The Glorious Light Heavyweights

By Ted Sares on March 27, 2013
The Glorious Light Heavyweights
Watch the exciting Alvaro "Yaqui" Lopez fighting everyone, but never getting the title.

During the late ‘70s and early ‘80s the sometimes forgotten light heavyweight division featured TV offerings that were a boxing aficionado’s dream…

“The depth of this light heavyweight division (the late ‘70s through the early ‘80s) was astounding. There were so many good fighters and every style you could think of was represented…”—Al Bernstein

“Without a doubt [that was the best era].”—Trainer Tommy Brooks

“We have a good fight for the fans…not like the fights now…they fight for millions, and it’s over in a minute and a half.”—Alvaro “Yaqui” López

As the 1970s came to a close, the 1980s were about Ronald Wilson Reagan and Madonna and everything in between. It was a decade of free enterprise, materialism and shameless self-promotion, of which Madonna was the queen. She was a material girl in a material world. Nixon, the Vietnam War, Watergate, Carter, the energy crisis, and disco were soon relegated to memory as President Reagan took charge.

In boxing, the thing that stood out for me was that fighters were willing to duke with each other. Frazier fought Foreman twice, Jerry Quarry twice and Ali three times. Big George fought Norton, Jimmy Young and Ali. Young fought Ali, Earnie Shavers, Ron Lyle, Norton, and Foreman. Lyle fought Ali, Forman and Quarry. Ali fought everyone (Foreman, Frazier, Shavers, Norton, Quarry, Young and all the rest). It was an unofficial round robin. It was a Prize Fighter Tourney before there were Prize Fighter Tourneys. Surely, no other era could ever have so many heavyweight fighters who were so talented at so many different levels.

The Light Heavyweights

It was during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s that the sometimes forgotten light heavyweight division featured TV offerings that were a boxing aficionado’s dream. The period was roughly after Bob Foster but before Evander Holyfield came along.

There was the all-action Matthew Saad Muhammad, the underrated “Jewish Bomber” Mike Rossman. James “Great” Scott, who fought out of every boxer’s favorite prison—Rahway in New Jersey, Saad Muhammad, Qawi—another Rahway alum, Marvin Johnson, Eddie Davis, Murray Sutherland, Jerry “The Bull” Martin, crafty Mustafa Muhammad (aka Eddie Gregory), Yaqui Lopez, the legendary Victor Galindez, Vonzell Johnson, Richie Kates, the stylist John Conteh, Lottie Mwale, Mustafa Wasajja, Croatia’s Mate Parlov, Marvin Camel, KO artist Willie Edwards, Ghanaian Prince Mama Mohammed, and many more. Michael Spinks stood out from the pack and later moved up to take the heavyweight crown from Larry Holmes who was closing in on Rocky Marciano’s record.

As William Detltoff pointed out in an excellent piece titled “The golden age of light heavyweights” (ESPN Boxing, April 11, 2008):

“The best part? They all fought one another – many more than once. Galindez fought Lopez and Rossman twice each, and also fought Johnson and Mustafa Muhammad. Johnson fought Saad Muhammad (twice), Spinks and Mustafa Muhammad. Spinks fought Mustafa Muhammad, Lopez, both Davis brothers, Johnson and Qawi, and Marvin Johnson and John Conteh and brothers Johnny and Eddie Davis and James Scott and Jerry Martin. Saad Muhammad, arguably the most exciting fighter of the era regardless of weight class, fought Qawi, Lopez, Johnson and Conteh twice each, and also faced Mustafa Muhammad.”

The following encapsulations hopefully will jog your memory bank:

• Canada’s Gary Summerhays losing but going the distance in five consecutive fights with Marvin Camel, Edgar Wallace, Vonzell Johnson, Mike Rossman and Michael Spinks during an amazing five-month period in 1977.

• Matthew Saad Muhammad (aka Matthew Franklin) continually snatching victory from certain defeat until the incredible punishment finally caught up to him. He was Gatti before Gatti and the East Coast’s version of Danny “Little Red” Lopez.

• The Spinks Jinx, a long overhand right that resulted in a KO percentage of 65.63.

• Mike Rossman’s inspirational TKO over Victor Galindez in New Orleans in 1978.

• Unheralded Ramon Ranquello’s shocking upset stoppage of Mike Rossman in Giants Stadium in 1979. Ranquello would go 4-6-2 after this amazing upset.

• Victor Galindez being knocked with his legs almost going over in a backwards somersault by Marvin Johnson’s lethal left in a huge upset in New Orleans in 1979. Vicious Victor would fight one more time before calling it quits.

• Watching Galindez get very familiar with many of his opponents as he fought Juan Aguilar nine times, Ramon Peralta six times, Jorge Ahumada five times, Domingo Silviera three times, Adolfo Cardozo twice, Yaqui Lopez twice, Richie Kates twice, Jesse Burnett twice, Mike Rossman twice, Ramon Cerrezuela twice, Raul Loyola twice, Pedro Rimovsky twice, Ruben Macario Gonzalez twice, and Pierre Fourie twice. The news that Victor Galindez had been killed in a racing accident in October 1980. His car broke down during the Turismo Carretera race. As he was waiting along the track for assistance, another car passing by lost control and ran over Galindez; he was killed instantly.

• Jerry “The Bull” Martin erasing James “Great” Scott’s aura of invincibility by giving Scott his first loss and decking him twice in the process. This one was televised from Rahway State Prison in New Jersey.

• Dwight Muhammad Qawi (Dwight Braxton) beating Scott in another televised outing (no pun intended) from Rahway in 1981; and then Qawi’s two brutal beatings of Matthew Saad Muhammad (in 1981 and 1982) with Saad growing old in plain sight. Qawi’s crouching, aggressive style was that of the quintessential stalker, as he would use combos and a sharp hook to set up his opponents for the kill.

• Missing two prominent front teeth, Wilbert “The Vampire” Johnson was often carried to the ring in a coffin wearing a black cape, smiling his “Vampire Smile” at the fans who would roar with approval. This was high camp at its best without anyone knowing it was high camp.

• Watching Saad Muhammad losing to fighters who would not even belong in the same universe with him during his prime years. This was painful for his many fans who continually called upon him to quit. 

• Watching the exciting Yaqui Lopez fighting everyone, but never getting the title.

• Witnessing Mike Quarry win some and lose some between 1977 and 1982, including a TKO defeat at the hands of the legendary Jamaican Bunny Johnson.

• In 1982, Richie Kates fought Pat Cuillo in Atlantic City. Kates was coming off an upset loss to Jerry Celestine and was looking to get back on track. According to a note in BoxRec, Cuillo’s hand was cut either days earlier in a knife fight and it had not healed or, as another story goes, his hand was accidentally cut with scissors by his trainer while getting his hand wrapped just before the Kates fight. Regardless, during the fight it began to bleed and blood leaked from his glove, down his arm, and ended up all over both fighters. Confusion reigned until the referee was able to determine the cause of the bleeding at which point Kates got a TKO win. Kates would close out his career with four straight wins over stiff opposition.

• Watching Willie “Sandman” Edwards get off to a great career start as he won his first 10 bouts in 1981 and would later stop Saad Muhammad in 1984. However, his closet classic with Bobby Czyz essentially ruined him, though he was one punch away from upsetting Bobby near the end of the first round.  Now, the Sandman hangs out in a Detroit homeless shelter. He suffers from the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.

There were other memories, some fond and some not so fond, but if you add them all up and divide by the total number, the result is the unforgettable one of seeing Matthew Saad Muhammad fight Indian Yaqui Lopez in a rematch on July 13, 1980 with the WBC light heavyweight title at stake.

This one was the Ring Magazine Fight of the Year (the eighth round was its Round of the Year). Yaqui controlled the first half. Then, in the eighth, he trapped Muhammad in a corner and landed 20 consecutive shots to the Champion’s head and body. Somehow, Saad survived the onslaught and survived the round. The crowd was in total disbelief. Even referee Waldemar Schmidt seemed in awe. Finally, in the fourteenth stanza, Lopez grew arm weary and ran out of gas. The champion jumped on him with a savage attack and that was that. Together, they had made ring history and those who witnessed it still talk discuss it with reverence.

Yaqui or “Indian” as he was sometimes called was tough as nails and arguably the greatest light heavy never to become world champion. He lost five title fights (three controversially) but won the respect of his opponents and fans throughout the world. He was a champion without a belt and nobody had a greater heart. Campaigning from 1972-84, he went up against a veritable who’s who of champions and contenders. If anyone represented the glorious light heavyweights, Yaqui would not be a bad choice. But then, so would Saad, or Qawi, or Spinks, or Galindez, or fill in the blank, and that’s why this was the era of glorious light heavyweights.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

From NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY by Robert Frost

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Marvin Johnson vs Victor Galindez

Wilbert "The Vampire" Johnson's Classic Fights

Matthew Saad Muhammad -vs- Yaqui Lopez II 7/13/80 part 1

Matthew Saad Muhammad -vs- Yaqui Lopez II part 2

Matthew Saad Muhammad -vs- Yaqui Lopez II 7/13/80 part 3

Matthew Saad Muhammad -vs- Yaqui Lopez II 7/13/80 part 4

Matthew Saad Muhammad -vs- Yaqui Lopez II 7/13/80 part 5

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  1. roger brown 09:47pm, 02/06/2014


  2. the thresher 10:25am, 03/30/2013

    Why thank you, sir

    I enoyed writing it because I was forced to look at the footage and that was more pleasure than work.

  3. Don from Prov 10:17am, 03/30/2013

    Just read this again and looked at some more footage—

    Loved this article.

  4. the thresher 11:54am, 03/29/2013

    Another great post, eric. You know your light heavies!

  5. Eric 08:09am, 03/29/2013

    Some of those fighters would go on to the newly formed cruiserweight division in 1980. Former light heavy champ Mate Parlov would fight Marvin Camel to a draw in the first ever world cruiserweight title bout. At the time the weight limit on the cruiserweight division was 190lbs. Galindez, who always seemed to battling the scales to make 175 would fight his old rival Jesse Burnett in the newly formed division. Galindez would weigh at the 190lb limit while Burnett was not much above the light heavyweight limit. The extra pounds didn’t help Victor as this time Burnett pulled out a decision victory. Yaqui Lopez would receive and lose another world title chance at the cruiserweight title a few years later. Mustafa Muhammad, another light heavy champ who had some weight problems during his light heavy days would later enter the cruiser division. Remember when Mustafa Muhammad would have his one fight heavyweight crusade against Renaldo Snipes. Mustafa was going to attempt to challenge for Holmes’s title and took his first and only fight at heavy against contender Snipes. A bloated, out of shape, 201lb Muhammad would lose a lackluster decision to “Mr.” Snipes. Dwight Braxton aka Qawi would go on to actually win his second world title at cruiserweight in 1985 against Piet Crous, and gain some sort of revenge on Michael Spinks by pummeling Leon Spinks in a one-sided defense of his newly won title. In Qawi’s only successful title defense at cruiserweight he tko’ed Neon Leon in 6 rounds. this would be Leon’s last attempt at a world title.

  6. the thresher 04:04pm, 03/28/2013

    Great summary Eric. You covered it all.

    And very few of these fights ever went the distance. Too much firepower.

  7. Eric 12:58pm, 03/28/2013

    And some of these fights could be seen for FREE on network television on many a Saturday afternoon. This was the golden age for light heavyweights without a doubt. I still vividly remember watching Saad vs Marvin Johnson II on a Saturday afternoon in April of 1979. A helluva slugfest that ranks right up there with Limon-Chacon, Lyle-Foreman, or Lyle-Shavers. Yaqui was the George Chuvalo of the light heavyweight division in that like Chuvalo he fought just about everyone who was anyone during this talent rich time period. I can remember seeing James Scott fight for the first time against Eddie Gregory aka Mustapha Muhammad in the fall of 1978. The television viewer learned that Scott trained endless hours daily and would perform over a thousand pushups a day in prison while training for a fight. He put a whupping on Eddie Gregory that night. Later on Qawi would return to Rahway to fight Scott and put an end to Scott’s career by winning a comfortable decision against prisoner James Scott. Scott would fade away but of course things were just starting for Qawi aka Dwight Braxton. You have to wonder how good the light heavyweight legends like Bob Foster, Archie Moore, Billy Conn, Georges Carpentier, Tommy Loughran, and light heavyweights who became heavyweight champions like Tunney and Charles would’ve fared against the competition in the late Seventies and early Eighties.

  8. the thresher 04:23am, 03/28/2013

    FD, I didn’t know that was Hagler. Thanks for that.

  9. FrankinDallas 07:24pm, 03/27/2013

    Rossman’s father was Italian ....his real last name was I think Piano.

    Before Czyz got ktfo he landed a huge punch on Willams who seemed out for a second but regained his composure. Hagler, who was doing color commentary said oh yeah that happens all the time in sparring. You go unconscious then a big shot wakes you up.

    And we wonder how boxers brains get scrambled?

  10. the thresher 06:54pm, 03/27/2013

    Yes it was Dan

  11. the thresher 06:54pm, 03/27/2013

    Biker, I said the following about Spinks:

    “Michael Spinks stood out from the pack and later moved up to take the heavyweight crown from Larry Holmes who was closing in on Rocky Marciano’s record.”

    I said he was the best of the bunch.

  12. bikermike 06:43pm, 03/27/2013

    What happened….How come Michael Spinks doesn’t get his due….
    Especially in a sea of talent of Lt Heavies that time…The division was rich a deep..and Michael Spinks came out the ‘best’..went on to be the first Lt Hvy to take the Hvy crown…against Larry Holmes….and defended it against Big Cat…in a rematch

  13. Dan Adams 06:36pm, 03/27/2013

    You’re right, Ted:  that era of light-heavies was one of THE BEST eras in boxing ever, but sadly hardly anyone remembers how great a time it was for the 175 pounders.

  14. the thresher 05:57pm, 03/27/2013

    I agree Mike 100% and I also agree with Tex that Ezzard was the best, though Spinks rates pretty high as well. And Tunney only lost 1 fight and beat Harry Greb 3 times.I’d say that puts Tunney in most top 15 lists if not higher.

  15. Mike Silver 05:53pm, 03/27/2013

    Great encapsulation of a fabulous era for light heavys. Wow, did we fans have it good! Most of these fights on TV—and for free!!!  It pains me to watch what passes for a world light heavyweight title fight today—Cloud vs. Hopkins—and comparing to those great light heavys of the 1970s. Neither Cloud nor a 48-year-old Hopkins would have been considered suitable opponents for any of them.

  16. Tex Hassler 03:25pm, 03/27/2013

    I agree this was a great era for light heavies. I do not think they were on the same level with Billy Conn, Ezzard Charles or Gene Tunney though. Charles and Tunney did their best work at light heavyweight.

  17. the thresher 02:38pm, 03/27/2013

    Thanks Pug and Walt. I was in Boston at the time and followed boxing avidly as a fan often driving down to New Jersey to watch the fights live.

    I’d rarely miss a Saturday afternoon one on TV.

  18. pugknows 01:57pm, 03/27/2013

    Beautifully researched, Ted. How many videos did you watch to put this one together? And where were you in the late 70s and early 80s that you could tap this stuff so well? You were in NJ?
    Or Boston? Europe?

  19. the thresher 11:14am, 03/27/2013

    Irish, he would not have done well against these guys. But I have always seen him as a middleweight and a great one in that division.

  20. Walt 10:07am, 03/27/2013

    What a marvelous trip down memory lane.

  21. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:49am, 03/27/2013

    Ted Sares- You hit the bullseye again…which reminds me…timing is everything in life…truth be told…Hopkins was always and ever a LH….how would he have fared in that 70s-early 80s mix….how does this sound….piss poor!

  22. THE THRESHER 08:54am, 03/27/2013

    Don, that was a horiffic KO.

    Bobby could punch.

  23. Don from Prov 08:52am, 03/27/2013

    Qawi seemed to have a cement-head—

    And was quite adept at not taking shots flush.
    He disappointed me against Spinks, but that Jinx would back off most anyone.
    Took me awhile to warm up to Spinks, but he was a hell of a fighter.
    P.S. The Czyz KO was brutal.

  24. the thresher 08:31am, 03/27/2013

    Ironically, Yaqui is in great shape both physically and mentally. Also, Rossman is in good shape as is Qawi.

  25. Mike Casey 08:14am, 03/27/2013

    Great mix of talent in that era. I was up in Maine when I watched Rossman halt Galindez on TV -  a memorable win for Mike. Saad Muhammad had astonishing resilience, Galindez was always exciting and poor Yaqui Lopez was the ‘hard luck guy’ of the crowd. A very brave man who never stopped trying.

  26. the thresher 07:04am, 03/27/2013

    This is the Czyz-Edwards classic. It’s possibly a rare example of where one punch may have done horrible and lasting damage.

    Here is a great piece on Willie’s condition today:

  27. the thresher 06:48am, 03/27/2013

    Charlie Junior, I agree. Bobby was an integral part of this era. He has some great wins. I stay in touch with his son as well. He is quite a writer.

  28. the thresher 06:47am, 03/27/2013

    Don, you hit it on the head. That’s my single greatest thrill from this era. That one was all about inspiration on the part of Mike. He took it to the next level.

  29. cnorkusjr 06:27am, 03/27/2013

    One of my favorites from that time-Long Island’s own Bobby Cassidy who could punch with the best of them. I remember seeing his victory over Don Fullmer and Ramon Ronquillo. An exciting Main Eventer during his time.

  30. Don from Prov 06:21am, 03/27/2013

    Galindez/Rossman alone worth the price of admission to the era.

  31. the thresher 05:54am, 03/27/2013

    Yes. just about impossible though Saad was also know as the heart attack kid.

  32. Don from Prov 05:50am, 03/27/2013

    It’s about impossible to pick a favorite from that era—

    Though, as you say, Muhammad was the most exciting…..
    Then again, it took these other guys to bring that excitement out.
    Good stuff.

  33. the thresher 05:31am, 03/27/2013

    Thanks, Billy. I have it on my Facebook photos.

  34. dollarbond 05:27am, 03/27/2013

    I loved that photo you attached with your email on this one.  That sure did jog some nice memories.

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