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From the archive: Ken Norton discusses Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Joe Frazier

Ken Norton celebrates his 1976 victory over Ron Stander. Photo from The Ring archive
Fighters Network

Editor’s Note: This feature originally appeared in the January 1976 issue of The Ring Magazine.

As much as getting a George Foreman interview was impossible, a talk with Ken Norton presented no difficulties. The Ring found Ken eager, revealing and confident. He said he was ready to meet Muhammad Ali a third time anywhere. He barred only Joe Frazier, his pal, and indicated that Don King wanted him to take on a fight in suburban New York before shooting for the title again. He was not averse to the proposal.

Here is The Ring’s interview with Ken Norton as he gave it, question and answer:

THE RING: Will Ali give you another chance? Anything in the wind?

KEN NORTON: I feel that Muhammad Ali will give me another chance. We do have a score to settle in the rubber match. Ali’s a fighting champion and he’s never ducked anyone before. He knows as well as the fans that I am deserving of a title shot. He said publicly I would – I have to believe it.

THE RING: If it is made mandatory that you fight Foreman to get another shot at Ali, how would you feel about it? Under what conditions would you do so?
KN: I have already gone on record as saying that if getting a title shot with Ali is predicated upon me meeting George Foreman to get it, then I am ready to meet Foreman now. The sooner, the better. I have a score to settle with Foreman also. Bob Biron, my manager, makes the business deals and if he feels the terms for a Foreman fight, or any other fight for that matter, are equitable, I go to work.

THE RING: What happened in your Caracas fight Foreman? Can you account for your poor showing?

KN: As far as Caracas is concerned, that’s water over the dam. There have been many stories about what happened in Caracas, but I make no excuses. That night George Foreman was the better man. The next time – if there is a next time – it’ll be different.

THE RING: What would you do differently in a return with Foreman? Analyze Foreman – has he changed in any way since your meeting?

KN: Win! It’s very difficult for me or anyone else to really analyze George Foreman because he’s been inactive. I don’t think anyone knows what his loss to Ali has done to him. But George is still young and strong and must get back into action.

THE RING: Analyze Ali – Is he going downhill? Or – as some state – is he improving with age? What makes him great – if you think he is? How has Ali changed since your last meeting with him? Or has he? How would you fight Ali the next time out?

KN: Muhammad Ali has certainly not gone downhill. He has changed his style a bit. He uses his head more, and this is where his experience and flexibility come into play. He’s also punching better now because he has come down off his toes and plants himself. The fact that his hands, which he has problems with, are now better, has allowed him to throw punches with new-found authority.

He’s an exceptional athlete who has tremendous pride. He has the ability to give more than 100 percent. He reached back against me when there wasn’t much left, in our second fight, and won the final round, which saved the fight for him on two of the official cards. He also reached back in Manila against Joe Frazier when it seemed the fight was lost. The great ones have this ability, so I would definitely call Ali a great fighter.

Since I met Ali, he appears to be moving less and punching better. My trainer, Bill Slayton, and myself would sit down and work out a basic fight plan for a third meeting with Ali. We are flexible enough to change at any time during the fight. I can box and fight, and we will use whatever formula or combination thereof that it takes to win.

THE RING: Would Foreman have a good or better chance against Ali in a return fight, and if so, why?

KN: I don’t think that Foreman would have a better chance against Ali in a return fight. Foreman would have to get back on the winning track against a couple of contenders first to ever make me believe otherwise. He would also have to prove that he can be more adaptable to different ring situations than he has shown in the past.

Ken Norton (centre) with former trainer Eddie Futch (left) and Joe Frazier. Photo from The Ring archive

THE RING: Would you fight Frazier? Would the fight be easier for you than Ali? If so, why?

KN: I wouldn’t want to fight Joe Frazier. Joe and I are very close friends and no amount of money would make me want to fight with him.

THE RING: If given a shot at Ali without having to meet anyone before, how much would you insist on receiving and do you have any preference as to where the fight would be held? Foreign country, U.S. or even some particular city in the U.S.

KN: I don’t discuss money. That’s the business of my manager, Bob Biron, who I count on to make the proper financial arrangements. I really have no special preferences as where a title fight should be held, as long as it’s held. Naturally, I would love to fight in San Diego, where I have many fans and where I built my career. But if a promoter from Arabia, Las Vegas, New Work, Japan or the North Pole gets Ali’s name on a contract to fight me, it’s okay with me.

THE RING: Do you think there was anything wrong with your strategy in your fights with Foreman and Ali?

KN: I personally feel, and so do many boxing writers, that I beat Ali both times we met. So obviously, I didn’t feel there was anything wrong with our strategy. It’s easy to second guess. I did what I thought was necessary to win both fights.

Against Foreman I couldn’t, for reasons that are again obvious, be happy with my strategy. Or maybe my strategy was right and my execution bad? In any case, it was just not my night. There will be other nights.

THE RING: There has been talk that you are more interested in your career in movies than your boxing profession? Any truth to this? And – if you do not get a crack at Ali, might you consider chucking boxing and turning all your activities to acting?

KN: It isn’t true that I’m more interested in my movie career than my boxing career. Right now, I’m a contender for the heavyweight championship of the world. My primary goal is to become the champion. I’m very serious about my acting career and have been taking lessons whenever I have the time. There have been many new scripts I have read, and I am interested in a couple of them, but the boxing comes first. If I have a break from boxing for a few months, I will consider and am anxious to do another film. But I must give boxing my total concentration right now. You can’t become a champion on a part-time basis.

Norton (left) goes at Ali in their second fight in Los Angeles Photo from The Ring archive

THE RING: Who makes up the strategy as you prepare for a coming fight? How is it accomplished? Do you watch movies of your opponent’s fights?

KN My trainer, Bill Slayton, who has helped me considerably since we got together almost two years ago, works up pre-fight strategy together with me. We discuss the films we watch and evaluate from there. He knows me very well, and we have a tremendous rapport. He accepts suggestions from me and I from him. It’s a mutual admiration society.

THE RING Many fighters die broke. Have you made arrangements to insure your future?

KN: I have done very well financially and will do better. I have good business advisors and have not thrown my money around. I have a young son that I’m raising by myself and it’s a tremendous responsibility. People in all walks of life die broke. I’m a positive thinker and the possibility hasn’t even entered my mind, nor will it!

THE RING: Many experts pick you as the next man to be the heavyweight champion. That if you hadn’t been so cautious in your second fight with Ali you might have won. How do you feel about this criticism?

KN: Second-guess nonsense! If I hadn’t broken Ali’s jaw the first time, he might have won.

THE RING: Are you happy with your manager and those who surround you in fight preparation?

KN: I feel very fortunate to have Bob Biron, a respected businessman from San Diego, a sincere manage who cares. He has always tried to give me proper advice and has gone through some very trying times on my behalf. Not many fighters have been as fortunate as I am. My trainer, Bill Slayton, is the most underrated, under-publicized trainer in boxing. My other men, like Thell Torrence, who has been a longtime friend and assistant trainer, and close buddy, Hedgemon Lewis, are aces. Hedge is a great fighter and has always been an advisor and loyal companion.

THE RING: Do you feel you have gotten a fair shake out of boxing? Would you do it again?

KN: It was a longtime coming but I started so late, I had to go to school to learn. Boxing has been very good to me and I hope that I have always been a credit to boxing.



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