Moist Eyes

By Ted Sares on April 1, 2013
Moist Eyes
“Although my mother and father," said Saad, "they made me but then they erased me.”

In the audience were grizzled ex-boxers, cynical boxing observers, veteran writers, former inductees, and tough muscular guys with tattoos and lots of jewelry…

“Along the way, I came to believe that fighters themselves were among the best human beings I knew. They were mercifully free of the macho bullshit that stains so many professional athletes. They were gentle in a manly way.”—Pete Hamill

“Once, I was at a party…This was at a time when it seemed like I had everything. I was young. I was undefeated. I had money. I`d just moved into my own home. People at the party were laughing and having fun. And I missed my mother. I felt so lonely. I remember asking myself, `Why isn’t my mother here? Why are all these people around me? I don`t want these people around me.’ I looked out the window and started crying.”—Oscar De La Hoya

It was a hot and humid Sunday in Canastota in June 1998 and a fine mist of a drizzle was of no help in cooling things off. The pavilion had not yet been constructed so the induction ceremonies were set up in the open. Nevertheless, my wife, Holly, and I decided to stay for the ceremonies. Usually, we leave on the morning of the inductions, but something held us back this time. Maybe it was that Matthew Saad Muhammad had been one of our favorite fighters, and we owed it to him to stay.

After a short but emotional acceptance speech by the great flyweight champion Miguel Canto, trainer Lou Duva worked his way to the stage and gave a rousing speech that came directly from his heart. He talked entirely about his fighters and family and never got around to himself.

Lou Duva

“It’s hard to start from the bottom.”—Lou Duva

“I like what I’m doing. I have two families, just so you know it. I have two families. And it’s the greatest joy in the world. I have my blood family, which is right over there. Stand up. My new prospect. Mikey. Right over there. Mikey, my new grandson. And then I have my fistic family. My fighters. I think I gotta be the luckiest son of a gun in the world. To have two families such as this. They’re in my corner; they’re in my fighter’s corners. Everybody is family in what I do. I mean this is not a one-man show. I mean I’m the ham that takes the bows but they’re the ones that put everything together for me. When you take my daughters, my son Dino. Dino, right there. He is promoting. One of the tops when it comes to promoting. My son Danny who passed away a couple of years ago. He was without a doubt one of the greatest brains in boxing. My fighters loved him, everybody loved him. He knew what it was all about and he fought for the fighters. And I can’t say enough about him. But his wife Kathy, there’s Kathy right there…”

Lou closed with these humble words:

“You know there’s a lot of great champions up here. You know when you talk about Emanuel Steward and you talk about Eddie Futch. Great trainers. Great trainers. I don’t want to be thought about that, hey, they were great trainers and so was Lou. No. All I want to be known as is I’m the guy who fought for my fighters. That’s all I want to be known about. Thank you very much.”1

Duva was deeply moved. So was the crowd.  And with his closing words, my eyes started to itch just a bit, and I noticed others pawing at their eyes. Then Matthew Saad Muhammad came to the dais to deliver his acceptance speech.

Matthew Saad Muhammad

“Oh man, this is such a joy. Look at all the people. Look at that. Look at that. I’m so honored. I’m so happy. That all you guys, all you ladies came out here to be part of this induction. The people who are staying here, all the fighters, all the champions, all the retired fighters. I want to say thank you to the dais, to all the world champions. Wow, I don’t know where to begin. I want to thank God for making it all possible for me. If it wasn’t for me it would never have happened. Although my mother and father, they made me but then they erased me.

“But it’s okay. God is real and I can’t think about what happened then. I can only go on and think about the present.” 

He looked around, hesitated for a few seconds, and then continued:

“And I want to really thank the Boxing Hall of Fame for bringing me out here. Man, I’m a little nervous. I’m a little nervous. I’m looking at all these people looking at me. Man. I want to thank my mother and father, Laveech. Catherine and Samuel Laveech from Alaska. I want to thank also Joe Johnson. His mother raised me when I was a child about two years old. So it was his mother that adopted me. The Santos family and for them. I’m happy. They didn’t have to do that. They had about ten other children of their own. I was only, I guess, about the eleventh. They took all of us in and they treated us the same. It was no little “U” big “I.” And that’s the thing I can always remember. And also Neil Gelb who works with me now, my attorney. I want to thank him for being here and his associates. And I see all these great fighters here.

“These promoters, managers. Emanuel Steward. Lou Duva, that’s my man. He’s in the house. Bob Foster. Kenny Norton. Eddie Futch. Marvin Hagler. Everybody. Jose. Carmen Basilio. There’s so many of them. I can’t start. You guys really put me on the spot. But I’m gonna try to involve myself still in boxing. I enjoy the game and I will always enjoy it because it made me who I am today. I didn’t make it for what it is. And it’s a good thing. I just want to be part of it. I still want to be part of it. I don’t know if I’ll take any more fights on. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. I’ll think about it. You gotta think about it first. They say I’m pretty good looking. I don’t know. I’m gonna try anyway. That’s all I’m gonna say. Thank you very much.”2

When he said “although my mother and father, they made me but then they erased me. But it’s okay. God is real and I can’t think about what happened then,” a palpable electric shock of emotion swept through the place. “They made me but then they erased me.”

In the audience were grizzled ex-boxers, cynical boxing observers, veteran writers, former inductees, and tough muscular guys with tattoos and lots of jewelry. But there were few dry eyes in the house as we listened to this man who had been abandoned by his own family on the streets of Philadelphia at age five.

As we made our way onto the New York thruway and headed home in the rain, one thing was certain: this very gentle and sensitive man named Matthew Saad Muhammad would never be erased from our hearts.

1.Taken from transcripts of the 1998 Induction Speeches.” From the International Boxing Hall of Fame website, http://www.ibhof.com/ibhfhome.htm
2. Ibid.

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  1. Pete The Sneak 04:46am, 04/04/2013

    “The emotions and sensitivity shown in such genuinely tough men. Real men.
    Men who don’t have to act tough because they are tough.

    Matt, well put dude. That pretty much captures the gist of Ted’s wonderful read…I did see that Gatti documentary by the way, and yes, I was almost positive his wife had something to do with his death. However, after viewing the program and listening to the people closest to Gatti, I too came away with a different perspective on how he could have possibly died. Good stuff Man. Peace.

  2. the thresher 02:52pm, 04/01/2013

    Many thanks Matt. That was very kind of you.

  3. Matt Mosley 02:05pm, 04/01/2013

    Great, great article Ted.
    This is one of the major reasons why i love boxing when i read stuff like this.
    The emotions and sensitivity shown in such genuinely tough men. Real men.
    Men who don’t have to act tough because they are tough.
    I’m a bit embarrassed to say that i haven’t seen hardly any of Matthew’s fights, only the odd highlight, although i am aware that he was thought of as just as entertaining as Arturo Gatti, yet a more accomplished fighter overall.
    To be fair to myself, he was before my time, but i will have to get some dvds and/or get on youtube for the Lopez fights, etc.
    Like i said, great article.
    I like it when i can just read it from the heart instead of some of from some of these “writers”, mainly on the internet, who try to put across their supposedly superior intelligence by using unnecessarily big words which make me go looking for my dictionary.
    If i wanted to read fucking Shakespeare i would have done when i was at school. As it was i wasn’t interest.
    I come on boxing sites to read about boxing, not to be shown how big some writer’s vocabulary is.
    Anyway, rant over.  :)
    As you always do, keep it real, Ted.
    Thanks.

  4. Matt Mosley 01:50pm, 04/01/2013

    Gatti’s own brother, Joe, says at the end that Arturo was addicted to all kinds of drugs, painkillers, etc, and that he believes Gatti did take his own life.
    Another tragedy in boxing, but i have to say after watching the program, i think it was likely suicide too.

  5. Matt Mosley 01:45pm, 04/01/2013

    Ted - The Gatti documentary is well worth watching. I know plenty of people suspect the girlfriend but there is conflicting evidence there.
    His ex-girlfriend who he had his first kid to says he attempted suicide before, when he was with her.
    I have to say, and i know some people are good actors/actresses, but the impression i get of the girlfriend who is suspected is that she didn’t do it.
    It really is a mystery though.
    Like i said, you should check it out.

  6. Eric 01:36pm, 04/01/2013

    The wars Saad had with Johnson in ‘79 & Lopez in ‘80 were some of the best fights of that period without a doubt.

  7. the thresher 12:43pm, 04/01/2013

    Matt, if Gatti’s wife is in it, I’ll be watching. She is an interesting study.

    That quote from Oscar was a touching one and you had to feel for him.

  8. Matt Mosley 12:32pm, 04/01/2013

    Also, i’m just watching CBS Reality over here in the UK and the program
    “48 Hours - Mystery”.
    I was surprised to see it is about Arturo Gatti’s death and the circumstances surrounding it.
    Interviews with his wife, etc.
    This may be quite old now for you people in the States, as these programs usually come through later for us, but if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth looking out for.

  9. Matt Mosley 12:29pm, 04/01/2013

    My main post is coming through, delayed for spam or whatever, but i just wanted to say, for those who might not know, that the quote from Oscar at the top is particularly relevant because his mother died of breast cancer when he was 17.
    That party he was at was not long after her death.

  10. Walt 09:34am, 04/01/2013

    “The anonymous, pus-ridden pimply-faced, baby fat loser making himself feel macho from behind a keyboard in mum’s basement while watching Justin Bieber videos and munching on Cheetos.”
    A perfect description. I know the type. Lot’s of guys here in Las Vegas are like that. Wouldn’t know how to climb the steps into the ring, but act as if they are Hall of Famers. Many of these rump swabs would not know a hook from a hooker. Sickening.

  11. the thresher 09:02am, 04/01/2013

    Thanks EZ and Pug

  12. pugknows 08:59am, 04/01/2013

    Beautiful work here. Simply beautiful.

  13. EZ E 08:57am, 04/01/2013

    Great article!!

  14. the thresher 08:36am, 04/01/2013

    As Paul says, “The macho posturing and testosterone BS usually comes from the outside, from people who would never dare step in the ring.”

    I see this in a lot of writers—some old but most young. And “There’s nothing worse than an internet tough guy lobbing insults out at boxers performing for their entertainment.” The anonymous, pus-ridden pimply-faced, baby fat loser making himself feel macho from behind a keyboard in mum’s basement while watching Justin Beiber videos and munching on Cheetos. But they are as much a piece of the boxing landscape as watching Max look like a deer caught in the headlights when Rios told him he need his eyeballs checked—which btw, he just might.

    It’s all a part of our passion—the good with the not-so-good. Like they say, it is what it is.

  15. the thresher 08:26am, 04/01/2013

    Charlie, that’s why I go to the Boxer’s monthly luncheon in Boston and that’s why I belong to Ring 8 and Ring 4.

  16. cnorkusjr 08:04am, 04/01/2013

    Top notch Ted, you can really see a difference between boxers and other sports athletes. In a room filled with boxing people, one can really feel at home with a boxer and vice-versa. A few act like they are bigger than life-but many are really “Thankful” from what they got out of their career and the recognition. Nice piece.

  17. the thresher 07:52am, 04/01/2013

    Deeply appreciated Paul and Tex. I share your sentiments 100%.

  18. Paul Magno 07:44am, 04/01/2013

    Moving, powerful stuff, Ted….As someone practically raised in gyms, it always surprised me how gentle and supportive the brotherhood of fighters is…The macho posturing and testosterone BS usually comes from the outside, from people who would never dare step in the ring…And what can you say about Matthew Saad Muhammad? At the risk of ruffling some feathers, if he were a nice Italian or Irish kid, they would’ve turned his life into a major Hollywood blockbuster….

  19. Tex Hassler 07:17am, 04/01/2013

    If you have ever seen one of Matthew Saad’s fights you can never forget him. He had a kill or be killed style and I watched many of his fights years ago on TV. Fighters are human and Mr. Sares artfully brought this out for the world to see. Thanks Mr. Sares. Lou Duva is a great boxing man and an asset to our sport and to the world as is Mr. Saad.

  20. the thresher 06:14am, 04/01/2013

    Thanks, Billy and Pete.

  21. dollarbond 06:12am, 04/01/2013

    Marvelous stuff.  Made my eyes moist.

  22. Pete The Sneak 04:59am, 04/01/2013

    Ted, beautiful stuff man..Here’s a guy. Matthew Saad, who could have had every excuse to be rebellious, be a thug, take his anger out on the world, etc..Instead, he focuses whatever inner turmoil he must have been feeling into becoming a Hall of Fame Boxer and decent, humble man. No excuses here.  The sport of Boxing has provided this type avenue for many a wayward child..Also, don’t know who the Santos family folks were, but man what they did in taking young Matthew in as one of their own deserves some form of induction into the ‘Absolutely Wonderful and Incredible Human Beings Hall of Fame.’ Peace.

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