Dwight Muhammad Qawi is one somewhat underrated, but at the same time most appreciated ring warriors. Though Qawi and his incredible ring achievements (this word, incredible, may well be used quite frequently in the writing of this article) are best known to hardcore fight fans, some of Dwight’s big fights are known to casual fans.
A born fighter, one who learned his trade quickly, this while in prison, without the hugely needed, some would say essential aid of an amateur career, Qawi went pro at the relatively advanced age of 25. Talk about rapid progress, this after a couple of early bumps along one of the toughest of roads.
Before we get into Qawi’s greatest fights and his greatest wins, here are some stats that are nothing but jaw-dropping. At anywhere from a listed 5’5” to a perhaps overly generous 5’7,” Qawi – who we must never forget fought at light heavyweight, at cruiserweight, and at heavyweight – is either a half-inch shorter that current pound-for-pound best Naoya Inoue, or he is an inch taller than him. And Inoue is a super-bantamweight!
Qawi stands a hair shorter than Gervonta Davis, a man who has fought at 140 but is really a lightweight. Qawi is even shorter than current WBO junior bantamweight boss Kazuto Ioka. Truly, it’s incredible what Qawi managed to accomplish in the sport, always against guys who were taller than him, plenty of them towering over him.
Aside from learning the hard way that he simply had to perfect the craft of inside fighting, Qawi was also a superb counterpuncher, while his non-stop attack earned him his famous nickname. Also, Dwight was a brilliant defensive fighter, with him seeing to it that a foe scarcely saw nothing but the top portion of his head when they were trying to size him up for a punch.
And, for any shots that did get through, Qawi was blessed with a rock of a chin. With awesome stamina, good power, and a mean streak when it was needed (this no doubt given to him during his time in the big house), Qawi was pretty much the complete package. And, after going 3-1-1 in his first few fights, the man born Dwight Braxton would not taste defeat again for almost four years.
After stopping Mike Rossman in May of 1981, Qawi went back to Rahway Prison, this time as a celebrity. Facing lifer James Scott, Qawi pounded out a wide unanimous decision win, and he earned a shot at legendary warrior Matthew Saad Muhammad and his light heavyweight crown.
Over the course of ten at times punishing rounds, punishing for ‘Miracle Matthew,’ a man who was adored for being able to ship so much heavy stuff only to somehow snatch victory from the snarling jaws of defeat, Qawi poured it on. There would be no miracle turnaround on this night, December 19 of 1981. Qawi finally stopped Muhammad in the tenth, his improbable climb to the top complete.
Well, almost. There were two light heavyweight titles, and Qawi now wanted Michael Spinks’ belt. After adopting the Muslim faith and changing his name, Qawi, after scoring a repeat stoppage win over Saad and then one over Eddie Davis in his two title retentions, met Spinks and his ‘Jinx’ in March of 1983. Entering the ring with a damaged nose (“the pain was indescribable,” Qawi said of his busted septum), Qawi fell short over 15 engrossing rounds. Qawi had his moments and he even seemed to have scored a knockdown at one point, but Spinks was really on the top of his game.
There was talk of a rematch, but Qawi went up to the still-new cruiserweight division instead. And here came Qawi’s most famous fight, maybe his greatest fight.
After relieving Piet Crous of the WBA cruiserweight belt in July of 1985, the win coming in South Africa, Qawi all but tortured poor Leon Spinks, stopping the former heavyweight champ in six. And then, in July of ’86, Qawi went to war with Evander Holyfield. The result? Arguably the single greatest cruiserweight fight ever, and one of the greatest, most action-packed fights of all-time regardless of weight class.
This was 15 rounds of non-stop warfare, with both men digging in to get not only a second wind, but maybe a third, even a fourth. Both men went to hell that day in Atlanta, and Holyfield, who edged the ten years older Qawi by split decision, went to hospital after the fight, where he was left hooked up to an IV, wondering if he really wanted to be a fighter.
Qawi, feeling he had won, years later suggested, strongly, that Holyfield may have been “on something.” We will never know, while Qawi says he will never know how Holyfield, who looked exhausted after five or six rounds, came back so strong later in the fight.
In a rematch, Holyfield, who of course decided he did want to be a fighter, scored a hugely impressive fourth round KO, this the first time Qawi had ever been stopped. What next for the now 34 year old “Buzzsaw?” Why, an audacious move up to heavyweight, of course!
First came a couple more biggish fights at cruiserweight, Qawi losing a decision to the cute Ossie Ocasio, Qawi stopping Lee Roy Murphy, before Dwight took on George Foreman, this in March of 1988. Foreman, a few fights into his improbable comeback, was to have fought Bert Cooper, but Qawi came in at two weeks’ notice instead. And for almost seven rounds, an out of shape, 222 pound Qawi was taking the fight right to the 235 pound, 6’3” Foreman!
Eventually, however, Qawi ran out of gas and he pulled a No Mas in the seventh. But how the so much shorter man had bounced right hands off Foreman’s head, in the early rounds especially. It didn’t bode well for “Big George” and the remainder of his comeback.
Qawi wasn’t done yet, with him dropping back down to cruiserweight and coming within a whisker of regaining the WBA belt. Qawi lost a split decision to Robert Daniels in a fight that contested the vacant strap. This was in November of 1989, and Qawi had now been fighting for over 11 years. Qawi finally called it quits in 1998, this after a decision loss to Tony LaRosa. Dwight’s final numbers read 41-11-1(25), with one of these defeats coming early in in Qawi’s career, and with eight of them coming at the end of his career, when he was past his best.
Qawi was enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003. Today he celebrates his 71st birthday.
Dwight Muhammad Qawi was one incredible fighter!