Orlin Norris (tied for 184)
Lubbock, Texas, USA
October 4, 1965
5’10” / 70” reach / 187-246 lbs
57-10-1-2(30) from 6/16/1986 to 11/03/2005 (19y5m)
0-2-0-1(0) against the top ten
0-0-0-1(0) against linear champions
0-0-0-1(0) against hall-of-famers
no fights for the linear championship
Fights against the top ten: L-SD-12 Tony Tucker, L-UD-10 Andrew Golota, NC-1 Mike Tyson
-2 total score (0 + -2 + 0 + 0)
For the most part, I think the rules I set up for this ranking project is about as fair as possible. It’s difficult to include enough (but not too many) factors to adequately rank each fighter. I think most would agree that the number of wins over contenders is the best measure. Wins over champions, hall-of-famers, win-loss against contenders, and fights for the linear title are also factored in. When I get into the top 60 or 70, I think the math holds up almost ideally. At these lower levels, though, it gets a little messier.
I say all this, because as I write these capsules, I can see the flaws in ranking Orlin Norris over number 192 – Curtis Sheppard. The Hatchetman had two wins over top-ten contenders (including one over a Hall-of-Famer), and several wins over fighters who were only a year or two removed from contender status. Meanwhile, Norris had several wins over near-contenders, but had zero total wins over the top ten. The math factors in losses, and that plays the biggest role in their respective rankings. Again, at the higher levels – where many fighters have several wins and losses against contenders – the math I use keeps the rankings fair and easy to defend. Here, it’s a little trickier. I may play around with the methodology some over the next few months, and some of the fighters in the bottom 50 may move around a bit.
But for now, Orlin Norris comes in at 188. And this is basically the right area of the rankings for him.
Orlin Norris was small for a heavyweight – at around 5’10” (listed between 5’9″ and 5’11” throughout his career), he started his career right around 200 pounds. Compact and strong, he displayed pretty good power as a prospect, but was later known as being pillow-fisted. He had quick hands, and was hard to hit. He lost a four round decision in his third fight, but from there, went on an impressive run in a pretty short time. From his pro debut in June 1986, he fought the usual assortment of journeymen and prospects, compiling a 16-1(9) record going into his first fight against a “name” opponent in March 1988. Renaldo Snipes had been a Ring-rated contender, last breaking the rankings in 1983. Since that point, he had lost decisions to Ricky Parkey and Tyrell Biggs, and had beaten a handful of journeymen. He was still a skilled and respected fighter, and Norris’ first real test. It was a close fight, but a second round knockdown helped seal the win for the up-and-coming Norris.
A few fights later, Norris passed another test against solid fringe contender Jesse Ferguson. After outpointing Ferguson, he won a decision against former contender and titleholder Greg Page. Two fights later, Norris would lose a narrow decision against another former contender/alphabet bauble holder in Tony Tubbs, but the fight was changed to a No Decision following Tubbs testing positive for a banned substance. Norris was still ranked in the top ten after that fight in late 1989, but would lose his first fight of 1990, an 8th round TKO against Bert Cooper. The powerful, but limited Cooper actually didn’t knock Norris out, but instead Norris quit after twisting his knee. Norris fell from contention after that point, though his ring fortunes actually improved. He stopped three journeymen in a row in the second half of 1990, then outpointed future contender Oliver McCall that November. After that win, three more stoppages of outmatched journeymen led to a June 1991 fight against contender Tony Tucker.
Norris gave a decent fight, but was outpointed by the much larger Tucker. He was undeterred, though, and tried something different – he came back just two months later, this time as a cruiserweight. At that point, the cruiserweight limit was 190 pounds, but the sub-six-foot Norris didn’t have too much difficulty making the weight. He would then spend the next 4 years as a cruiserweight, eventually winning the WBA cruiserweight title.
Eventually, heavyweight lured him back, and he fought again at the weight in February 1996, and would notch 4 wins, including a narrow decision victory over former conqueror Tony Tucker. He would lose a wide decision to former contender Henry Akinwande, beat a few more fringe guys (including former cruiserweight rival Nate Miller), and then get a shot against a comebacking Mike Tyson. The October 1999 bout against Tyson was a farce – Norris was hit after the bell ending round one, and fell awkwardly, injuring his knee. He couldn’t continue thanks to a knee injury for the second time in his career. This time, the fight was ruled a no-contest, since the shot that caused the injury was caused by a foul.
After that fight, Orlin Norris would decline pretty rapidly. He lost a decision to the talented but inconsistent Andrew Golota, would get smashed in 1 round by Vitali Klitschko in a fight that looked suspiciously like an intentional flop, lose a decision to the mildly talented sideshow Brian Nielsen, barely lose to Albert Sosnowski, and draw against former top cruiser Vassily Jirov (at heavy). Sandwiched in between were a few wins over the usual clubfighters. He would eventually end his career in 2005, following a loss to cruiserweight prospect (and later top contender) Ola Afolabi.
Orlin Norris fought a very impressive list of good and occasionally very good fighters through the 80s and 90s. Had he been a little larger and more powerful, with his speed and skillset, he might have been special. As it was, he was still a good fighter, and one who deserves to be remembered.