Exclusive interview by James Slater: Former light-heavyweight and cruiserweight champ Dwight Muhammad Qawi was a terrific fighter in his day. With no amateur career, Qawi, who had been sentenced to five years in jail for robbery, learning how to box whilst in Rahway, made a swift march to the top of his chosen sport.
Turning pro in 1978, the light-heavyweight with the incredible work-rate and the subtle defence went 1-1-1 in his first three fights but, after “learning all I could in the gym,” the 25 year old made astonishing progress – all the way to the WBC light-heavyweight title. Today, the 68 year old has some career to look back on. In fine health, Dwight does have his regrets, however.
Here he speaks exclusively with ESB:
Q: It’s a real honour to be able to speak with you again, champ. You are one of the greats.
Dwight Muhammad Qawi: “Thank you. Yeah, I had a good career. It could’ve been greater, but I did the best I could, and that’s the most important thing: doing the very best you possibly can with what you have.”
Q: Of all the great fights you had, which fight do people want to talk to you about the most today?
D.Q: “People that know me and have followed my career, they talk mostly about two fights: the first fight with [Evander] Holyfield and the fight with Michael Spinks. I’m observing Ramadan right now and just the other day some people were telling me I won both of those fights (smiles). I had problems with my nose going into the Spinks fight, I had a damaged septum. I couldn’t fight my usual fight, going in on the attack; I had to wait and box. Even a touch to my nose hurt bad. I can’t even describe the pain.”
Q: The Holyfield fight of 1986 is widely considered the greatest cruiserweight fight ever.
D.Q: “There was no way I thought he could go the distance, 15 rounds. I had seen Holyfield on ABC and he couldn’t even go six rounds [without struggling] with my sparring partner, Lionel Byarm. Holyfield went to hospital for two weeks after our fight; he pushed himself and his body beyond anything! I always thought there was something else going on.”
Q: By that, do you mean – as has been written a few times over the years since your fight with him – that Holyfield might have taken some illegal stimulant? Of course nothing can be proven.
D.Q: “Yes I do. Because (laughs) after 15 rounds, he was still jumping around! I was dead tired. I had that burn in my stomach, what you get from sheer fatigue. He was still jumping around like it was the first round. Then he went to hospital. I think his body went into shock; he lost something like 15-pounds in weight. I’m very disappointed by how that fight went, it’s the biggest disappointment of my career, let me put it that way.”
Q: You were a cruiserweight by then of course. Were you at your absolute best as a light-heavyweight?
D.Q: “Yes, the second fight I had with Matthew Saad Muhammad [I was at my peak]. Back then, in 1982, everything was going right for me; I was unstoppable. During that time, I went to California and I ran the hills there, and let me tell you, those hills did something to me! I thank them hills (laughs). I was so disciplined then, hungry and unstoppable. If I’d stayed so disciplined I’d have been at least a three or four time champ, not just a two-time champ.”
Q: Who gave you your great nickname, “The Camden Buzzsaw?”
D.Q: “It was Phil Marder, a writer for the Camden Post at the time. It was right after my fight with Mike Rossman. The next day, I read how he called me “The Camden Buzzsaw.” I was so fast and I fought like I was chopping down trees. My opponents would tell me later, they never knew I was so fast. Looking in, I didn’t look that fast, but I was. And I had great stamina. I was a fireball. I threw a lot of punches and my punches were so short; so short you couldn’t even see them (laughs).”
Q: You also had a very good defence.
D.Q: “After my third fight, my trainer Wes Mouzon, he told me he could teach me what I needed, which was a good, tight defence. It was gonna be a tough, hard career without one! It’s about making a punch just miss you, you make it skim off – that’s the way it’s done. That way, you’re not out of position after the punch misses, and you can throw back. Also, my mom told me she never wanted to see me get hit. I promised her I wouldn’t get punched around. I learnt in the gym all the time and I just got better and better in each fight. Even Sugar Ray Leonard, who was doing commentary on my second fight with Saad, he said [on air] how Qawi seems to get better and better in every fight.”
Q: Up at cruiserweight, were you as fast and as powerful?
D.Q: “I wasn’t as fast, but at the same time, I wasn’t sluggish. My team wanted me to go up to heavyweight, but I stopped at cruiserweight first. I sparred heavyweights and I did good with them. One of my regrets is not going up to heavyweight sooner than I did, when I fought George [Foreman]. I wasn’t living the life by then, I was drinking and not training properly. But I was still winning fights. But my body had transformed from a light-heavy to a cruiserweight, or a heavyweight. And I was beating George. But I got tired and I knew I needed more time, and more money, for that fight. But I hurt him and up until the end of the fight he was very conscious of my power.
“But politics got to me at that stage of my career, boxing politics. They gave me just two weeks to get ready for Foreman. Sometimes we boxers are too kind, too kind for our own good, and we get abused by the people we make money for. Mike Tyson, he gives money away all the time, he’s a classy guy. I’m proud to call Mike a friend. It’s hard at times; I was supposed to get a lot more, but I got only $35,000 for the Holyfield rematch, while he got $1million. Also, I wasn’t as dedicated by then. Jersey Joe Walcott once told me I was burning the candle at two ends! I was drinking and going out. I could have been even greater if I’d maintained the discipline I had in the early ’80s.”
Q: You had a fine career though. Do you attribute your good health and your ring longevity to you great defensive qualities?
D.Q: “Absolutely. I can tell you, in three seconds, the three times I was hurt during my career: The Saad fight, he hit me, in our first fight, on top of my head, and even the floor looked upside down! The low payday I got for the Holyfield rematch. When I was told about that, how much a guy who was supposed to be looking out for me told me how much I’d get, it really hut me, and it hurt my training. But I needed the money so I couldn’t pull out. And the knockdown, the flash knockdown I suffered in that fight – because I wasn’t knocked out, it was a flash knockdown – that loss hurt me.
“That’s it. Aside from that, I was never hurt in my career. I’m thankful, it could have been worse. But it could have been a lot better.”