Brawling with Dwight Braxton

By George Thomas Clark on June 16, 2014
Brawling with Dwight Braxton
Dwight Muhammad Qawi was like the Wehrmacht after the summer invasion of 1941.

No one knew who Braxton was and that’s when I decided to do it. I’d drive up to the flophouse on West El Camino Avenue that advertised cable TV…

In July 1982 I was a part-time laborer who took improper medications and lived in north Sacramento, an old and wretched place for people who could do no better. I think those circumstances contributed to the rather bloodthirsty tone of this piece:

My desire to watch Dwight Braxton ply his fists to an opponent’s flesh had reached a state of creative desperation. After each prospect for viewing faded, I was compelled to seek ever more unlikely sources for the cable network broadcast. The owner of the restaurant with appropriate facilities didn’t want to distract his regular Saturday night dinner clientele with the tension and noise of a light heavyweight championship fight, so I went to a bar that advertised a big screen sports TV, and found neither screen nor sports. I chugged my tequila and retreated.

Then I invaded the grounds of a private apartment complex and tried to look familiar as I bumbled around the recreation room, looking for an unlocked door never found. That experience prompted memory of an ancient barroom haunt where I had once watched a regularly televised match between Ken Norton and Jimmy Young. This darkened establishment had the desired equipment but, alas, was in disrepair. My departure was delayed as I squirmed while a somewhat familiar bartender tried to sell me some dynamic new health food products soon to invigorate the bodies and souls of the nation.

So there I stood, alone on Saturday night, the fight time at hand, and no closer to the action than vicarious speculations on the road to unknown destinations. I cruised past dives on seedy Del Paso Boulevard and twice shot my head through doors to ask: “Do you know where they’re showing the Dwight Braxton fight?”

No one knew who Braxton was and that’s when I decided to do it. I’d drive up to the flophouse on West El Camino Avenue that advertised cable TV.

“Hi,” I said to the chunky lady who managed the place. 

“Hi, hi,” said one of her several children.

“Can I watch Dwight Braxton fight, please? I’m probably late and there might have been a knockout, so I really don’t want to rent a room.”

“If people are only going to be a little while, we let them have a room for eight dollars.”

“Yes, but the fight might be over. Can you check your own TV, please?”

“I don’t know anything about boxing.”

“That’s all right. I’ll explain.”

The fight telecast appeared.

“That’s it.  Thank you.”

“Not here,” she said. “I’ll open a room for five dollars.”

The room was spare and simple and hot. There was a bed and chair and there was no air conditioning. The essential television, a modern delight of color and precision, peered from a high perch over less gifted roommates. When the focus sharpened, Dwight Braxton and Matthew Saad Muhammad were standing at ring center and Braxton opened wide to speak unpleasantly. Boxers are usually advised to close their mouths. Sonny Liston once opened his to laugh at an opponent and had his jaw fractured. Dwight Braxton’s mouth is often open but no one can shut it. He grins. He grimaces. He bellows and brags and struts. He’s only five-seven but has long muscular arms he holds close to his body, firing grenades as he moves in. 

                                                              * * *

Dwight Braxton was raised in Camden, a ghetto’s ghetto, and fought so much his mother summoned juvenile authorities when he was fourteen. A string of reformatories was home until he was nineteen. Then he got a gun and robbed a liquor store. Rahway Prison became his residence for most of five and a half years in the hole. He said he fought bare-fisted for respect in prison, and he also began to box. This progression is now familiar: the ghetto, the pen, boxing, parole, professional career. That was Sonny Liston’s story, and Ron Lyle’s, too. Liston won the heavyweight title and died shot full of heroin, a possible gangland victim. Ron Lyle fought for a heavyweight title and later killed one of his best friends, a possible case of self defense. His friends say Dwight Braxton is different. They say he’s perennially aggressive and sometimes a concern, but he won’t go back.

He won’t go back except for business. He returned to Rahway to fight James Scott, mister two thousand pushups a day, the inside man, the slugger who sassed Braxton over the prison radio and then entered the ring and fought like a man who believed in sticking and moving, a dandy defensive dancer. He knew about Dwight Braxton. And, with his discrete and unexpected change of style, he became a rare man to survive. 

Mike Rossman, a former champion, was out-jabbed and outpointed until a Braxton right hook to the temple stoned him helpless for a left hook that brought the count of ten. Matthew Saad Muhammad didn’t end on the canvas in his first fight with Braxton. He was bloody and bruised but on his feet when ruled unable to continue in the tenth round. Dwight Braxton cooed as Jersey Joe Walcott presented the championship belt. He owned the world and resolved to keep it. In his first title defense, he stopped Jerry Martin in the sixth round.

                                                                  * * *

Matthew Saad Muhammad understood Dwight Braxton before he entered the ring a second time. He would abandon his credo of toe to toe warfare and try to flee the brute like a floating butterfly, like a neo-James Scoot. But Muhammad was not born to float. He was born to be battered to the verge of incoherence by lesser fighters than Dwight Braxton, then lash back, buoyed by endurance and fired by punishment, and put the hammer to his foes. Marvin Johnson treated Muhammad like a heavy bag until the bag fell on his head. Yaqui Lopez hit him so often and hard one round the champion could only stand and take it and amaze people he’d done so. A few rounds later he stopped the challenger. Muhammad had a Herculean talent for absorbing punishment but even before his ability was diminished by thousands of blows to the skull, he could not have taken the punches of the squat man from Camden. Matthew Saad Muhammad thus retreated and made his final stands, courageous but unavailing attempts to take back his crown, as Braxton landed anvil-like punches that made Muhammad think of survival rather than glory.

It seemed matters would end in the second, and the third, and only in the fifth, when Braxton rested a little, did it look like Saad might survive as long as in the first fight. In the sixth round, the fight was over and Muhammad had to be thankful. The “Camden Buzzsaw” showcased his teeth in a smile instead of a taunt or glower, and you could see the hard man soften when his girlfriend entered the ring. They exchanged the eternal look of spring and color commentator Sugar Ray Leonard said he sure was glad he wasn’t a light heavyweight.

In post-fight interviews Dwight Braxton talks in intense tones appropriate for rumbles in the street. After the Martin fight he’d roared into the microphone, “I’m bad, I’m bad, I’m bad, I’m good.” This time he said he wanted Michael “Stinks” Spinks, the other light heavyweight champion. Braxton yearns to be in the light heavyweight war of the century, a fight that will offer left-hand power versus left-hand power and right-hand power against the same. This will be nonpareil champ against nonpareil champ, the tall man opposite the short man, Ali versus Frazier. But Spinks doesn’t needlessly sit on the ropes like Ali and Braxton doesn’t get hit nearly as much as Frazier. That doesn’t mean this confrontation will be a light-hitting, tactical affair. It will not.

Braxton and Spinks will get hit harder and more often than ever and thereby understand the range of their talents, as Ali gauged himself against Frazier, and Frazier through Ali. And, as with the heavyweight titans, either man is probably capable of victory. The clichés of who wants it most won’t apply here. The hearts of super champions are fundamentally the same. This will simply be total war, a Wehrmacht versus Red army, and whoever wins will have to wreak unprecedented damage. There’s no other way. 

Editorial notes: In 1983 I naturally could not afford to see Spinks and Braxton on live pay-per-view, and was stunned to read that their fight, far from an Eastern Front debacle, was a scientific affair highlighted by adroit defense, and Spinks won a unanimous decision. I do think one Russo-German War analogy is appropriate, however. After the Spinks fight, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, as he’d become, was like the Wehrmacht after the summer invasion of 1941. He’d shot his wad yet would be facing ever larger and more destructive opponents. He won the cruiserweight title in 1985 but Evander Holyfield took a split decision in 1986 and cold cocked Qawi the following year. And in a colossal miscalculation he charged into the gun sights of mighty George Foreman who made him walk away in the seventh. 

Qawi continued to fight regularly until he was almost forty. He also battled chemical abuse as well as boxers, knocking out the former in 1990 and going eleven and four in the ring after the Foreman fight. He never approached a world title, and in his mid-forties returned for three nondescript fights before permanent retirement. Blessedly, as his friends had confidently stated, Dwight would not be going back to prison. He remains sober and offers counsel to juvenile offenders trying to change.

George Thomas Clark is the author of several books, most recently Death in the Ring, a collection of boxing stories, and The Bold Investor, a short story collection. See the author’s website at

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Dwight Muhammad Qawi vs Matthew Saad Muhammad I

Dwight Qawi vs Matthew Saad Muhammad II

Michael Spinks vs Dwight Qawi

Evander Holyfield vs. Dwight M. Qawi I

George Foreman vs Dwight Muhammad Qawi (19.03.1988)

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  1. bikermike 03:57am, 06/22/2014

    Thank you George Thomas Clark…..Braxton/Qawi was as tuff as they come.  Started at 25 yrs of age ffs.
    Great article….as usual

  2. bikermike 03:54am, 06/22/2014

    Eric….Qawi was at his best at 175…

    That was an excellant post.  Qawi was a self made man who had as much heart as and six men I hope he is well.

  3. Eric 07:54am, 06/17/2014

    Remember readin a boxing mag back in ‘81 and they had an article featuring “dream” bouts or possible matchups during that time. They had matchups like Cooney vs. Cobb, Saad vs. Mustafa, Holmes vs. Weaver II, etc. One of the bouts mentioned was Qawi/Braxton vs. Hagler. Hagler of course never ventured out of his weight class, and probably a good thing too. As great as Marvin was, Marvin wasn’t a big middleweight, and I can’t see him doing anything with monsters like Saad, Spinks, or Qawi. Better to risk your title against smaller guys like Duran, Hearns, or Mugabi, than attempt a jump up to 175lbs.

  4. George Thomas Clark 07:28am, 06/17/2014

    Franklin - I saw a very recent interview with Dwight on YouTube and his mind’s in great shape and he’s a lot mellower than he was 30 years ago.

  5. FrankinDallas 07:17am, 06/17/2014

    Nice read. How is Dwight’s mental faculties? He is one of those guys that you can imagine might have issues due to the punishment he absorbed during his bouts.

  6. George Thomas Clark 07:12am, 06/17/2014

    I watched rounded six and seven of Foreman-Qawi last night and was amazed at how young and svelte George looked.  And from this vantage point, George is a generation younger than I, whereas in real time he’s a few years ago.  Anyway, George definitely looked like a guy who would go on to take out an undefeated heavyweight champ, Michael Moorer. 

    Qawi of course was much better at 175.  Stronger than virtually everyone at that weight.  At 5-7 he surely could stayed at 175 if he’d dieted.  And announcer in one of the Holyfield fights said Evander has grown out of the light heavyweight division but Dwight has eaten himself out of it.  Despite winning the cruiser title, it’s too bad he didn’t maintain the huge strength advantage he usually enjoyed at 175…

  7. George Thomas Clark 07:05am, 06/17/2014

    Mohummad - Wish I could tell you a wild party followed but I just went home to a studio-sized dump.

  8. Eric 07:04am, 06/17/2014

    Qawi was at his best at 175lbs. The 190lb version of Qawi was good but not on par with the light heavyweight who destroyed his competition from 1980-1982. Qawi ripped through an ESPN tournament winning all his bouts by knockout, avenged his earlier loss to contender Johnny Davis, and then pounded Rossman into retirement. Bulled the once menacing James Scott all over the ring. Finished what was left of Saad in two one-sided bouts, manhandled a much taller Jerry Martin in 6 rounds. This peak version of Qawi/Braxton would contend with any 175 pounder of any era and I would rank him in the all time 15 or so at 175lbs. Even at the heavier weight, Qawi was good enough to capture the 190lb title and give Holyfield one of his toughest fights of all time. The bloated roly poly version of Qawi even had his moments against the huge Foreman. Foreman weighed a relatively light 238lbs for that fight so George obviously had trained for Qawi, while Qawi came in at a shocking 223lbs. Still at the time of the stoppage, the fight was fairly well contested. All this from a guy who had no amatuer background and didn’t turn pro until he was 25.

  9. Mohummad Humza elahi 12:48am, 06/17/2014

    Great read, but what happened after you watched the fight in that room?

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