Kid Norfolk  
Author:  Paul Hindley

Born William Ward in Virginia Norfolk, like so many black fighters of the era got his fighting starts in the shameful Battle Royals of the day and even in such a format managed to catch the eye of former middleweight contender Kid Reason who convinced the young fighter he could make a decent living fighting in Baltimore, a move Norfolk made, whilst fights were readily available in the city the level of opposition and money were both poor. However despite making little to no money Norfolk caught the eye of a local businessman and big time engineer VA Mason who told Kid there was big money to be made in Panama where work on the Panama Canal was well underway and the likes of Sam Langford and Sam McVea were making good purses fighting in front of the construction workers. Given his lack of opportunities in the States the Kid took little persuading to accompany Mason to Panama.

However once there Mason found his work with the canal was taking far more of his time than he anticipated and arranging fights for Norfolk was way off his list of priorities and Norfolk was reduced to little more than a house guest and after an incident where Norfolk felt Mason was treating him like a servant the two parted way and Norfolk found himself in with local big shot HR Cambridge who had little interest in boxing but on seeing that Norfolk was determined to fight began to arrange fights for the Kid. At first many of these were amongst sailors and construction workers but once it became apparent Norfolk was a serious fighter the level of opposition increased and Norfolk went on to be unbeaten for the following five years. That remained the case until the great Jeff Clarke visited the island and showed far too much experience and guile for Norfolk.

Kid was soon to return to the states but not before beating Big Bill Tate who would go on to earn a level of fame as a regular sparring partner of Jack Dempsey and avenging his loss to Clarke. Upon returning to the states Norfolk hooked up with shameless and infamous promoter Leo P Flynn, whose approach to fighters was to build a large stable and keep them fighting regularly with little care to either developing their career or over matching them. Despite Flynn's lack of care Kid kept winning and his form eventually earned him a fight with the excellent Billy Miske who had a decent claim to be the best light heavy in the world at the time, a claim he backed up early in the fight when he handled Norfolk with ease, but as the fight developed Kid adjusted and by the end of ten rounds he took a hard fought and deserved victory.

This victory made the boxing world sit up and take notice and Flynn began to fire challenges off to the likes of Dillon, Levinsky and Gibbons but these went unanswered. One fighter who was only too happy to answer the call was the peerless Sam Langford and although a couple of years past his best Sam still knew too much for Norfolk and not only beat him but also gave him his first stoppage loss. Despite rebounding and rattling off more wins than losses the big opportunities eluded Norfolk until he was able to secure a fight against Big Bill Tate on the undercard of Jack Demspey's heavyweight title defence against Bill Brennan. Whilst Dempsey had more trouble than expected with Brennan Norfolk was rarely better than he was that night and such was the lacing he gave Tate that even experts as respected as Ring Lardner went on record to say he represented a genuine threat to Dempsey and that Jack would be wise to give Norfolk a wide berth based on their respective showings.
As history tells us the fight with Demspey was not to materialise but after a lay off from an eye injury that would go on to blight his career Norfolk did get to fight one great of the era when he met the incomparable Harry Greb for the first time. The fight was a close affair with Norfolk dominating the early exchanges and even dropping Greb but as Norfolk began to tire Greb came back into it and although the newspaper decisions seemed split on round scoring it seemed clear Kid had done something few ever managed and had the better of Greb.

However it was Dempsey Norfolk wanted and in an attempt to force the fight Norfolk squared off against Dempsey's most obvious rival Harry Wills. Whilst Norfolk often gave away weight to opponents giving away so much weight to a fighter of Wills ability seemed suicidal (Wills 235, Norfolk 185lbs) and so it came to pass with Wills nearly decapitating Norfolk inside two rounds. Despite this loss 1921 was to be a good year for Norfolk with him picking up wins over the likes of Tiger Flowers, Tut Jackson, Jamaica Kid and Battling Siki, all decent fighters in their own right.

Kid Norfolk's good form carried on through 1922 and 1924 but by 1924 he was showing signs of wear and tear and his vision from the previously mentioned eye injury was beginning to seriously hamper his abilities. Another fighter suffering similar vision problems was former rival Harry Greb who had gone on to win the world middleweight championship since their first battle and the two locked horns again in April of that year. Greb's title was not on the line and he can probably consider himself lucky as Norfolk repeated the win in the first fight when Greb fouled him after the bell to end the sixth after being thoroughly frustrated by Kid's dominance in the fight thus far.

The Greb fight was to be Norfolk's last hurrah and whilst he fought on for another year or so his pretensions at world class were all but over. It is always risky to assess any fighter on stats but the Kid's make for impressive reading. Through his career he went 5-0 against world champions, during his peak years the only losses he had which went unavenged were against all-time greats in Sam Langford and Harry Wills, both of who outweighed him and at his best he was good enough to post two wins over both Harry Greb and Billy Miske as well as KO'ing the excellent George Godfrey inside four. Whilst he may not be the most obvious choice or a regular feature in these lists I am satisfied he deserves his place.