By Tom Gray: “My Dad noticed changes with my balance and speech. I just felt different and knew something was wrong. I pushed through and tried to hide it because I’m a warrior – that’s what I do.”
In the first round of his fight with Simon Brown, Norris, partially off balance, was dropped by a rocket left jab and appeared visibly shaken as he returned to his corner. Never one to back down in the heat of combat, Norris was determined to return fire, which would prove to be his undoing. He was hurt repeatedly throughout the contest, before being shockingly knocked out by a right hand in the fourth round.
The rematch was set for May 1994 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and “Terrible” Terry remembers that he had it all to prove after a second knockout loss. “Simon hit me hard to the back of my head in the first fight, so in the rematch I was fighting to kill.” says Norris angrily. “I beat on him for twelve rounds, just as I had done with Sugar Ray, but this was different. That rematch was payback!” Norris had looked sensational in his decision victory over Brown and a bright future lay ahead but as the door to one problem closed, another opened.
Luis Santana was a journeyman long before he was given a world title shot, having been stopped three times in fifteen career defeats. The Mexican was essentially a station wagon to the Norris Ferrari but in boxing, anything can happen, and usually does. Over a period of ten months both of these men would engage in an unlikely trilogy that is remembered for all the wrong reasons.
In fight one, Norris cracked Santana with a right hand to the back of the head and was disqualified, when his opponent could not continue. The rematch was ordered and Norris was astonishingly disqualified again for landing a big right hand shot after the bell to end round three. Asked if he got carried away the former champion was as honest as he could be; “I don’t think it was that. I was on the attack and I didn’t hear the bell.”
It was an incredible case of déjà vu, which was only put right, when Norris annihilated his over matched foe in two rounds of the third encounter. Shortly after regaining his crown, Norris was matched against IBF champion, Paul Vaden, who he soundly outpointed in a unification match and his status amongst the best pound for pound fighters on the plant was secure. The talented boxer puncher was close to huge paydays with Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad but just as everything was falling into place, disaster struck.
Between November 1997 and December 1998, Norris lost three consecutive times against Keith Mullings, Dana Rosenblatt and Laurent Boudouani, none of whom were in his class. Having just reached his thirties the former champion’s skills and punch resistance had inexplicably dissolved and retirement was the only option. Like many fighters the void left behind was hard to bare and a huge challenge emerged when Terry was diagnosed with a mild case of Parkinson’s syndrome.
“My doctor said that I may have had this syndrome during my last few fights.” says the former champ openly. “My Dad noticed changes with my balance and speech. I just felt different and knew something was wrong. I pushed through and tried to hide it because I’m a warrior – that’s what I do. Mental power is very important for a fighter, even more so than the physical side of boxing.”
Regardless of the forty four year old’s love for the sport which solidified his greatness, he is determined to see changes made so fighters can be protected when their professional lives expire; “My wife, Tanya, feels that boxing is just like dog fighting.” says Norris. “Once we lose our ability, we are forgotten and many ex-fighters end up broke and homeless. Look at Gerald McClellan, who suffered permanent injury, the cost for his care is roughly one hundred thousand dollars per year.”
It will be a long road but husband and wife have a firm game plan; “My wife did research and found a lot of fallen champions.” says the Hall of Famer with regret. “Tanya saw me going down that same dark path and came along just in time because I was drinking and trying to cope with life outside of the ring. We created a foundation called “The Final Fight” and hope to use it as a platform to get some really important rules in place. We want mandatory health insurance and MRI scans before every fight. Whatever we can do to protect fighters will be done because a large majority of them will end up with the syndrome if things stay as they are.”
Since this article’s inception exciting news has emerged which could see that message spread far and wide. Both Tanya and Terry have put a lot of work into a movie script which will recount the ex-champion’s compelling story for a new generation and one of Hollywood’s finest actors, Jamie Fox, has agreed to play the lead role. Working titles for the project are “Lady and the Champ” and “True Resurrection” so the silver screen beckons for this remarkable tale.
It has been thirteen years since his retirement and the great former champion could not be happier; “I’m writing a book with Bob Halloran who also wrote “Irish Thunder: The Hard Life and Times of Micky Ward”, which was made into the movie, “The Fighter”. I’m doing a reality show with my wife and the Bing Academy of Finance has sponsored me to build my own boxing academy. The founder Omar Magee is a really good friend of mine and I am so grateful to him. I moved to Los Angeles recently and a lot of big doors have opened for me.”
There is no doubt that Terry Norris has earned the fruits of his labour and this long and arduous journey has been a source of true inspiration; “Life is amazing at the moment” says the former champion with pride. “I’m taking care of myself and remain in top physical condition. I have my own boxing gym and I train a few fighters. My wife sends clients to me for a world champion workout which we are due to take to DVD. I recently spent some time with Oscar De La Hoya and my man, Sugar Ray Leonard – life is good.”
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January 3, 2012