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Matthew Saad Muhammad: An Appreciation

Frank Lotierzo

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Imagine if there was a boxer around today who could box if he chose to, could take his opponents’ consciousness away with either hand, possessed the most remarkable recuperative powers you ever saw, owned a cast-iron chin and fought every top contender in the division one after another when it was stacked with hall of fame fighters – how huge of a star would that fighter be today in 2014? 

Well boxing fans, I present Matthew Saad Muhammad aka Matt Franklin.

For the last five or six years fans, have flocked to see Floyd Mayweather’s publicized sparring sessions that would be better suited airing on TMZ against opponents chosen for business reasons above all else. After Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao is the next biggest draw in boxing. Other than his 12th round stoppage of Miguel Cotto five years ago, the most exciting fight he’s been a participant of ended with him being counted out face first on the canvas versus his career rival.

When it comes to giving fans action-packed fights with sustained action, there hasn’t been a more fan-friendly fighter in the ring than Matthew Saad Muhammad in over half a century.

And if you took Saad circa 1976-1981 and dropped him into the light heavyweight division of today, it’s very plausible that he would be the biggest and brightest star in boxing. His back story of abandonment to world boxing champion would repeated on HBO and Showtime every time he fought. On top of that there isn’t one light heavyweight in the world today who would’ve gone the distance with him, let alone beat him. Yes, that includes Bernard Hopkins, Sergey Kovalov and Adonis Stevenson. Saad was a real Adonis physically and he was Evander Holyfield before Evander was even thinking about becoming a world champion while he was winning swimming meets in Atlanta. I mean no disrespect to Evander, but the comeback he made during the 10th round of his first fight with Riddick Bowe was routine for Saad two or three weekends a year during his title tenure 1979 through 1981.

Saad passed away this week at age 59 from Lou Gehring’s disease. If you were around and following boxing during the middle 1970’s through the early 1980’s you are very saddened by the news. The words “champion” and “warrior” are thrown around and passed on to fighters and athletes too often today. However, in the case of Matthew Saad Muhammad the words are fitting and probably under-used.

Saad participated in five of the most exciting fights anyone has ever seen, against Marvin Johnson (twice), Richie Kates and Yaqui Lopez (twice). He went 5-0 in those bouts and won them by stoppage.

Everyone talks about his title winning effort against Marvin Johnson in their second bout and what a great fight it was, but their first fight for the NABF title at the Spectrum in South Philly was even better and I was lucky to have attended it.

I remember as an amateur training at Joe Frazier’s gym in North Philly watching Marvin Johnson, who was undefeated at the time, train for his upcoming fight with Saad, who was Matt Franklin then, a week prior to the bout. Johnson looked really sharp and aggressive during his rounds of sparring, almost too aggressive for hall of fame trainer George Benton, who was observing Marvin while he sparred. On his last day of training Benton cornered Johnson as he came out of the ring and said in almost these exact words — “Johnson, don’t trade with this MF’er, he’s too F’n strong. He’s a sitting duck for your southpaw uppercut, just don’t try and knock him out or wake him up if you get him in trouble because that’s when he’s so dangerous. Box him and you’ll be okay, go to war with him and you’re asking for trouble.”

Johnson respectfully took in what Georgie said, but he was a fighter who only knew how to attack and as fate would have it, everything Benton spoke of played out three days later when they fought. Johnson repeatedly nailed Saad with uppercuts that should’ve sent his head up into the rafters of the Spectrum. He dazed Saad and hurt him but stood right there in front of him and was hurt in return with Saad’s counters. Saad also owned a terrific uppercut and left hook that was followed by a big right hand as a finishing shot. And Johnson was slowly worn down by those bombs as the bout progressed. Johnson’s heart and determination kept him pressing the fight but in the end it was Saad’s abundance of toughness and strength that were too much for Johnson. After 11 rounds the bout was up for grabs. Saad came out in the 12th round and unloaded on Johnson, hurting him beyond the point of return. Marvin tried to hold on to survive the round but he was too weak and tired to hold the charging Saad off. Finally, he collapsed against the ropes and was flat on his back and the fight was stopped with a little more than a minute remaining in the last round.   

When Saad fought Richie Kates seven months later, Richie was a year and a half removed from losing two close controversial title fights versus a beast of a champion named Victor Galindez. I was also lucky to be at the Spectrum that night. With seconds left in the fourth round, Kates hit Saad with a right hand that dropped him and he went down face first. Saad looked so out of it and gone that Kates and his cornermen started celebrating thinking that the fight was over. Somehow Saad beat the count but was on the shakiest legs you ever saw and barely made it back to his corner. Had there been thirty seconds left in the round and Kates could hit him once more clean, the fight would’ve been over.

Kates came out in the fifth round and took it to an exhausted Saad to the head and body. Towards the end of the round Saad began to shrug his shoulders and waved Kates to come and get him. With 10 seconds left in the round Saad dropped Kates face first with a beautiful right hand, and like Saad in the round before, Richie was saved by the bell.

In the sixth round Saad came out and unloaded on Kates with right hands and left hooks and the bout was stopped with Kates out on his feet.

After beating Kates, Saad defended his NABF title against perennial contender Yaqui Lopez, who lost three previous title shots to John Conteh and Victor Galindez twice, all three by decision.

Saad and Lopez put on a spectacular fight at the Spectrum and in the early going Lopez had the slightly better of it. And like Secretariat at the 1973 Kentucky Derby, Saad stormed back and stopped Lopez with one second remaining in the 11th round.

As fate would have it, Marvin Johnson got a title shot before Saad and won it when he stopped WBC light heavyweight champ Mate Parlov in the 10th round. To show you the kind of a man and fighter that  Marvin Johnson was, instead of making a few easy defenses of the title, he defended it against Saad in his first defense four months later. Saad and Johnson staged another instant classic in Johnson’s hometown of Indianapolis and Saad emerged with the title after a great give and take war that ended in the eighth round.

Saad made eight successful defenses of the title. winning all but one by knockout. During his tenure as champ he turned back the challenges of John Conteh, twice, Yaqui Lopez, Vonzell Johnson, Murray Sutherland and Jerry “The Bull” Martin. By the time he defended the title against another future hall of famer and monster Dwight Muhammad Qawi (aka Dwight Braxton) the tough fights and wars had taken their toll on Saad physically. Even before he won the title Saad fought tough guys and future champs like Billy “Dynamite” Douglas, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Mate Parlov and Marvin Camel (2xs).

I also trained with Dwight, who is a hall of famer, but in fairness, by the time he fought Saad, MSM’s better days were behind him and he was on the decline. Dwight stopped him in 10 rounds to win the title and then beat him again in six rounds when they met in a rematch eight months later.

After that it was pretty much over for Saad. Like many other past greats he hung on too long as the money evaporated and the loses to fighters he would’ve destroyed in his prime mounted. He finally retired with a career record of 49-16-3 (35).

However, if you want a true indication of who Matthew Saad Muhammad was as a fighter, just look at his first 38 fights.

Look at the names of the guys who he fought during that time who went on to become champs and enter the hall of fame. Saad was light heavyweight champ when the likes of Michael Spinks, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Marvin Johnson, Victor Galindez, Yaqui Lopez, Mike Rossman, John Conteh, Richie Kates, James Scott and Jerry “The Bull” Martin were out there.

Matthew Saad Muhammad was a true warrior in the ring. When he wanted to use it, he had a great jab and was an underrated boxer. However, after losing a disputed decision to Eddie Mustafa Muhammad early in his career, a fight in which he had Eddie down and everyone who was there and saw it thought he won, he decided to become more of a slugger and fighter. He had the two handed power to thrive in that style and the concrete chin and immense physical strength to be successful. With media access via cable TV, the Internet, Facebook and Twitter, Saad would be a huge star today because he never disappointed and always delivered against the best of the best the light heavyweight division had to offer.

In closing here’s two quick Saad stories:

It was July of 1978 at the Passyunk gym in South Philly. I was there training as an amateur and both Saad and Mike Rossman were also there training. Rossman, who was stopped by Yaqui Lopez in his last fight was starting to get ready for his upcoming title shot against WBA champ Victor Galindez, a fight Mike would go onto win. Saad was preparing to defend his NABF title against Lopez and hoping to meet the Galindez-Rossman winner. I’ll never forget after sparring two rounds with Saad, he pointed to Rossman shadow boxing on the floor and said to me, “He just got knocked out by Lopez who I’m going to knock out – and he’s getting a title shot before me…” then he shook his head and got ready to spar the next guy up. Years later, I ran into him in Atlantic City during a cable TV sports show that I was a guest on. He just found out that he was going to be inducted into the IBHOF and was saying how he hadn’t seen any of his fights in years. Being a fight collector I offered to make him a VHS tape of his bouts vs. Kates, Johnson and Lopez. A week later we met and I gave him the tape. He was happy to get it and when I ran into him after that he continued to thank me for the tape.You couldn’t meet a nicer or tougher man than Matthew Saad Muhammad. Everyone who came in contact with him liked him and his demeanor never changed. I’m glad I got to know Saad and train with him a little bit when he was the main man in the light heavyweight division. It’s a shame that because of all the great boxers around at that time like Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Alexis Arguello, Salvador Sanchez and others, Saad got a little lost in the crowd. But that doesn’t diminish what a thrilling and great fighter he was.

And to those of us who were around for his prime, we’ll never forget the great fights and memories that he gave us and we all respect him for the way he handled himself outside of the ring as well.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GloevedFist@Gmail.com

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Sept. 26 Horn of Plenty and Other Notes

Arne K. Lang

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Considering the constraints, the month of September has been a pretty good month for professional boxing. And the month will close with a flourish. Eight world title-holders will be in action on the 26th, the last Saturday of the month.

Five of the belt-holders will appear on the SHOWTIME PPV doubleheader featuring the Charlo twins. The most intriguing fight on that card finds Jermall Charlo risking his belt and his undefeated record against rugged Sergiy Deveryanchenko. At last glance, Jermall was a consensus 17/10 (minus-170) favorite. In baseball, a 17/10 favorite is a heavy favorite. In boxing, not so. A serious handicapper who wouldn’t think of laying 17/10 in a baseball game would have no hesitation about laying these odds in a boxing match.

When Deveryanchenko steps into the ring, 51 weeks will have elapsed since his last fight, his bruising tiff with Gennadiy Golovkin. Jermall Charlo hasn’t been on the shelf for quite that long, having last fought in December.

A more interesting match on this particular Saturday, at least in the eyes of this reporter, will unfold earlier that day in Munich when the curtain finally comes down on Season 2 of the long-drawn-out World Boxing Super Series. Two titles will be on the line when Mairis Briedis (26-1, 19 KOs) meets Yuniel Dorticos (24-1, 22 KOs).

Briedis’ lone defeat came at the hands of Oleksandr Usyk in a very competitive fight. Briedis won five rounds on two of the cards and won six rounds on the other. Dorticos’ lone defeat came on enemy turf in Sochi, Russia when he was stopped with eight seconds remaining in a doozy of a fight with Murat Gassiev.

Forget the titles; titles are a dime a dozen. These two guys are plainly the two best cruiserweights on the planet.

“The tickets are flying out the door and we expect to sell out within hours, if not days,” said co-promoter Kalle Sauerland at a pre-fight press conference.

That assertion was made way back on January 22 when the fight, originally targeted for late December of last year, was headed to Riga, Latvia, on March 21. That date didn’t work, nor did the re-scheduled date of May 16, and ultimately Riga didn’t work either.

Whatever tickets were sold, had to be refunded. There will be no fans in attendance when Briedis and Dorticos finally lock horns on Sept. 26 at a TV studio in Munich. The fight will air on DAZN in the U.S.

“Rest makes rust” was an often-heard caution when big gamblers of yesteryear dissected a boxing match. The late, great pricemaker Herb Lambeck reflexively shied away from boxers that had been inactive for a considerable period of time. For him, the Briedis-Dorticos match would likely be a head-scratcher. Both combatants have been inactive since June 15 of last year when they appeared in separate bouts on the same card in Riga, Briedis’s hometown. And they aren’t getting any younger. Briedis is 34 and Dorticos is 35.

The odds got nicked down somewhat when the site shifted from Riga with fans to Munich without, predictably so as Briedis, the first fighter from Latvia to win a world title, has an avid local following.

Briedis, the superior boxer, is a consensus 9/5 favorite. That seems a shade high as he won’t be able to feed off the crowd – there won’t be a crowd – and Dorticos, the Cuban KO Doctor, has a better chance of ending the fight with one punch. It wouldn’t be shocking if the fight followed a similar tack as the recent fight between Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin.

In case you missed it, Whyte was dominating his Russian adversary when things changed in a flash in the fifth round. Out of nowhere, Povetkin, the underdog, unleashed a picture-perfect uppercut that left Whyte flat on his back, unconscious before he hit the canvas. There have been other smashing one-punch knockouts this year – Ryan Garcia’s demolition of Francisco Fonseca comes quickly to mind – and there may be a few more, but it’s hard to visualize anyone topping Povetkin in the voting for Knockout of the Year.

By the way, if he wins it, Povetkin, 41, would be the second-oldest boxer to score the Knockout of the Year. George Foreman was 45 when he knocked out Michael Moorer in 1994. The source is The Ring magazine which has been issuing this award since 1989.

And if you happen to know the youngest fighter to score The Ring Knockout of the Year, then you’re pretty sharp. No, it’s not baby-faced Naoya Inoue, who is older (27) than he looks. The honor goes to the long-forgotten African-American/Filipino southpaw Morris East who was 19 when he knocked out defending WBA 140-pound champion Akinobu Hironaka in 1992.

In a rarity, it didn’t take long for Alexander Povetkin and Dillian Whyte to agree on a rematch. They will meet again on Nov. 21. The venue is undecided, but Eddie Hearn is hopeful that he can pot the fight somewhere outside his backyard “fight camp” with fans in attendance. The first lines on the fight show Whyte the favorite in the vicinity of 13/5. Povetkin-Whyte II will be a nice appetizer for the Errol Spence vs. Danny Garcia match that goes off later that day.

In an unrelated development, Fury-Wilder III is purportedly going to Allegiant Stadium, the new home of the Las Vegas Raiders, in late December. Bob Arum anticipates a crowd of 10,000-15,000 with social distancing protocols in place.

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Meekins vs. Kawoya: File It Under Bizarre

Ted Sares

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 It was August 8, 1988. The location was Resorts International in Atlantic City. The main event featured New Yorker John Wesley Meekins (18-1-2) vs another New Yorker (via Uganda and Denmark) Mohammed Kawoya (11-3).

The rangy and skilled Meekins with a stellar amateur career was a clear favorite over the lesser known Kawoya who had fought only once in the US, losing to Jorge Maysonet on cuts at the Felt Forum. Meekins was expected to move on to a world title fight after dispatching Kawoya.

Meekins enjoyed a successful career between 1984 and 1994, fighting the likes of Davey Montana, Mike Mungin, Harold Brazier, Saoul Mamby, Santos Cardona, Darrin Morris (who won his last 16 fights in a row), and Terence Alli. He would lose to a prime Meldrick Taylor (20-0-1) in 1989 with the IBF World Super Lightweight title at stake.

On June 15, 1990, Meekins beat Santos Cardona over 12 rounds to win the NABF light-welterweight championship, but would lose it to Terence Alli some seven months later. It was downhill after that and he retired in November 1994 with a record of 24-5-2 after being stopped by so-so Darryl Lattimore.

Back to Meekins vs. Kawoya

 This one did not go as expected. After being decked in round 2, Kawoya dropped Meekins in the opening seconds of round 3. An exciting fight with multiple knockdowns and furious exchanges was in progress and the fans loved it.

An aroused Meekins then went after the Ugandan with a vengeance and set up one of the most bizarre endings that few boxing fans have ever heard about, much less witnessed, as he again dropped Kawoya this time with a fast left hook. He then went for the kill. Referee Paul Venti sensed it and moved in—perhaps prematurely– as Meekins unleashed what he hoped would be a fight-ending volley of hard shots.

 As soon as Venti stepped in to stop the fight, Kawoya landed a right that dropped Meekins and had him crawling on the canvas and holding on to the ropes devoid of his senses for at least ten seconds. The punch was thrown at the exact moment that Venti ended matters and Venti didn’t realize what had occurred.

 While Kawoya thought he has scored a clean KO and celebrated wildly, the fact was that Venti had ended the fight a fraction of a second before and his decision would stand.

The fans not only enjoyed a great fight, they witnessed something truly memorable—something that had to be seen to be believed; namely, a winner struggling to get up and a loser celebrating what he thought was a knockout.

Kawoya pulled out of the rematch because of a throat infection and Saoul Mamby took his place as a late sub. The Ugandan never fought again, while Meekins never got the title shot that a more impressive effort might have gotten him.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com or on Facebook and welcomes comments.

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Price and Programming Lineup for Sept. 26 Charlo Twins PPV Doubleheader

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PRESS RELEASE — SHOWTIME Sports has announced the price and programming lineup for the first-of-its-kind pay-per-view doubleheader on Saturday, September 26, featuring two stacked fight cards each headlined by one of the world champion Charlo twins in an event presented by Premier Boxing Champions. THE SHOWTIME PPV event, CHARLO DOUBLEHEADER, is available for purchase at a suggested retail price (SRP) of $74.95 and includes six compelling fights, five of which are world championship bouts.

 THE EVENT

The first card of the SHOWTIME PPV telecast will be headlined by undefeated WBC Middleweight World Champion Jermall Charlo defending his title against Sergiy Derevyanchenko. WBA Super Bantamweight Champion Brandon Figueroa will defend his title against Damien Vázquez in the co-featured bout, while WBO Bantamweight World Champion John Riel Casimero faces off against Duke Micah in the pay-per-view opener. Following the main event and a 30-minute intermission, the second three-fight card headlined by WBC Super Welterweight World Champion Jermell Charlo facing unified 154-pound World Champion Jeison Rosario will begin. Luis Nery will battle Aaron Alameda for the vacant WBC Super Bantamweight World Championship in the co-feature, while former unified champion Danny Román faces former champion Juan Carlos Payano in a WBC Super Bantamweight title eliminator bout to open the second three-fight card of the pay-per-view.

TELECAST TEAM

The announce team for the SHOWTIME PPV telecast is comprised of the most experienced and decorated boxing team on television. Veteran sportscaster Brian Custer is the host. Versatile combat sports voice Mauro Ranallo handles blow-by-blow action alongside Hall of Fame analyst Al Bernstein and four-time world champion Abner Mares. Two Hall of Famers round out the telecast team: boxing historian Steve Farhood as unofficial scorer, and world-renowned ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr.

THE JOURNEY: CHARLO DOUBLEHEADER and DIGITAL PROGRAMMING LINEUP

In the leadup to the unprecedented two-event pay-per-view, SHOWTIME Sports will produce and premiere THE JOURNEY: CHARLO DOUBLEHEADER, a 30-minute show that chronicles the unique story of Jermall and Jermell, twins born one minute apart in Houston, Texas, as they rise through the ranks and put themselves in position to become global boxing stars. Voiced by SHOWTIME boxing host Brian Custer, THE JOURNEY: CHARLO DOUBLEHEADER features rarely seen footage and gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at their most pivotal career moments, motivations, and life outside of the ring.

THE JOURNEY will premiere on SHOWTIME on Sunday, September 13 at 11:30 p.m. ET/PT and will be available for free on the SHOWTIME Sports YouTube channel and all SHOWTIME On Demand platforms.

SHOWTIME Sports will also release new episodes, of the original, digital franchiseRING RESUME which examines the career progressions of boxing’s top stars, available on the SHOWTIME Sports YouTube channel. Beginning Monday, September 21, the SHOWTIME Boxing Snapchat page will focus on high-energy fight and training camp highlights featuring the Charlos. In addition, the Snapchat page will feature the Charlos’ RING RESUMES and THE JOURNEY to expand reach to young audiences with short-form, fast-paced storytelling. Plus, Brendan Schaub and Kenny Florian will preview the keys to the fights on BELOW THE BELT BREAKDOWN, available on the BELOW THE BELT YouTube channel.

MORNING KOMBAT INTERMISSION

Combat sports aficionados Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell will host a 30-minute intermission show after the conclusion of the Charlo vs. Derevyanchenko main event and the start of the second three-fight card. The duo, hosts of the popular live combat sports talk show and podcast MORNING KOMBAT, will also host live streams of the main events press conference and official weigh-in in addition to providing in-depth coverage on MORNING KOMBAT throughout the week. The official weigh-in and main events press conference will stream live on the SHOWTIME Sports YouTube channel and SHOWTIME Boxing Facebook page.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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