Friday, May 13, 1977

A Punch You Felt in the Toenails

That’s how it was with Ken Norton Wednesday. He brushed off the tentative jabs Duane Bobick aimed at his mustache when they met mid-ring. Then he brushed off Duane Bobick as a contender for the heavyweight championship of the world.

Twenty or thirty seconds after the opening bell, Norton pitched an overhand right into the unbeaten redhead’s pleasant visage and Bobick tottered forward, his hands lifted before him as though in supplication. There was no mercy in Madison Square Garden. An uppercut to the throat brought tears to his eyes. Four, six, maybe eight overhand right later, Duane was on the deck thinking beautiful thoughts and Norton was eligible for the $2 million tete a tete with Muhammad Ali, their fourth.

As Bobick fell, Norton flung his hands aloft and pranced about the ring in a war dance of jubilation, as though confident his victim wouldn’t get up. “I knew he was hurt,” Ken said, “and that if he did get up he’d be hurt some more. When you land a good punch you can feel it in your arm, your shoulder, your hip, your toes, your toenails…” He was willing to go on but had run out of anatomy.

Though it is not in Ken Norton to gloat, he had reason to rejoice. The evening’s work was worth $500,00 to him. John Condon of the Garden, accepting a figure that Jerry Quarry computed in his head, told him this worked out to $9800 a second for the 58-second chore. “Praise the Lord,” Ken said, but he is in for a disappointment. Actually he was paid at the sweatshop rate of $8620.69 a second.

Cash customers had the privilege of seeing unbeaten Bernardo Mercado score his 16th victory in a grotesque charade with one Horace Robinson. The tall Colombian’s talent is minimal but his background romantic: he is owned and operated by Joe Conforte, who also owns and operates a stable of cooperative chickadees on Mustang Ranch, the brothel near Reno Nevadaw where Oscar Bonavena was shot dead.

It wasn’t a new Norton, but it was the old Bobick - the one Cuba’s Teo Stevenson pounded into the ground like a stake in the 1972 Olympics. Duane took that whipping like a man, and this one too. Later he sat in his dressing room, arms folded, head down. He seemed close to tears, but he still looked at the sunny side.
“Well,” he said, “I think I can catch the 12 o’clock train to Philly.”

NYT Smith 5/13/77

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