Dwight Braxton had been a pro fighter for a little over three and a half years, he’d had no amateur career and the 28-year-old had a record of 15-1-1. Matthew Saad Muhammad was a legendarily tough light-heavyweight who had ruled as WBC champion since 1979 and against Braxton, he was making the ninth defense of his crown. Going into the fight that took place in Atlantic City on this day back in 1981, Muhammad was a big favorite to retain his belt.
But the thrilling wars Muhammad had engaged in with the likes of Marvin Johnson, Yaqui Lopez, and John Conteh had taken plenty out of him. Making the 175-pound limit also proved to be a draining effort for the defending champion ahead of the Braxton fight. Muhammad, who was a human highlight reel before Arturo Gatti had even left school, had earned his own nickname – that of “Miracle Matthew,” this due to the number of times he had astonished fans by somehow coming back from the brink of defeat to score the victory.
To this day, some historians list Muhammad as the single most consistently exciting boxer of all time (see his simply spellbinding second fight with Lopez for one unforgettable example of his ability to send a fan into a frenzy). But no man can keep on taking punishment and carry on coming back forever. And against Braxton, Muhammad went to the well and found it was dry.
Braxton, who had learned to fight whilst to serve a tough time in prison, was a little over 5’6” tall, yet he was able to out-jab the taller, longer Muhammad not long into the fight. This was a shock to the people who had never before seen “The Camden Buzzsaw” box, as it was a shock to Muhammad. Qawi may not have had an amateur career, but he was a fast learner, and he had soon picked up plenty of tricks in the ring. Braxton really was a natural fighter – hard to hit, possessing superb stamina that allowed him to apply constant and pure pressure on his opponent, carrying a heavy punch, and being able to jab with the best of them; Braxton also had a fine chin.
This combination of good stuff combined with the wear and tear on Muhammad’s weight drained body allowed Braxton to dominate the fight, eventually getting the stoppage in the tenth when the soon to be ex-champ’s corner decided they had seen soon enough after Muhammad had been decked by a left hand and was then under more pressure. The miracle turnaround fans had been treated to so many times never came for Muhammad in this fight.
One of the best fighters to have been taught his craft whilst in jail, Braxton had turned his life around, and he would soon change his name to Dwight Muhammad Qawi, having converted to Islam (as the former Matthew Franklin had done). Qawi fought Muhammad again, this time stopping an even more faded version of the once terrific warrior in just six rounds.
Qawi, though, says today that both fights were tough, that he had to prepare very, very hard for them.
“They were really tough fights, the first one especially,” Hall of Famer Qawi told this writer a few years back when recalling his wins over Muhammad. “I trained very hard, mentally, in particular. The first fight was brutal and very intense. I knew it would be. Eventually, I overwhelmed him; I got him outta there in the tenth round. The second fight was a lot easier because I’d taken a lot out of him. He wasn’t the same. As a matter of fact, a lot of guys, after having fought me, were never the same.”
Qawi is still with us, in good health, and a firm fan-favorite. Sadly, Muhammad, who never knew when to quit, passed away back in 2014, aged just 59.