Former Heavyweight Champion of the World Ken Norton and his friend, Hassan Chitsaz
By Dan Hernandez
“If you believe, you can achieve!”
I had an afternoon meeting on April 1, 2009 at a diner in Laguna, California with multi-time World Heavyweight Boxing champion of the world, Ken Norton, 50-7-1-1, 33 KO‘s, Current WBA, NABA, & WBA FedCaribe Continental Heavyweight Champion, Hassan Chitsaz, 10-0, 10 KO’s, and Retired Educator and Sinecure, Tom Baca. Baca, a friend for over 30 years has aided me by volunteering his photographic talents to some of my pieces and is a long time Norton fan.
Norton started boxing in the U. S. Marine Corps from 1963 through 1967, compiling a record of 24-2 and winning three All-Marine Heavyweight titles. He turned pro in 1967. Registering a career defining victory over Muhammad Ali in 1973 and winning the NABF Heavyweight crown in the process. In 1978 Norton was named heavyweight world champion by the WBC, stating that Norton’s victory over Jimmy Young, victor over George Foreman, was a title elimination bout. Losing his title to Larry Holmes, in what many consider to be the 10th greatest heavyweight fight in history. Norton lost his title by an extremely close decision on June 9, 1978. Norton remains the only holder of a world heavyweight title to win a world title fight by a no-contest.
Ken is a 1989 inductee of the world Boxing Hall of fame, voted into the International Hall of Fame in 1992, the 2004 U.S. Marine Corp Sports Hall of Fame and the 2008 inductee into the WBC Hall of Fame. Norton was voted the 1977, Writers Association of America, J. Niel Trophy for “Fighter of the Year”. Norton has also received the Napoleon Hill Award for positive thinking. His proudest award may be the “Father of the Year” award he received twice from the Los Angeles Sentinel and Los Angeles Times Newspapers. Ken has been quoted as saying. “What I enjoy most is the open communication and compassion I and my children have for each other. Things are very good, we work at it, you have to nowadays.” And he has added, “We visit always and I cherish them equally….they are the champions of my heart. I like me best when I am with them”.
Ken has suffered a near-fatal and quite debilitating auto accident, three heart attacks, and three strokes. Regardless, he was in great spirits and although aided by a cane and hampered by deliberate speech patterns, was extremely clear and was quite an imposing figure at 6‘3“ and 220 plus pounds.. His positive approach to life and reflections of his experiences made the meeting a particular pleasure. He stated that when he wrote his autobiography, “Going the Distance” he was still out of sorts from the auto accident and is considering writing another. After meeting Ken Norton, I am eager to read whatever he puts on paper.
Hassan Chitsaz is an extraordinary positive thinker and at 51 is the oldest active heavyweight fighter and reigning champion of any type. He arranged this meeting and I am truly grateful.
DH: Did you ever try hypnotism before a fight?
No, but my manager wanted me too. I attributed my winning ways to Napoleon Hill’s philosophies in his book “Think and Grow Rich”. His writings saved my life, they kept me alive.
DH: How long have you been an advocate of Napoleon Hill?
Since 1969. When I fought Ali the first time, that was my first thought going in, mentally and physically I was prepared.
DH: Would you tell me about the second Ali fight?
The thing about Ali at that time, Howard Cosell and Ali were boxing. Ali had to win; if he wasn’t knocked out, he was going to win. He won by one point!
DH: How did you feel when he won by one point?
Sad, I thought I had won. I took it in stride, because of my following Napoleon Hill; I put it behind me and went forward.
DH: Where do you live now?
San Clemente, California. I had lived in L.A., then when I retired I liked the Orange County area, Laguna, Lake Forrest, and I’ve been in San Clemente for about 1 ½ years now. It isn’t crowded out here, it’s peaceful, and I enjoy it.
DH: So you have a good life going right now.
Yeah, and I’m married. I’ve been married twice already. Actually, I have a girl now that lives with me, she’s my soul mate. (He shared a picture of his mate)
DH: She’s beautiful, she’s the lady that was with you at the recent golf tourney you attended, isn’t she.
Yes, that was her. She does everything for me; she’s my arms and legs. We’ve been together for many years; we met here in Orange County. There were a lot of women over the years, too much temptation.
DH: Ken, talk about a lot of women, I saw you years ago at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and you were surrounded by a busload of showgirls. The topper was that you looked better than all of them!
It’s difficult to keep a straight path, but this one has no worries. I’ve done all that and I’m committed.
DH: I’ve been married 44 years Ken and I know the benefits of a good relationship.
God bless you, that’s great, and I’ve got that now too. I’ve got a really good partner in life.
DH: What do you do for recreation Ken?
Walk. After the last heart attack, I walk by myself. I can’t do much. I can’t walk too far; I can’t run at all, I can’t do much. I do the best I can, I’m lucky to be alive. After the auto accident, they told me that if I lived I would probably never walk or talk again. I stay positive thanks to what I’ve learned from Napoleon Hill. Mind over matter, etc.
DH: I feel lucky to be here sharing this time with you and Hassan.
I like that, this is nice.
DH: Do you still hang out in the boxing circles?
No, I can’t anymore.
DH: Does Hassan want you to be his manager?
(Shaking his head no) If I can help someone get along and not be a burden, I would do everything I could. If I could help someone move forward, help someone with my positive input, certainly.
DH: Do you keep in contact with any of your old foes or contemporaries?
The last time I went to Arizona, I saw Ali. I walked up to him and said “Ali, I’m gonna kick your ass”! His eyes opened wide and we laughed. It was good that he still recognized me. Joe Frazier and I don’t talk anymore.
DH: What happened between you and Frazier, I spoke with him and found him very pleasant?
I think I had better not get into that right now. His son Marvis is great, I like Marvis and I used to like Joe. There was a time that Joe and I were like brothers, for his fight with Ali I sparred with him. Eddie Futch trained both of us.
He was the best trainer.
DH: I heard that Joe was upset when they stopped the third fight between him and Ali.
Yeah, but if they hadn’t, he would have gotten hurt. In his mind, he wanted to finish the fight. God does things in different ways, and he stopped that fight so Joe would not get hurt.
DH: Who would you say is the best fighter you ever fought?
Ali. Also Randy “Tex’Cobb, I hit him with everything and he kept coming. He was the type of person you would not want to fight on the street, he was a street fighter. The harder you hit him, the harder he came back.
DH: That could beat you mentally, couldn’t it?
Yes, and he was a good guy.
DH: Cobb was in a few movies and you were also. Was that a good experience?
I was acting until the car wreck. I did 26 films; the biggest were Mandingo and Drum.
DH: Did you like that life?
I liked the money (Hardy laugh). No, but I enjoyed doing it, it was fun. I didn’t know what I was doing during those films, than I went to acting school to get better.
DH: Was there anyone in the car with you when the accident occurred?
No, I was coming home late at night after a function for Mayor Tom Bradley in downtown Los Angeles. I was on the freeway on the way back to Orange County and that’s all I remember.
DH: Hassan, did you know Ken at that time?
Hassan: No, I met Ken in 1990.
DH: What do you feel about your meeting with Hassan?
He is a very energetic positive guy, very receptive. He is good for boxing.
DH: When is your next fight Hassan?
Hassan: I’m waiting for confirmation from the WBC. It will be in Mexico, Marty Dunkin is working on my license for California right now and we should find out about that soon. Because I have a belt, he will be able to put encourage the Board to issue my license. They will check my record and see that I deserve my license to fight here in the States. When I received this belt in the mail a few days ago, everything came back, all the hard work, the dreams, they came back. I’m the only one in the world, look at the writing on the belt,” First Iranian-American Champion ever. Ever, even amateur, I think that’s quite an accomplishment. Mr. Hernandez, my goal is bring to my generation the pride of achievement at any age. They should do the right thing.
Ken lent me his reading glasses to view the belt. I felt like keeping them as a memento, however, I returned them immediately to quell the temptation.
DH: Have you used glasses long Ken?
I didn’t have to wear them until after the accident. That accident changed my life, but I keep thinking positive.
DH: How many children do you have Ken?
There is Ken Jr., my daughter Kenisha and two other sons, KeneJon and Keith. We are all very close.
Tom Baca asked Ken: Did any of your children get into boxing?
No, that’s why I fought, so they wouldn‘t .t have to. One of my sons, Ken Jr. became a professional football payer and is now coaching at USC.
DH: I had heard that there had been some difficulty between you and Ken Jr., is that correct?
The only problem now is that since I’ve had some brain damage he tells me that now he’s become the dad and I tell him “Nah that will never work!” But what he’s gone through with football and all that and now he’s coaching, he’s doing well. He’s the son and I’m the daddy.
DH: I know that feeling, my dad is 80 and blind and he told me I’m like his father now. I told him I’ll take care of you but you will always be my dad. I have enough children.
Laughter. You got that right. That’s right.
DH: What area did you grow up?
DH: That’s President Obama territory, are you proud of him?
Yes, it’s good that the public saw that in the end there is hope. Because Bush, mucked up everything. One way or the other there had to be change. If he hadn’t come around and Bush had one more year. Let’s just say that I’m very happy that Obama is in office.
DH: Ken, did you know that your friend Hassan likens himself to Obama.
Is that right Hassan?
Hassan: Hussain-Hassan. One day I’m going to the White House and I’m going to say, “Finally Hussain meets Hassan!” I have big connections there and I will get to meet him and the headlines will read “Hussain finally meets Hassan”, because in religion, Ali has two sons, Hussain and Hassan, so, Hussain meet Hassan!
DH: Ken, I don’t want to take any more of your time.
I’ve got nowhere to go, take your time.
DH: Thanks, but regrettably, I have to go. I can’t thank you enough for taking this time, is there something you’d like to add?
Tom Baca: Before you answer that, I’d like to know what was different between the fighters from the golden eras. with boxers like Joe Louis, Marciano, Ali, and yourself?
Dedication! Hunger, hard work, eyes on the big prize, that’s all part of dedication.
DH: Do you have a goal with Hassan?
I have a goal for Hassan. So far Hassan has shown great fortitude in coming this far and I want him to continue on his road to success. I’m proud of him. He has not lost site of what he wants to do. He can’t allow anything to get in the way, he has to do it now, and there is no second time. The thing of it is, he won’t let any the small things get in the way of completing what he wants to do.
Hassan: Ken used to own the Gold’s Gym in Lake Forrest, that’s where we met and have stayed good friends ever since. We talk to each other, visit each other, there is nothing we wouldn’t do for each other. Basically, I’m his bulldog.
We all shared a good laugh on that line.
DH: Any final words for today Ken?
Everyone in life should have a goal and they should try and complete it. And if you don’t reach it, keep trying. Never give up. By trying, the person wins.
Hassan: That’s how I lead my life. Stay positive, I’ve had many ups and downs in my 52 years and I get rid of the negatives and always go back to the positives and move forward. You believe it, you achieve it.
DH: You are both quite inspirational, my very best to you both.
Ken & Hassan: Thank you, it has been a pleasure.