" Futch and that crack about being an amateur really got Norton motivated in camp," said hotel owner Bob Biron, Norton's manager. "The only time I've ever seen him work harder in camp was for an Ali fight. And for Bobick. Futch also said Bobick would win. Anything Futch says bothers Ken; they used to be very close. If I could pay Futch $100,000 to pick against Ken every fight it would be a sound investment."
Driving himself hard, three weeks before the fight Norton was down to 216 pounds, only half a pound more than he weighed for the fight. Trainer Bill Slayton ordered Norton to resume eating steak for breakfast. The two also studied films of Young's victorious fights with Ron Lyle and George Foreman. They catalogued weaknesses, although admittedly there were few to find, and designed a fight plan.
"Young gets away from right hands by moving his head to the right while stepping to the right," Slayton was saying two days before the fight. "And he likes to tie you up. Then, when you relax, he punches inside. Kenny has to step back and punch when Young tries to tie him up. Young doesn't make many mistakes because he doesn't take many chances. That's a typical counterpuncher. They wait and they wait, and they wait for the other guy to make a mistake. Then they pour in. It makes' for a dull fight."
Since taking over for Futch in 1974, Slayton has worked on tightening Norton's punches, introducing and then improving a jab and getting his man to punch in combinations. For Young, he had Norton working on countering the counterpunch.
"Kenny is not a smart boxer, but he is a lot better than he was," Slayton said. "Once in a while he gets angry and starts firing those wide outside shots and he gets clobbered. He came out of the Bobick win thinking he was a devastating puncher. I told him that if he started throwing those big Bobick bloopers against Young, he'd get hit twice before he knew it. If he fights Young like he fought Bobick, oh, Lord."
While Young beat the pre-fight drums, Norton maintained a low profile, and, except for periods of training, was seldom seen around Caesars Palace. Although he stayed at the hotel, he ate all of his meals at a secret apartment. The food was cooked by Joe Dee, a chef from Biron's La Jolla Hotel in San Diego. "We've heard the Palermo rumors," said Biron. "Things have been known to happen to fighters. We don't want anything to happen to Kenny."
"I keep hearing about the late great Blinky," said Young. "What's a Blinky?"
"To hell with Blinky Palermo," said Ray Kelly, another of Young's managers. "I'm the bad guy around here. I'm tired of hearing all this talk about Palermo. We're here to make a fight, and Blinky Palermo has nothing to do with it. Let's put it to bed."
With the Palermo rumor laid to rest, at least for the moment, the fight began with Norton coming out like he was trying to put Young to bed. From the onset he all but ignored Young's head, an elusive target at best, and concentrated on sledging heavy blows to the body. Apparently shelving his own plans for the moment. Young fought as he had fought and beaten Lyle and Foreman: clinching, countering, retreating. Occasionally he would pause and slam home a right-hand lead, which seemed to baffle Norton, and then move on.
Norton came on in a crouch, bobbing and weaving, never still. His hands, usually held in tight in the old Archie Moore crossover defense, were slightly more extended and almost moving. The hands added an extra movement to throw off Young's rhythm, and mostly it worked well.