Terry Norris: Warrior on a Mission Part 1

“I went to work, beating this guy like a dirty rug. I dished out too much for anyone to take”

Terry Norris is arguably the greatest 154lb fighter in boxing history. The Texas native, known as “Terrible”,compiled an astonishing amateur record of 291-4 before embarking on a rollercoaster professional career, which saw him capture four junior middleweight world titles and pound for pound recognition.

Terry and older brother, Orlin, were literally born into combat. The former champion recalls; “My father (Orlin Sr.) had been a street fighter, who took part in tough man contests, so he taught us how to box. My brother and I sparred together often and Dad groomed my style. Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson and Marvin Hagler were also big inspirations.”

There were a couple of speed bumps in the early part of Terry’s professional journey. In 1987, he lost a close decision to a fighter named Derrick Kelly and three months later found himself on the wrong end of a disqualification, for striking an opponent while he was down. That particular infringement would raise its head again, during a storied championship reign, which was never short on controversy.

After working his way back to contender status, Norris was matched against WBA junior middleweight title champion, Julian Jackson. “The Hawk”, arguably the hardest pound for pound puncher in boxing history, was out boxed in round one but ended the argument with a crushing knockout in the second. Norris was devastated but the agony of a third pro defeat was soon replaced with the joy of victory when he met fearsome WBC title holder, John “The Beast” Mugabi.

“The Jackson rematch should have come off but it didn’t and that would have been a win for me” states Norris bluntly. “I knocked out Mugabi, in one round, to win the world title and it was a dream come true. I was so happy I cried because I had won something for my Dad. I knew he really wanted me to be world champion and it made him so happy. God bless his soul – that win was everything to me, as was pleasing him.”

Many elite fighters have a signature move; the Frazier left hook, the Hearns right, the Tyson uppercut. As he grew into an established champion, Norris refused to rely on any particular punch because everything in the arsenal was impressive. The jab was as good as the right, was as good as the hook, was as good as the uppercut and he could blend all of these together in the form of whizzing combinations, up and down.

In 1991, Terry secured a dream title defence against his boyhood idol, Sugar Ray Leonard. The legendary former champion was famous for making the wrong move at the right time but the eighties were gone and his box of miracles, well and truly empty. The faded thirty five year old was, in essence, facing a prime version of himself and symbolically it was Norris who wore Leonard’s trademark dancing tassels at Madison Square Garden on a cold, and punishing, New York night.

“It was a cool feeling, doing battle with Sugar Ray Leonard. I was dancing with one of the best fighters in the world but even although he was my idol – I had to beat him” said the ex-champion, who was just twenty three years old at the time. “I had trained for years and studied all of Ray’s fights, so by the time I entered the ring I knew just how to beat him. I stuck to my game plan but told my dad; “We’re going twelve rounds, I can’t knock out Sugar Ray Leonard.”

The Texas boxer puncher was considerably less charitable to two other former champions, Donald Curry and Meldrick Taylor, both of whom he stopped savagely; “I had never met Donald Curry before we fought but I watched lot of his fights and knew the style, so that was an easy win for me” said Norris dismissively. “Meldrick Taylor was barely a welterweight and he didn’t belong in the same ring. I told the world he was too small and that I would walk straight though him, he simply didn’t stand a chance.”

One surprising moment for the highlight reel came in 1993 against the unheralded, Troy Waters, also known as The Glamour with the Hammer. As amusing as the nickname may have been, the tough Australian’s punching power was no joke and he decked Norris in a sensational second round; “I beat the hell out of Troy in the first and came out for the kill in round two. Suddenly, out of nowhere, he hit me with the “thunder” and dropped me to one knee.”

Hurt badly the proud former champion recalls his mindset; “I’m a warrior and I don’t go out like that, so I dug deep and fought back. I made it through the round and went to work, beating this guy like a dirty rug. I dished out too much for anyone to take, busting him up really bad, and that forced his corner to stop the fight at the end of round three.”

After ten successful title defences Norris ventured to Mexico for a dangerous assignment against former IBF welterweight champion, Simon Brown. The Jamaican star was a noted puncher with a record of 39-2 (29 KO’s) and his power, as Norris would discover to his detriment, had come up to 154lbs along with him.

Part Two will explore the remainder of Terry’s career and his life after boxing.

Please follow Tom Gray on Twitter!/tgraysecondsout

January 2, 2012