Oakland Raiders Ken Norton Jr. touched on his father’s fights with the late Muhammad Ali in the wake of the boxer’s death last Friday.
When the legendary Muhammad Ali passed away this weekend, the Oakland Raiders had plenty of connections to the greatest boxer to ever live as the world revisited the legendary career and life of Ali. Former Raiders defensive lineman Lyle Alzado’s exhibition bout against Ali being one of the notable moments that tied the team to the boxer, but no connection was deeper than defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.’s to the former world champion.
Norton Jr.’s father was the legendary Ken Norton, who famously beat Ali in the first fight of a three-fight trilogy between the two boxing icons. A trilogy that put Norton on the map and started a bond between the two fighters that Norton Jr. touched on in an interview with Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group.
Speaking with McDonald, Norton Jr. touched on the famous upset his dad scored on Ali, a fight that helped Norton Sr. provide for the Raiders defensive coordinator as the win secured him a spot near the top of boxing during the sport’s 70’s heyday. Norton taking two decision losses in the final two bouts, securing his legend by taking Ali to the brink in all three of his bouts.
Norton Jr. remembers waiting for the news of the fight in a hotel as a young kid, getting the word that his dad beat the then former world heavyweight champion in a split decision victory. A night that Norton Jr. described to McDonald as one of the most exciting nights of his life despite Norton Jr. winning three Super Bowls during his equally successful NFL career.
“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.”
Norton also mentioned that the two became friends as Norton Sr. and Ali had a mutual respect for another despite the two going through three absolute wars in the ring during their careers. Noting that his family was thankful for the opportunity that Ali gave them in taking a fight with a relatively unproven Norton before the upset in the first bout.
“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.”
Norton Jr. also noted that as he got older, his dad eventually watched the Ali fights with him as he blossomed into a successful football player. Noting that there is a carryover between the two sports that allowed him to understand what his father went through during his successful career in the ring.
“I kind of talked them through with him. I just wanted to see what my father had,” Norton told McDonald in the interview. “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 Jr. is clearly inspired by his father and the sport of boxing, something that is understandable given his father’s success in the sport. With the Raiders bringing a fighting spirit to whatever they do on defense, Norton Jr. is on the road to adding to his family’s legacy once again as he seeks his second Super Bowl as a coach to add to the career accomplishments of a family that began shocking the world on that fateful night where Ken Norton upset the greatest boxer of all-time.