bill Slayton as Futch’s replacement.

Norton would later reveal that leaving Futch was his biggest career regret, but at the time there was bitterness. Bumping off Futch’s new protége would therefore bring great satisfaction.

The heavyweight division was wide open in 1977. Ali was ready to be taken, Frazier was in retirement and Foreman had been outpointed by Jimmy Young. Norton, still the No. 1 contender, was installed as an 11-5 favorite to hand Bobick his first career loss and move on to another title shot.

The fight took place at Madison Square Garden in New York on May 11, 1977, and Norton was red-hot.

With less than 30 seconds gone in the opening round, Bobick was nailed by a brutal overhand right which stiffened his legs. A flush right uppercut followed and Bobick quickly found himself trapped in his own corner. Are you watching, Mr. Futch? Norton utilized uppercuts and a torrid body attack to set up the overhand right again. The shot landed with sickening regularity. Dazed, and in agony, the underdog went down hard.

Referee Petey Della was very inexperienced and after “completing” a 10-count, bizarrely, motioned for the fighters to continue. As he did so, Bobick staggered several feet along the ropes, prompting Della to come to his senses and halt the action. The fight had lasted just 58 seconds.

“Once I had him hurt it was just a matter of putting punches together and I was very lucky,” said a gleaming Norton during his post-right interview with NBC. “It seems Eddie Futch didn’t know me as well as he though he did.”

This was the first and last big fight of Bobick’s career. He retired in 1979 at the age of 28 years old with a final career record of (48-4, 42 knockouts).

Norton was upgraded to WBC heavyweight titleholder in 1978 when Leon Spinks agreed to face Ali, whom he’d outpointed, in a direct rematch. In his first defense, Norton lost a 15-round split decision to Larry Holmes in one of the greatest heavyweight fights of all time. He retired in 1981 with a record of 42-7-1 (33 KOs).

 

 

 

 

Tom Gray is a UK Correspondent/ Editor for RingTV.com and a member of THE RING ratings panel.  Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing

 

 

 

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  • Orca

    Good win for Norton. He had to fight hard for everything he got. Nothing was ever easy for this guy. Always wondered how a fight between him and Frazier would have gone. Is there any other heavyweight champion that never actually won a heavyweight title fight? I don’t think so but open to being proved wrong 🙂 Nice article.

    • william ellis

      I think you are right about his being the only champion without a title fight. But the title was legitimate in that Norton beat Jimmy Young, who was very, very good, in a title-eliminator that was deemed a title fight after the fact by the WBC. Norton would have ko’d Spinks. A lot of people think he won the next fight, with Holmes (a great fight): I scored that fight a draw.

      • Orca

        Yeah, it was very similar to when Lennox Lewis got given the title after bearing Ruddock in an eliminator. I had Holmes by a point i think in that fight. No argument either way. Great last round!

  • Joseph Ragusa

    Bobick was one of the top US amateurs for years and had humiliated Larry Holmes in the unpaid ranks. So he was no slouch. He won the Olympic trials and won a Bronze at Munich, having lost his second fight to Teo. Nowadays a guy with a medal in the Olympics and amateur wins over a Holmes and a Stevenson would not be considered someone with few credentials, as Tom Gray seems to be implying. He didn’t have the greatest chin though, which didn’t bode well for him in the pro ranks. Norton’s chin was better than Bobick’s but could be dented only by big time punchers like Shavers, Foreman or Cooney (he had an early loss as well).

    • Tom Gray

      Yeah, I’ll take that. I could have emphasized Bobick’s amateur career better than I did. I declined to mention the Holmes fight as Larry was a novice with virtually no experience at the 72 trials. It also looked like a heavyweight against a super middle at the time. I felt that the Stevenson win was more relevant. Thanks for the feedback Joseph. Appreciate it!

  • John Grady

    Ironically, this fight occurred exactly four years prior to Norton’s scary knockout loss to Gerry Cooney. At the same location, too.