Ken Norton, a former heavyweight boxing champion who beat Muhammad Ali and then lost a controversial decision to him at Yankee Stadium in New York City, died Wednesday at a care facility in Las Vegas, his son said. He was 70.
Ken Norton Jr., a coach with the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League, confirmed the death to The Associated Press before handing the phone to his wife, too distraught to talk.
Mr. Norton, the only heavyweight champion never to win the title in the ring, had been in poor health for the past several years after suffering a series of strokes, Gene Kilroy, a friend of the fighter, said.
Mr. Norton broke Mr. Ali's jaw in their first bout, beating him by split decision in 1973 in a non-title fight in San Diego. They fought six months later, and Mr. Ali won a split decision.
They met for a third time on Sept. 28, 1976, at Yankee Stadium and Mr. Ali narrowly won to keep his heavyweight title.
Mr. Norton would come back the next year to win a heavyweight title eliminator and was declared champion by the World Boxing Council. But on June 9, 1978, he lost a bruising 15-round fight to Larry Holmes in what many regard as one of boxing's epic heavyweight bouts and would never be champion again.
Mr. Norton finished with a record of 42-7-1 and 33 knockouts. He would later embark on an acting career, appearing in several movies, and was a commentator at fights.
Ken Norton Jr. was a linebacker for 13 years in the NFL, playing for Dallas and San Francisco, and coaches the position for the Seahawks. He and his father were estranged for a time in the 1990s before finally reconciling.
Ken Norton Sr., born Aug. 9, 1943, in Jacksonville, Ill., started boxing when he was in the Marines, and began his pro career after his release from duty in 1967. He lost only once in his early fights but had fought few fighters of any note when he was selected to meet Mr. Ali.
At the time, Mr. Ali was campaigning to try to win back the heavyweight crown he lost to Joe Frazier in 1973.
Few gave Mr. Norton, who possessed a muscular, sculpted body, much of a chance against Mr. Ali in the fight, held at the Sports Arena in San Diego, where Mr. Norton lived. But his awkward style and close-in pressing tactics confused his opponent, and Mr. Norton broke Mr. Ali's jaw on the way to the decision that put him in the top echelon of heavyweight fighters.
"Ali thought it would be an easy fight," Mr. Kilroy said. "But Norton was unorthodox. Instead of jabbing from above like most fighters he would put his hand down and jab up at Ali."
Mr. Kilroy said that after the fight Mr. Norton visited Mr. Ali at the hospital where he was getting his broken jaw wired. Mr. Ali, he said, told him he was a great fighter and he never wanted to fight him again.
Instead, they would meet two more times, including the final fight at Yankee Stadium on a night when police were on strike. The fight went 15 rounds and Mr. Ali won a decision.
Mr. Norton would come back the next year to win an eliminator against Jimmy Young and was declared champion by the WBC when Leon Spinks was stripped of the title after deciding to fight Mr. Ali in a rematch instead of defending his new title against the mandatory challenger.