THE sport’s many action heroes all responded to adversity in their own way. Some had the will to stand up straight in a tornado. Others were at their most dangerous when badly hurt, only then finding the hammer blow to turn the fight in their favour. Then the born survivors able to absorb anything life throws at them, including the heaviest of hands.
Matthew Saad Muhammad was all of the above, so much so that his ring moniker was ‘Miracle’.
Abandoned in the mean streets of Philly as a child and named for the bridge at which he was found, the then Matthew Franklin went about forging an identity in the fistic arts.
Taking beatings like the old-timers and throwing power punches until the very end, he was one half of more action-packed fights than perhaps any man to bite down into a gumshield. Alvaro ‘Yaqui’ Lopez was a tough hombre from Mexico who went from aspirations of becoming a bullfighter to being the bull personified.
In their first bout in ’78 over 12 rounds for Franklin’s NABF title, ‘Miracle’ Matthew employed his superb jab, stifling his omnipresent urge to trade power punches and busting Lopez up in 11 rounds.
When they next faced off two years later Franklin had found Islam and was known as Matthew Saad Muhammad. He wore the prestigious green belt of the WBC, having punched it off Marvin Johnson’s waist.
For the first seven rounds they picked up where they left off, adding colour to tattoos they’d given each other two years before. In the eighth all Hell broke loose. Doing a paint job on Lopez and leaving himself open, Saad found himself in familiar surroundings, needing a miracle to survive a sustained bombardment of haymakers by the skin of his teeth. Yet as The Ring magazine’s ‘Round of the Year’ closed in on three minutes the champion was looking again like he’d survived a beating that would’ve felled a rhino.
Things were about to get very painful for Alvaro Lopez.
The challenger’s spirit carried him through to the 14th, but the rocks Lopez was pelted with had his legs waving the white flag on his behalf. Willing himself through three knockdowns, he could offer no more resistance after Saad bounced his trademark right hand off his head.
1980’s best fight stands with the very best of the decade that followed, and the very best of any era prior.