A local sportswriter who covered a Jacksonville boxer’s fights with Muhammad Ali is among those remembering Ali’s legacy following his death over the weekend.
Buford Green, who was a long-time sports reporter and editor for the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, covered all three fights between Ken Norton and Ali- first, in March of 1973 in San Diego, then six months later in Los Angeles, then in 1976 at Yankee Stadium in New York.
Green says the matches were one of the highlights of his journalism career.
“Ali came on the scene in the 60s, of course, and not immediately accepted by everyone, me included. The first time I met him was when Ken and Ali fought in San Diego in March of ’73, and we were sitting right in the second row because we were from Ken’s hometown, and that’s the one that Ken won by breaking his jaw, of course. Overnight, Ken [went from a] nobody to famous all over the world,” says Green.
While Ali lost the first fight against Norton, he won Rounds 2 and 3. Green says Ali’s famous “rope-a-dope” strategy wasn’t quite as evident against Norton as it was against other fighters later on.
“Not to the degree that it was against George Foreman when he reclaimed the championship, but it was always there. He was a great defensive fighter, had his hands up and let you hit him. But, Ken hit him one too often in San Diego, and broke his jaw,” he says. “Ken had a unique style, too. He just gave Ali fits in all three fights.”
And Green adds Ali and Norton didn’t like each other at first, but became good friends.
Green says there’s no question in his mind that Ali was the greatest boxer of all time.
“He saved the sport. You see what it is today, which is not much. He brought the sport of boxing into the highlights around the world,” Green says.
“Ali was different. If you pay attention to the accolades that are being given to him now, and the reviews of his career- he was an amazing person. Most interesting person I’ve ever interviewed,” he adds.
Muhammad Ali was 74. He died on Friday. A memorial service in Louisville will be held this upcoming Friday. Ken Norton passed away in 2013.