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Modern Classics: Holmes-Norton

By: Sean Crose

There are underrated fighters and then there are really underrated fighters. Ken Norton and Larry Holmes are vastly underrated fighters. The late Norton’s name belongs aside those of his ferocious peers, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and Ken Norton. As for Holmes, let’s just say some people of note argue he, not Ali, may have been the single greatest heavyweight champion of the world. Other experts put him in the top five. Fortunately, the reputations of these two fighters are finally being elevated to their proper status. There may be a long way to go before they get the full credit they deserve, but the names of Holmes and Norton are enduring while others fade into obscurity.

This has more than a little to do with their classic WBC world title bout, which was fought on June 9th, 1978 in Las Vegas. Norton, the defending champion, won his belt by default after Leon Spinks gave it away to have a rematch with Ali. To some, however, Norton probably deserved the title anyway. Although he had lost two of three bouts to Ali, it seemed to many that Norton had been a victim of Ali’s popularity more than he was the man’s famed skill in the ring.

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As for Holmes, the Pennsylvania native was the WBC’s number one ranked contender at the time. By previously besting the legendary Ernie Shavers, Holmes had elevated himself to “force to be reckoned with” status. Having sparred with the likes of Ali, and Frazier certainly hadn’t hurt the man’s progress, either. This being the 1970’s, the bout with Norton was aired live on network television. Needless to say, viewers at home got more than they could have hoped for. Ali was still the prime attraction in boxing, but Holmes and Norton went out and absolutely commanded attention.

This fight was so incredibly close that at the end of 14 rounds, the match was even. Norton’s incredible conditioning, coupled with an awkward stance played perfectly against Holmes’ soon to be world famous jab. As for the 15th and final round, it’s not hyperbole to say it was one of the best three minutes of combat in boxing’s long history. The brawl went back and forth at an incredible pace until the final bell ended the 45 minutes of combat. Holmes’ ended up walking away with the title by virtue of a razor thin decision, and fans ended up with an instant classic.

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