Dwight Muhamamd Qawi was at his best, his most relentless, his most effective, as a light-heavyweight, yet Qawi, all 5’7″ of him, was also a darn fine cruiserweight. The man born Dwight Braxton could be as mean as a junkyard dog as a 190 pounder (this the 1980s limit for the cruiserweight division). A veritable freak of nature of a fighter, taking on and defeating the best at 175, 190 and even having a go up at heavyweight, the short, thick-set Qawi, reach just 71-inches, had a rock for a chin, a defence that was just as solid, a deceptive defence with plenty of subtle moves at his disposal, fine counter-punching skills, and seemingly limitless stamina.
And Qawi could punch. It was back in March of 1986 when a 33-year-old Qawi made the first defence of WBA cruiserweight belt he had won by stopping Piet Crous in July of 1985. Facing former heavyweight champ Leon Spinks, Qawi put on a dominant and spiteful performance. Spinks, seemingly an eternity removed from his stunning 1978 upset win over Muhammad Ali, had drained himself in making the 190-pound limit and only his raw courage – this something Leon was never short of – kept him in there as long as the savage fight lasted.
Qawi adopted his familiar ring approach, his chin tucked in tight, his opponent able to see just the top of his head and a flash of his gum-shield behind a constant snarl, and he came right at Spinks. Spinks tried to box and move, pumping out his jab. But the energy just wasn’t there, and Qawi, with his relentless pressure, drained Spinks of what he did have in his gas tank.
In the second round, Qawi forced Spinks into a corner, and the two traded there in quite incredible fashion. This was the classic fight in a phone booth. Qawi was getting the better of it, yet Spinks gritted his teeth and did the best he could. Soon, Qawi was tearing Spinks apart on the inside, the almost constant inside fight scarcely seeing any daylight between the two men.
Qawi, showing his nasty side, dropped his hands and clowned Spinks in the 4th, making faces and daring Spinks to hit him. Spinks tried his best, but he was unable to make the defending champion pay. Spinks was attempting to suck it up, but there was nothing to suck on; his juice was gone. Even the great Emanuel Steward could not help Spinks. Qawi was enjoying himself in there, perhaps relishing the beating he was giving a guy named Spinks (Qawi having been handily outpointed by Michael Spinks a few years earlier).
32-year-old Spinks was bleeding from the mouth, he was running on empty, and he was taking a beating. But down to the canvas, he would not go. Spinks was eventually saved from taking further punishment – punishment he was willing to absorb, with Qawi more than willing to dish it out – by referee Mills Lane. Qawi had dominated all six rounds. The WBA cruiser champ then had the energy to get into a brief scuffle with Evander Holyfield, who had entered the ring to congratulate his upcoming foe.
As fans know, Qawi and Holyfield met that July, the two giving the weight class it’s greatest ever fight. Here too, Qawi showed his snarl, his nastiness, his relentlessness, and his old-school tricks, but unlike Spinks, Holyfield could match him, in everything but experience anyway.
For now, though, Qawi was a happy man. A seriously tough, vicious fighter who had taken the heart, and some of the blood, of an opponent he really wanted to destroy, the former prison inmate had thoroughly enjoyed his night’s work. Poor Leon Spinks had met the meanest version of Dwight Muhammad Qawi, the cruiserweight division ever saw.