ON this day, January 5 in 1953 in Baltimore, Maryland, Dwight Braxton – who later became Dwight Muhammad Qawi – was born. Despite standing just 5-feet and six inches, Qawi would enjoy a stellar boxing career that eventually saw him campaign all the way up as a heavyweight. It is as one of the finest light-heavyweights and cruiserweights of the 1980s that Qawi is best known though.
After learning how to fight in prison, the man who would go on to achieve worldwide fame as “The Camden Buzzsaw” – Camden, New Jersey being the place Dwight relocated to at a young age – turned pro. In April of 1978 in Washington D.C., after having had no amateur career, Qawi, boxing at light-heavyweight, fighting a six-round draw with a fighter named Leonard Langley. Following the draw, and then a points win followed by a points loss, the 25-year-old romped to a straight 18 wins; during which time he captured the WBC light-heavyweight title. Beating the legendarily-tough Matthew Saad Muhammad, via a 10th-round TKO in 1981, Braxton soon after changed his surname to Muhammad Qawi; due to how he’d adopted the Muslim faith.
Qawi might have caught up with Saad Muhammad at the right time, the Philadelphian’s various ring wars having taken their toll, but it was a fine win nonetheless; and a fight Qawi had to train very hard for – as he explained when speaking with this writer back in 2007:
“I trained very hard [for Saad Muhammad], mentally in particular,” Qawi said.
“The fight was brutal and very intense, as I knew it would be. Eventually, I overwhelmed him and got him outta there.”
Three retentions followed, including a second stoppage win over Saad Muhammad, this one coming four rounds sooner (“A lot of guys, after fighting me, were never the same. I won the second fight much quicker.”) before Qawi ran into WBA light-heavyweight champ Michael Spinks. A disappointing 15-round points loss later, Qawi announced he was moving up in weight.
“I wasn’t ready for the Spinks fight,” Qawi said in 2007 when looking back.
“But it went ahead. It wasn’t a knock down, drag-out type of fight, but he won by decision. I was supposed to have a rematch with Spinks in late 1984, but I had just lost my father and I had lots on my mind and wasn’t able to focus on making weight. I called Butch Lewis (Spinks’ promoter] and told him I wouldn’t be fighting Spinks again. Butch got real angry but I wanted a new direction.”
Moving up to the relatively new weight class of cruiserweight Qawi, who was aggressive and fan-friendly in his approach yet also had a deceptive defensive game, soon won his second world title. Travelling to Sun City in South Africa in 1985, Qawi hammered Piet Crous to defeat in the 11th-round to win the WBA cruiserweight title (“I broke him down, old style.”). It was after just one successful defence, against former heavyweight champ Leon Spinks (a brutal 6th-round TKO) that the now 26-2-1 Qawi had the fight he is almost certainly most well known for today. The July, 1986 fifteen-round war with unbeaten former Olympian Evander Holyfield almost instantly went into the record books as an absolute classic.
Much has been written about the split decision that was won by Holyfield, not least the fact that Qawi later came to believe Holyfield was guilty of taking an illegal stimulant of some kind during the incredibly fierce fight that pushed both men to the absolute limit.
“I suspect he was juiced up,” Qawi said of Holyfield in the 2007 interview.
“I look at that fight as very suspicious. It was a great fight but I feel I was cheated out of my title. I had him in the fourth and fifth rounds, if you watch the tape you’ll see. But then he came on! In the fight with me, his corner definitely gave him something. Back then, I didn’t know about steroids and stuff, but now I definitely think he took something illegal.”
Sadly, it was pretty much all downhill for the now 33-year-old Qawi after the Holyfield loss; just his third setback in eight years. Ossie Ocasio out-pointed him over ten-rounds, and then, in a rematch, Holyfield became the first man to stop Qawi, as he sent him down and out in the 4th-round in 1987. Quite bizarrely, considering his height (or lack of), Qawi then moved up to heavyweight and fought the come-backing George Foreman. Though he cracked Foreman with some good overhand rights in the early rounds of the March 1988 fight, an overweight Qawi soon ran out of gas and turned his back in the seventh-round.
“The Foreman fight I took on two-and-a-half weeks notice,” Qawi said in 2007. “I was supposed to fight Bert Cooper. Bob Arum called and offered me Foreman. I thought he was so old, I’d just knock him out. But George was smart, he wasn’t just going for the quick KO. And he was in shape at 235-pounds. I was overweight but I shook him a few times.”
Amazingly, the veteran had one more world title fight ahead of him. Even more surprisingly, Qawi came desperately close to winning it. Facing the once-beaten Robert Daniels for the vacant WBA cruiserweight title, a near-37-year-old Qawi lost a split decision in late 1989. That probably should have been the end for the ageing warrior, but the former champ fought on for a further nine years (there was a break of five years, from 1992 to 1997). Qawi won nine and lost four against decent enough fighters, a couple of fellow ex-champions amongst them, and Qawi saw it to the final bell in each of these outings. In fact, in over 50 fights, only Holyfield and the much bigger Foreman managed to halt Qawi.
Today, Qawi works with troubled kids in New Jersey where he lives. He was deservedly elected into The Hall of Fame in 2003.