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Dougie’s Friday Mailbag (Ken Norton, best heavyweights of the 1970s, Hector Lopez)

Ken Norton celebrates his 1976 victory over Ron Stander. Photo from The Ring archive
05
Jun

KEN NORTON

Hey Dougie,

Want to estimate with you Ken Norton’s legacy and ATG status. Will you agree with the vast majority that rank him number 4 of the Golden Era heavyweights, after just the Great Three (As Larry’s resume was short in 1970s and his best was at 1980s)?

Is this based solely on his wins over Ali, whom he calculated after their first fight?



No doubt that his resume is impressive enough to be considered great. Aside from Ali, wins over very good fighters – Jerry Quarry, Duane Bobick, Ron Stander, а very close fight with great Holmes. But it is also true that he was in troubles with big punchers and there is a general opinion that he was tailor made for Joe Frazier and will lose him the same way as he did to George Foreman. The same result would be with such a murderous punchers as Ron Lyle and Earnie Shavers (even if Norton were to meet him at his prime). Besides, do you agree that decision with Jimmy Young was also controversial, as many thought he lost it. What’d you say on that?

MMs of Kenny Norton vs. Tim Witherspoon, Ray Mercer, Tommy Morrison, Michael Moorer, David Tua, Razor Rudduck

Cheers. – Jose

I think Norton at his very best edges prime versions of Witherspoon, Mercer and Moorer via decision in hotly contested fights (especially if they are scheduled for 15 rounds), scores an early to mid-rounds KO of Morrison in a wild shootout, and is stopped in the mid-to-late rounds by both Tua and Rudduck.

Will you agree with the vast majority that rank him number 4 of the Golden Era heavyweights, after just the Great Three (As Larry’s resume was short in 1970s and his best was at 1980s)? Yes, I agree with that placement. I’d put Kenny right behind Ali, Foreman and Frazier, even though he was robbed in the rubber match with Ali (some believe that Norton deserved the nod in all three fights with The Greatest). 

I gotta put Ali first. Apart from getting the better of trilogies with Frazier and Norton, and then stopping the man-monster who had obliterated his two toughest rivals, Ali was by far the most active and accomplished of the Four Horsemen of ’70s Glamour Division. My boyhood hero beat the most Ring-rated heavyweight contenders of the quartet during the ’70s (listed here in the order he faced them): Jerry Quarry (twice), Oscar Bonavena, Jimmy Ellis, Mac Foster, Floyd Patterson, Joe Bugner (twice),  Chuck Wepner, Ron Lyle, Jimmy Young (controversially), Alfredo Evangelista, Earnie Shavers and Leon Spinks. Ali also beat Buster Mathis, George Chuvalo (rematch), Alvin “Blue” Lewis and light heavyweight champ Bob Foster. 

I rate Foreman No. 2 based mostly on his brutal two-round stoppages of Frazier (for the title) and Norton (the No. 1 contender). The rematch stoppage of Frazier is less impressive, of course, because there wasn’t much left of Smokin’ Joe by this time. However, Foreman’s wild showdown with Lyle is nearly the stuff of mythology. He won that shootout, which gives him a slight edge over Fraizer in my opinion. Big George also beat Chuvalo and Scott LeDoux. 

Frazier is No. 3 almost entirely on the strength of this legendary trilogy with Ali. The first fight was epic – and he was the first to defeat Ali in the pro ranks. It’s arguably the greatest heavyweight victory of all time (only Jack Johnson over Jim Jeffries and Joe Louis over Max Schmeling are more historically significant heavyweight victories). The rubber match with Ali is one of the greatest fights ever. Frazier also beat Ring-rated Ellis, Bugner and Quarry (rematch). I won’t argue with anyone who rates Frazier over Foreman despite their head-to-head record. 

Norton is a close No. 4. He’s got the “jaw-breaker” upset of Ali in 1973, a close rematch (which I think was close but a decision that Ali clearly deserved) and a rubber match that he should have won. The split-decision loss to Holmes is actually a plus because that fight was epic and Larry went on to post a hall-of-fame worthy title reign. Norton also beat Ring-rated Quarry, Duane Bobick and Young.

Is this based solely on his wins over Ali, whom he calculated after their first fight? Not solely, but mainly. The Quarry win (a fifth-round KO) was impressive given that Jerry was veteran (50 wins, seven losses) who had only lost twice (to Ali and Frazier) in his previous nine bouts. Between those losses, Quarry handed Lyle his first pro loss via 12-round decision and stopped Shavers in the first round. Kenny hammered the Ring-rated Quarry in five rounds. Also, the Bobick victory was impressive at the time. Bobick, also Ring rated, was a physical specimen and former amateur standout who carried a 38-0 record into that nationally televised crossroads match.

No doubt that his resume is impressive enough to be considered great. Aside from Ali, wins over very good fighters – Jerry Quarry, Duane Bobick, Ron Stander, а very close fight with great Holmes. I won’t argue with anyone who considers Kenny to be a great heavyweight.

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

But it is also true that he was in troubles with big punchers and there is a general opinion that he was tailor made for Joe Frazier and will lose to him the same way as he did to George Foreman. Who knows? Frazier had the speed, pressure, ring-cutting ability, punching power and ferociousness to overwhelm Norton. If you’re talking about a mythical matchup – the best version of Frazier vs. Norton at his peak – I’d go with Smokin’ Joe. But if you’re talking about who would have won had they fought sometime during the ’70s it depends on when the fight took place. I’d favor Frazier by stoppage from 1970-’72. I think it’s a toss-up between ’73-’75. And I’d favor Kenny to outpoint Frazier post-’75.  

The same result would be with such murderous punchers as Ron Lyle and Earnie Shavers (even if Norton were to meet him at his prime). Again, who knows? Quarry and a past-prime Ali were able to beat Lyle and Shavers. How do you know if a prime version of Norton wouldn’t catch Shavers early or take Lyle into deep waters and drown him?

Besides, do you agree that decision with Jimmy Young was also controversial, as many thought he lost it. What’d you say on that? I think it was very close. I don’t have a problem with Norton winning a split decision. Young was quick, cagey and elusive as usual, but Norton was the aggressor throughout the 15-round WBC title-eliminator and he landed the harder punches. I think Norton’s body attack, especially when he got Young against the ropes, won the fight for him. But I can see why many fans and media thought Young deserved the nod. His jab was busier, and it set up fast counters (especially the right hand during the early rounds) while the awkward Philly boxer was on the move. However, Norton made him miss a lot and he got his own jab off, which was crisper in my opinion. I think Norton found his groove (a very ’70s term, I know) by the middle rounds and backed Young to the ropes where he scored enough down the stretch to legitimately earn the decision.

 

LESSER KNOWN CLASSIC FIGHTS

Hi Dougie –

First off I hope you and your family are well. I also thank The Ring Magazine (for June 2).

I’ve been watching a lot of great older fights lately…

Toney v V. Jirov

Marciano v A. Moore

Mickey Ward v Emanuel Burton (Is it strange that I hold this fight on equal footing with Ward v Gatti 1?)

and one of my favorite heavyweight action fights David Tua v Ike Ibeabuchi

How far do you think Ibeabuchi could have gone if his dedication/focus matched his skill set?

Do you have a few lesser known classic fight suggestions I can check out?

Lastly a few welterweight MMs ..

Floyd Mayweather Jr. v Wilfred Benitez

Terence Crawford v Sweet Pea

Winner v Winner

Thanks. – Jamaal, Louisiana

I gotta go with Benitez and Whitaker by close but unanimous decision, and (I know this won’t go over well with a lot of fans but…) Benitez by close UD or MD.

I’ve been watching a lot of great older fights lately…

Toney v V. Jirov (second best cruiserweight championship fight ever, after Qawi-Holyfield I, and one of Toney’s most impressive victories, which is saying something)

Marciano v A. Moore (a prime example of “Will Beats Skill,” especially when the aggressor is younger, bigger and stronger, but the final bout of The Rock’s career also showcased his underrated craft and cageyness)

Mickey Ward v Emanuel Burton (Is it strange that I hold this fight on equal footing with Ward v Gatti 1?) (It’s not strange at all, this ESPN classic was a thrillfest from the opening-to-final bells. It was The Ring’s 2001 Fight of the Year!)

and one of my favorite heavyweight action fights David Tua v Ike Ibeabuchi (The sheer volume punching from both heavyweights was just as impressive as their displays of power and world-class chins and endurance).

How far do you think Ibeabuchi could have gone if his dedication/focus matched his skill set? All the way to the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world.

Do you have a few lesser known classic fight suggestions I can check out? A former contender who passed away eight or nine years ago has been on my mind since yesterday because I mentioned his name to Tris Dixon during a Zoom video interview for the British scribe’s podcast and because I’ll be visiting his son’s gym today. I brought up Hector Lopez to Dixon when talking about the best Shane Mosley sparring sessions I witnessed back in the mid-90s. And I’m looking forward to talking to Lopez’s son, Adam Lopez, who will be back in action vs. Luis Coria on June 11 on ESPN.  “Blue Nose” is in tough but he’s a chip off the ole block, so he should be alright.  

Hector Lopez was a late 1980s-to-mid-’90s standout that kicked ass from featherweight to junior welterweight despite living “La Vida Loca” and doing jail time here and there. He won a silver medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles representing Mexico and the brilliant boxing skills he displayed as an amateur were carried into his pro career. He had an excellent jab and nimble footwork. He really was a beautiful dancer when he wanted to be, but he was just as comfortable battling it out in the trenches as he was sticking-and-moving.  

Check out his 1995 title shot at WBO beltholder and fellow battle-tested veteran Sammy Fuentes. I remember watching this fight live on KCal-TV (Ch. 9) with my younger brother in my one-room apartment in Culver City. We both cheered for Lopez, who lost a close decision, from the opening round. (Enjoy the commentary of Jim Kelly, Rich Marotta and Fernando Paramo.)

One of his Olympic bouts (rounds two and three against Joe Orewe of Nigeria) is on YouTube. It’s such a good scrap for an amateur bout and you get the added entertainment of Howard Cosell’s commentary, mid-’80s commercials and a weird vignette on Venice Beach after the fight.

His pro bouts against Lenny Valdez (who was also on my mind because I brought up his former trainer/adviser Joe Hernandez during Dixon’s interview), which was part of Forum Boxing’s featherweight tournament (and features the commentary of the late, great Chic Hearn and former contender Ruben Castillo), and Juan LaPorte (with commentary of Al Bernstein and Hugh Malay) are also on Youtube.

But the fight you must watch if you haven’t seen it yet is the USA Tuesday Night Fights main event crossroads match between Lopez and the young man who would one day be King, Kostya Tszyu (just 10-0 at the time). Lopez gave my lad sheer hell in an entertaining 10 rounder that matched his 10-years of pro experience, ring savvy and grit vs. the Russian-Aussie’s elite amateur background and awesome talent. I present it to you here in HD (enjoy The Ring Remembers segment with Steve Farhood’s naration before the fight):

 

Email Fischer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter and IG at @dougiefischer, and join him, Tom Loeffler and Coach Schwartz on Periscope every Sunday.

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