I consider my first meeting with Ken Norton to be the night of July 2, 1970. My late wife (girlfriend at the time) Constance and I went to the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles to see Ken Norton fight an unknown fighter from Caracas, Venezuela by the name of Jose Luis Garcia. In what I call (to this day) one of the biggest upsets I have seen in any arena, Garcia knocked out the previously unbeaten Norton (16-0 / 15 by KO) in eight rounds.
Ken Norton passed away on Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at the age of 70. He is always remembered by boxing fans for his three fights with Muhammad Ali.
In that trilogy, he beat Ali in 1973 (breaking Ali’s jaw as well) in their San Diego bout by a split 12 round-decison. Later that same year, he lost to Ali in Los Angeles by a split 12 round-decision. In their final bout at Yankee Stadium in 1976, many, including myself, thought he beat Ali. He lost the bout and his bid to gain the heavyweight championship by a close, but unanimous 15 round-decision.
In December, 2012 I lost a good friend, Johnny Lira, to liver disease. He campaigned as a lightweight back in the late 1970′s and early 80′s. At one time he was the WBA’s #1 rated lightweight in the world. He also won the USBA lightweight title in spectacular fashion when he knocked out the undefeated Andy Ganigan. Nicknamed the “Hawaiian Punch”, Ganigan had a record of 25 – 0, with 23 wins by KO and he was looking to keep busy, while waiting for a shot at then champion, Roberto Duran. Johnny seemed a safe enough tune-up, he was only 14-0-1 with 8 wins by KO. The smart guys figured he’d go a few rounds, give Ganigan a little work and in short order become KO victim number 24. But the smart guys never could get a handle on the tough kid from Grand Avenue on the west side of Chicago.
Lira got his shot at a world championship in front of a home town crowd, when he took on WBA Lightweight Champion Ernesto Espana in 1979. The fight was televised on the old ABC Wide World of Sports with Howard Cosell calling the action. What a fight it was! Cosell called it even after five. Lira knocked down the champ in the seventh and it looked like he was going to put him away. But Espana fought back hard. That’s what champions do! Lira was dropped near the end of the 8th, then suffered a severely lacerated right eye and picked up a broken jaw. The ringside doctor stopped the fight after the ninth round.
There were more ring wars to come. After Espana, Lira’s career included losses to Willie “Fireball” Rodriguez, Howard Davis, Jr. and Alfredo Escalera. There were also wins over rugged Bobby Plegge, Al Ford and Sammy Matos! Lira finally hung up the gloves in 1984 with a record of 29-6-1 with 15 wins by KO.
In his career (1958-1977) Griffith posted 85 wins, 24 losses, 2 draws, 23 knockouts, with 1 no-contest.
The month of April has a special meaning for me both in a happy and sad way.
April 4th is my friend Ernie Terrell’s birthday. The former WBA heavyweight champion has to be one of my favorite boxer friends ever. I was honored, on the evening of October 16, 2003 when Ernie was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame, to be his presenter. I remember that night as if it was yesterday and I will always treasure that moment in time. At the very top left hand side of the banner for this website, you will see the photo taken on his special night.
April 7th is the anniversary of the passing of my best friend Frankie Rivas. In 2009 I tearfully, but honorably, delivered the eulogy at St. Raphael’s church for his funeral service. As well as boxing as an amateur himself, Frankie was the truest boxing fan I have ever known. He was always there with me as a referee or judge at many boxing shows in our community, and gave his support to the kids in local boxing gyms. I have known Frankie since my childhood days and in memory of his death (I say), “May his soul rest in peace with the Lord in heaven”.
A dear friend to the boxing community recently passed away last month, Arnie Koslow at the age of 88. Arnie was loved by all that knew him and was an honored member of the Golden State Boxer’s Association and was on hand for almost every luncheon that are held by the organization on a weekly basis.
He was an outstanding time keeper for over 1500 boxing matches in the Los Angeles area in his career. He would always tell members his favorite fighter was Joe Louis and as GSBA president (pictured) Bill Dempsey Young stated “Arnie will truly be missed by all” is certainly an understatement, as we all knew Arnie as truly a wonderful human being.
There will be a celebration of Arnie’s life this Sunday, February 10th at the Stevens Steak House, 5332 Stevens Place, Commerce, CA 90040, at 1pm.
May Arnie’s soul rest in peace in heaven with the Lord.
By David Martinez Boxing Historian
This week the boxing world lost a great champion. Carmen Basilio passed away on November 7, 2012. He was 85 years old.
Basilio, who was known as the Upstate Onion Farmer because his Italian immigrant father worked in the onion fields near Syracuse, wanted to be a fighter since his younger days.