Muhammad Ali, on March 31, 1973, took on Ken Norton to begin the trilogy of their landmark heavyweight classics. Twelve thousand fans packed into the San Diego Sports Arena in San Diego, California, to see Norton pull off the upset over Ali.
Ali came into this contest as a 5-1 favorite in this bout and was coming off winning ten matches in a row since his last loss in the fight that transcended boxing against Joe Frazier a mere two years earlier. Norton was coming into this one, winning thirteen in a row himself, fighting out of the San Diego area primarily.
The bout aired was the first for Ali on ABC’s Wide World of Sports with the fight called by legendary broadcaster Howard Cossell. Check out the broadcast below for Ali entering the ring wearing a white robe encrusted with rhinestones and jewels.
“People’s Choice” was written on the back. It was a gift from music legend Elvis Presley. It would also be the last time he wore this robe.
The bout is historically noted as early on the hard-throwing Norton got to Ali early on throwing his left. So much so that it broke Ali’s jaw.
“Imagine you have your jaw broken and have to fight ten more rounds,” Ali said after the fight.
The broken jaw came after the first round based on what Ali’s manager Angelo Dundee stated. While there were no knockdowns throughout the twelve round contest, throughout the fight, you can see Ali spitting blood from inside his mouth as it was clearly bothering him. Despite that, this was a very back and forth contest throughout with both.
After twelve hard-fought rounds, the judges gave the nod to Norton via split decision. This fight was on the old school California five-point maximum system. The final totals ruled it 7-4,6-5 or Norton and 6-5 for Ali.
Ken Norton speaking in his autobiography Going The Distance stated: “These words (from Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich) were the final inspiration in my victory over Ali: Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man, but sooner or later the man who wins is the man who thinks he can.”
These two would go at if two more times, the rematch in September of that year and a third and final bout in September 1976, which saw Ali win both times, which to this day has been disputed. On this day, however, Norton broke not only Ali’s jaw but also his streak to become a name amongst the heavyweights.