REST IN PEACE MATTHEW SAAD MUHAMMAD
I hope all is well with you. I'm dropping you a line because I've been really disappointed in the muted response to the death of Matthew Saad Muhammad. How fitting is it that he died on a weekend dedicated to honoring fighters? At a time when fighters like Zarate, Sanchez, Li'l Red, Ali, etc. fought on free TV, Matthew Saad Muhammad stood out. Zarate was my favorite, but Muhammad was the fighter that brought my family together. Picture my dad at mid afternoon, two six packs and a pack of Parliament cigarettes deep into the weekend, and dominating the couch. My mom, burners in the kitchen turned down to warm, wringing her hands in a hand towel and occupying the space between the kitchen and the living room. My brother and I, laying on our bellies, three feet from the TV with our heads up in attention. At least one pair of rabbit ears jutting from our tiny black and white TV perched atop a milk crate in the corner of our downtown LA apartment. The tips of the antenna covered in tin foil, and carefully moved into the place to get the best reception. If that wasn't enough to get good reception, then my brother or I would stand by and adjust the antenna according to the old man’s orders. All that locked in place for 15 rounds or less every time Saad fought. My mom loved his story. He lost his mom at 5, and went to live with an Aunt. The Aunt couldn't house him and his brother, so she let him go to foster homes, which led to the inevitable horror stories. My brother and I loved him because he was so exciting to watch and an engaging interview. My father, like all fathers, respected MSM because he was a man to be feared.
I was 11 at the time and had no idea MSM was super human. It never occurred to me that it was strange that a man would enter the ring with an impish smile and unassuming way, and then morph into a fighting machine between the bells. Only to return to his sweet self as soon as the last bell rang. I thought it normal that someone take inordinate amounts of punishment, the kind of punishment that could kill a rhino; to skate around the ring in a semi-comatose state, with the referee poised to pounce and stop the fight the next time a clean punch landed, only to suddenly come alive and return fire with perfectly placed punches… leaving his opponent prone and motionless on the ring mat. Being a MSM fan was the ultimate roller coaster ride. It was as if he toyed with his fans. Taking punishment until you no longer thought about his winning, and only wanted the referee to stop the fight so he wouldn't be hurt any more. Only when you'd given up on him would he suddenly awake to pull victory from the maw of defeat. Watching Saad fight was tiring. When it was over your voice was hoarse, your muscles were tired from flexing, and sometimes you were fighting back tears. It was a participation sport.
It may seem like bad business now, but MSM fought everyone. No Saad Muhammed fight ever fell out due to money, or promoter issues, or any reason for that matter. He fought the best class of light heavies ever. He avoided nobody. And he gave rematches to all who earned them. It was given back then that World Champions would talk with their fists, not with their posse of posers and pseudo journalistic cheerleaders.
I've been following the plight of MSM for years, so I wasn't shocked when I got the news of his death. I texted my friends the bad news and they invariably responded with the same question “What was the cause of death?” I replied Dwight Muhammad Quawi, or Old Man Johnson, or Yaqui Lopez. Matthew’s cause of death was obvious. It was known 30 years ago. He died of Compulsive, Habitual Fighterosis. He died of his willingness to fight. The trail may have been dark and undetermined, but the final destination was well illuminated. MSM knew where he was headed, and seemed to have accepted his fate years ago. I suspect he didn't expect to be forgotten though.
As our friend Darryl often says “The arc of a great fighter’s life is typically the same. They start life with nothing but a fighter’s spirit, and end it with nothing. In between they get to fight.”
That statement certainly applies to Matthew. He was the quintessential Philly fighter when that really meant something. His plaque at the Hall of Fame may not be hung as prominently as others, but he did more to earn his plaque than many better remembered fighters, which makes it ironic that in eulogizing Saad many have compared him to Arturo Gatti. Comparing Matthew Saad Muhammad to Arturo Gatti is tantamount to comparing Jake LaMotta to Troy Dorsey. Gatti never belonged in the rings with the greats. Or even the very goods. There was a time when some of the greatest light heavies in history didn't belong in the ring with Muhammad. He should be treated accordingly. The fact that a boxer who once scaled such heights in our sport was allowed to sink so low in later life is an indictment on our sport.
Wherever Matthew’s journey after death takes him, I hope he is welcomed into a world of sweet attention (Kerouac’s words, not mine), I hope he finds peace, and I hope he knows that there are millions of fans out there who love him like a brother and will never forget him.
(P.S. Sorry if there grammatical errors above. I wrote the whole thing in a hurry and the somehow lost it, and had to rewrite it… and I'm pressed for time.) Miss you my friend. – Kirk Christiano
Miss you too, Kirk. It’s been awhile.
Despite the tremendous feedback from the Carl Froch-George Groves rematch, I had to lead this mailbag with your email. Why? Two reasons:
1) A heartfelt response to Matthew Saad Muhammad’s passing is worthy of the placement, and you, sadly, were the only person to write about the fallen warrior.
2) You’re you, Kirk, and you happen to be a better writer than most of the BWAA’s Nat Fleischer Award winners in recent years.
I hate to say this but the “muted response” to Matthew Saad Muhammad’s death should not surprise you. Most of the fans who respond to boxing-related news online (or folks who like to make social media noise) are too young to remember the sport on free network television.
Saad Muhammad predates premium cable’s takeover of boxing. He predates HBO-created “action heroes” (Gatti) and “greats” (Roy Jones Jr.) He predates 24/7 and All Access and pay-per-view hype. He predates geeked-out fans that have more appreciation for a boxer’s business acumen than who the fighter has faced in the ring, fans that are more concerned about managers and promotional beefs than witnessing a good scrap.
Saad Muhammad was the real deal before Holyfield. He didn’t face any fighters who are enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame but he’s more deserving of his place in the Hall than most of the living inductees of the past two decades. That’s because (as you noted) he fought during what was arguably the deepest era of the light heavyweight division and (as you noted) he fought all the top 175 pounders of the 1970s (and he faced most of them twice!).
Even the guys he battled as a prospect — before he forged his legend against the likes of Marvin Johnson, Yaqui Lopez and John Conteh — were special. Mate Parlov and Marvin Camel, who he fought (each twice) during the first three years of his career, went on to win world titles. The guys he fought who weren’t ranked were badasses, such as future champ Eddie Gregory (AKA Mustafa Muhammad) and Billy “Dynamite” Douglas. Saad beat forgotten threats, such as Richie Kates (one of the better East Coast light heavies of the ‘70s) and Lotte Mwale (a fearsome African puncher who beat Johnson, Tony Sibson and American vets Jesse Burnett and Lonnie Bennet before Saad took him out in four rounds).
J Russell Peltz, the hall-of-fame promoter and boxing historian (specializing in Philadelphia boxing history), he knows all of this and more. The eulogy he recently penned on Saad Muhammad was as heartfelt as yours, Kirk. But yours is more special, in my opinion, because it came from someone whose sole (soul?) connection to the fighter was as a young fan.
Give Darryl my regards. It felt like something was missing while watching Juan Manuel Marquez do his thing a couple weeks ago at The Forum. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but now I realize the experience wasn’t quite the same without you and “Speed” there to cheer him on.
WHICH MARTINEZ WILL SHOW UP?
Which Martinez do you expect shows up against Miguel Cotto? The Pavlik-Macklin era Sergio? Or the injured Martin Murray version? And which version was it that we saw fight Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.? Could it be that he was brittle then too? But the fact that he fought an Everlast Heavy Bag for 11 rounds didn't allow us to see those deficiencies until the 12th round?
And another question. I will be in Vegas for this fight. Yes I realize the fight is in New York, but the lady wants to go to Vegas this weekend. Do you know of a good social place to watch this New York fight in Las Vegas during my trip? – Jabre
The MGM Resorts often host closed circuit feeds of the big fights in various ballrooms and theaters of their properties. I’m partial to the Mandalay Bay but maybe New York New York is more appropriate for Cotto-Martinez. You may want to call around to some of the sports bars or cantinas on or just off the Strip to see if they’re getting the fight.
Which Martinez shows up on Saturday is THE question going into this fascinating matchup. Most of us believe that the healthy version of Martinez that beat Kelly Pavlik for the lineal title and then iced Paul Williams in two rounds would torture Cotto before decapitating the poor undersized Puerto Rican star. However, the injury prone veteran who fell apart against Chavez and was lucky to get a close decision over Murray in his home country looks extremely vulnerable to the sharp-shooting Freddie Roach-trained version of Cotto.
I think the year off has allowed Martinez to heal and rehabilitate his injuries to an extent but I also believe that his fear of reinjuring his weakened knee and shoulder probably forced the middleweight champ to take things very easy in this camp (such as laying off sparring, heavybag work and traditional roadwork). So how sharp can he be for Cotto? We’ll see.
(It’s quite possible that Martinez wouldn’t be able to get himself into prime form even if hadn’t suffered all those injuries. It appeared to me, and many others, that the Argentine southpaw had begun to fade before the Chavez and Murray fights, as evidenced by his struggle to wear down and stop Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin.)
One thing I know about Martinez is that he’s not going to hold back once the bell rings. He’ll fight his fight and if he aggravates his injuries, he’ll deal with them as best he can and he won’t quit.
BOOM! WHAT A NIGHT! WHAT A FIGHT!
Hope you enjoyed Saturday night as much as us Brits did.
Froch proving whatever kind of adversity you put in front on him you'll get a response (future HOF in my opinion). If he doesn't do it the first time he rules in rematches. What a punch! No problems with the referee stopping it this time, poor George didn't know what planet he was on!
Time and time again people keep thinking Froch is on his way down, or too old, or too slow and he keeps proving them wrong. Apart from Yusaf Mack, who was hardly 'bum of the month', he never backs down from fighting the best out there and although I still think Andre Ward is 'The Man', I'd love to see Carl have another crack at him and maybe, just maybe Ward's continued inactivity and Froch's desire for revenge might make it a lot closer than the first and worth every penny.
Andre apparently considered it a minor domestic fight and not worthy of his attention, well maybe Andre when you can fill an 80,000-seat stadium within an hour of the tickets going on sale, then you too will be able to earn the same salary that this little 'domestic' scrap provided for its combatants. You NEED Froch to earn anything worth turning up for because he's the only opponent outside of Chavez who'll put enough bums on seats and fans to fork out for the pay-per-view. (Oh and Andre, they'll be paying primarily to see them, not you)
I would also like to give credit to the promoter Eddie Hearn who knows how to put on a fight night. Too many times we see a good headliner with sub standard or disappointing undercards. Not our Eddie. Every one of his shows contains more than one fight you're looking forward to and this one didn't disappoint. James DeGale vs Brandon Gonzales was a great little fight with a slightly early stoppage but not that it wasn't going to end the same way given a few more punches (I think Gonzales probably regrets not travelling a little earlier instead of turning up on Tuesday because in the first round he still looked jet lagged and he didn't improve much as the fight went on).
Mitchell vs. Maduma and McDonnell vs. Na Rachawat didn't disappoint for lovers of the lower weights so all in all it was well worth 20 quid! Maybe someone should show this fight card to some of the US promoters and tell them THAT is a fight card, not one that contains five fighters vs. five tomato cans but five pick-ums and not charge an arm and a leg for it either.
Here's hoping the next great domestic for us Scott Quigg vs Carl Frampton happens before the year is out (methinks you'll be getting on a plane and to come and watch that one live). – Chris McCandlish
You thinks correctly, Chris. Let’s hope Quigg-Frampton happens while both junior featherweight standouts are still young, unbeaten and at the peak of their athletic prowess.
Hearn definitely deserves a lot of props for taking Froch-Groves 2 to Wembley and for stacking the undercard for the 80,000 fans who packed the stadium and for those who bought the PPV show (in Britain). That’s how it should be done.
I haven’t seen DeGale’s stoppage of Gonzales yet, but stopping the unbeaten American in four rounds is impressive on paper. I don’t know if the Olympic champ is ready for Froch (or any 168-pound beltholder) but I’m looking forward to watching him step up his opposition. He’s definitely ready for top-10 super middleweights.
As for Froch, well, the “old man” did what most of us thought he would do but not before Groves made many of us doubt our predictions. For me, Froch was a gut pick. There was no doubt that Groves was the better talent, boxer and technician, but as you noted, the veteran has a knack for responding to adversity. Although most of us agreed that the first fight was stopped premature, nobody really knew if Groves could swim in deep water. I thought Froch would gradually wear the young man down and stop him in the 11th or final round, similar to the Jermain Taylor fight. I did not think he could take Groves out with one shot. But I guess there’s a reason Groves boxes in the controlled manner – always from a distance – that he does.
I agree that Froch has accomplished enough to one day merit hall of fame induction. A rematch victory over Ward would ensure his enshrinement, but I don’t think he needs it to validate his legacy or to make good money in the twilight of his career. At this stage, Ward needs Froch more than the Englishman needs the undefeated American champ. And until Ward settles his promotional dispute with Dan Goossen there’s really no reason to discuss Ward-Froch II. Froch – like Ward and Gennady Golovkin – has his eye on Chavez Jr., anyway. That fight makes sense, especially if “The Cobra” wants to be part of a huge event in the U.S.
I think Froch is finally big enough in the UK to command a significant group of British fans to travel to Las Vegas to cheer him on. Chavez Jr. hasn’t had as many dedicated fans as he did prior to the Martinez fight but they would probably get behind him for a shot at Froch and the Brit’s 168-pound titles. Froch-Chavez would pack the Thomas & Mack Center with British and Mexican/Mexican-American fans.
FROCH-GROVES DELIVERS, DONAIRE’S FUTURE
Guess we got it right – the older, stronger fighter won in convincing fashion with a shot that was heard around the world… well at least half of the world. It was great to see everybody in the Twitter world and message boards excited all day long for this fight. It was a long day of boxing and it featured several interesting fights including 2 good convincing knockouts. There’s nothing like a well delivered one shot knockout between two guys that genuinely hate each other. It was good to see that both have class and acknowledge each other’s talents. Sure, they’re pissed off at each other during the fight build up, but now after the fight is over we can see that they truly respect each other. It was also very exciting to see 80,000 fans screaming as if it was a soccer match; it sure shows that boxing is as alive as ever. It goes to show that if you put the proper guys in the ring, boxing can still attract the crowds.
Nonito Donaire on the other hand once again proved that he’s not into boxing as he used to be. He looked uninterested and mostly not able to execute a proper game plan. He needs a trainer; nobody can be without a trainer, even someone as talented as Donaire. He does pack a punch, but his heart isn’t there anymore. I can’t see him winning against the top guys in the division at this stage of his career, specially seeing how Vic Darchinyan looked in his knockout loss. This tells you where these two are nowadays.
I’m not going to get into the Martinez-Cotto matchup just yet, but let’s say that you convinced me last time we talked about it in the mailbag… a 70% Martinez is still better than an 80% Cotto.
Let’s see how this exciting weekend of boxing plays out! See you Doug. – Juan Valverde, Tijuana
What happens if we get a 50% Martinez vs. a 70% Cotto?
I agree that Donaire’s heart is no longer in boxing. His body didn’t look conditioned against Simpiwe Vetyeka and I don’t think it was just because he’s fighting above his natural weight. And once again, it looked like he didn’t have much of a plan apart from landing one big punch.
I heard from very good sources in the Philippines that he didn’t train terribly hard for the South African and even blew off a number of workouts with his father. I’ve also heard rumors of drinking.
My guess is that he’s tired of the stress that comes with being a former champion and “elite” boxer, as well as a star in his home country. I also wonder if he prefers not to have a boxer-trainer relationship with his father.
At any rate, although his four-round technical decision over Simpiwe earned Donaire a sixth major title (not counting THE RING 122-pound belt) over five weight classes, the result of the fight was still inconclusive. We’ll know if Donaire’s heart is truly still in the game when he faces Vetyeka in a rematch or takes on a young badass like Nicolas Walters.
I had a great time watching the Froch-Groves rematch on HBO and joining in the collective #BoxingHead Twitter experience before, during and after the fight. I wasn’t joking around when I tweeted that I had butterflies and goose bumps during the walk-ins and the early rounds. I was literally light headed and I was worried that Froch was feeling the same way!
The Sheriff of Nottingham had me worried through the first three and half rounds, but by the end of Round 4 I thought he had settled his nerves down and began to implement the plan he and Robert McCracken came up with – which was to force Groves to fight at an uncomfortable pace and distance (in close since the talented ginger lacks an inside game).
Although Groves won Round 4, made Round 5 and 6 very close and took Round 7 on my very unofficial card, all I could think of during the middle rounds was “stamina beats talent,” “experience beats youth,” and “will beats skill.”
I loved it every time Froch took it to Groves’ body in the trenches. One last old-time boxing slogan for ya: “Kill the body and the head will follow.”
FROCH = BEAST, MONSTER, BADASS
I favored Groves to win because I thought he was just the better boxer, but he isn’t. Froch boxed and jabbed with him all night; that really surprised me. He's a massively underrated boxer, but his main strengths are obviously his reach, power chin and fitness.
I didn't understand what you meant last mailbag when you said “with Froch you go with your gut over rationalizing the fight” or something like that, but I understand now, I think. He just has that special intangible you need that enables you to dig deep and deliver.
Froch reminds me of Rocky Marciano, both clumsy, awkward and unorthodox but they make it work for them. Pus the fitness and iron chin they share. Is that a dumb comparison? I am not saying he's as great as Rocky obviously.
I think Froch benefitted the most from the Super 6, even more so than S.O.G, he's been on an unbelievable run since the Ward loss. I was at Wembley and the atmosphere was the greatest thing I've EVER witnessed. That's no exaggeration; you should have been there. Groves’ entrance on an open red bus was genius, weird but genius. And the fireworks were amazing.
Apparently, Froch is fighting Chavez in Vegas on Mexican Independence Day weekend. That could be a fight of the year scrap. Do you think it would outsell Floyd vs Chino 2; he barely did 900K in May. That would definitely bring him down a peg or 10.
Froch is a legend and a future hall of famer, he's fought everyone. I don't care what anyone says.
Also is his one punch KO, knock out of the year so far?
Mythical matchups all about Cobra Man:
froch vs chavez
froch vs your boy GGG
Froch vs canelo (its not crazy, froch rehydrated to 177, canelo rehydrates to 174, but he can make 154 cuz he's a young man. In a couple of years when canelo is a middleweight it could be realistic, especially if froch gets the attention of mexican fans if, and when he he wipes his butt crack with julio pot head jr).
froch vs kovalev
froch vs benn, eubank and collins
Also including Froch, who are your top ten p4p bad *sses, in no paticular order.
(PS. Martinez stops Cotto)
Love your mailbags and Tweets. Peace. – The Savage One, London
Mythical matchups with the Cobra Man:
Froch vs Chavez – Froch by decision
Froch vs your boy GGG – Golovkin by late-round TKO
Froch vs Canelo – Froch by unanimous spanking
Froch vs Kovalev – Kovalev by mid-round TKO
froch vs benn, eubank and Collins – Froch-Benn is a toss-up, on a good night Cobra stops the Dark Destroyer late in a great fight but if Benn has a good night he could stop Froch late, or win a close decision. I think Froch would outwork Eubank in a close distance bout. Collins and Froch would battle to a standstill (draw) in a very good and controversial fight.
Who are my top 10 P4P badasses? That all depends, are you talking about active boxers of all-time? Get back to me on that one. (In the meantime, I’ll give it some thought.)
I think Froch’s head- and knee-twisting, body-droppin’ right-hand bombing of poor Georgie is definitely a candidate or KO of the Year. I’m sure the magnitude of the fight will give it more consideration over more devastating one-hitter-quitters.
Froch is definitely forging quite a legacy/legend (he’s not done yet) and I don’t think there are many IBHOF voters who would deny him at this point.
If Froch fights Chavez in Vegas on Mexican Independence Day weekend I have no doubt that it will outsell Mayweather vs. whoever in terms of tickets, but I’m not sure that the event will outdo the “May-Per-View” in terms of PPV buys (in the U.S.).
It’s debatable who benefitted more from the Super Six tournament. Ward was just a prospect at the start of the tournament, now he’s the champ and No. 2 P4P. Froch was viewed as the weakest beltholder in the 168-pound division, now he’s viewed as the baddest mother f___ker at super middleweight and he’s become a British star. I think Froch has benefitted more lately because of his greater activity.
I think the Froch-Maricano comparison is fair. Both men are underrated ring generals. A lot fans and boxing commentators get skill confused with technique. Just because a boxer has crude or unorthodox technique doesn’t mean that he is without skill. Froch has a lot of technical flaws but he knows what to do in the ring in order to shutdown or get to his opponent. He’s a smart man and it shows during his fights. Of course, what sets him apart from most boxers is his determination/tenacity. You nailed it – it’s the intangibles (the willingness to dig deep when he needs to). That’s why he’s the ultimate “gut-pick” fighter.
Don’t feel bad about picking Groves (you certainly were not alone – at least in the Twitterverse). Up until Round 8, the young contender once again showed why he is a special talent. He’s one of the most effective and economical boxer-punchers in the game. Hopefully, suffering a one-shot KO loss doesn’t cause him to doubt himself going forward. I still think he’s got a great future.
Email Fischer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @dougiefischer