During the induction weekend at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota New York, I took the time to talk with Marvin Hagler, Alexis Arguello, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Jake Lamotta, and Gene Fullmer. Although this is a little behind, I thought the fans would still be interested in reading how some of these living legends of the sport of boxing are doing. As promised, here is the second part of a four part interview.
Dwight Muhammad Qawi
The second person I spoke with is also known as 'The Camden Buzz,' a man short in stature at 5'7," 175 to 190 pounds who struck fear in the hearts of taller men. His career record stands at 41-11-1 with 25 KO's. For those of you who may not remember, he had the 'in your face peek-a-boo style' and could make his opponents miss even if they were standing next to him in a phone booth.
You think today's new guys are tough? Well, when this man was an active participant, championship battles went 15 rounds and he won the WBA Light Heavyweight title in just his 17th professional career fight over a very tough veteran, Matthew Saad Muhammad, who was at the time 31-3-2 with 21 KO's.
The subject of this special interview wasn't intimidated and knocked out Saad Muhammad in 10 rounds. However, like most boxers, he was on the wrong side of some controversial decisions and his first fight with Evander Holyfield is the one that jumps right out. ***
Today, he's a happy guy who sports probably the most infectious smile you'd ever want to see and was the most down to earth person I met all weekend. In addition, he was the happiest person to be here by far. The man was going around with a glove getting other fighters to sign it for him!
In case you haven't figured it out by now, the subject of my interview is none other than Dwight Muhammad Qawi, and we took the time to discuss his career and what he's doing now.
FREEMAN: What was the highlight of your boxing career?
QAWI: That's pretty tough; you have to give me some easier questions than that to start out with. I had a lot but the one that when I think about it I get excited is the one night when I won my first title over Matthew Saad Muhammad. It was just an unbelievable high that I got from it even after the fight was over.
The thing that was so memorable about it was because everything came together; for me it was always look bad in the gym but be right on during the fight and that's how it was going. I wasn't looking good in the gym, I was making some mistakes but they were corrected and when the fight came, it was perfect, everything clicked. I just couldn't believe it.
I was on just a high until I went out and crashed somebody's car that they let me borrow... (We burst out with Laughter)...Yeah, that was the most memorable moment of my fight career. (More Laughing).
FREEMAN: You crashed a car?
QAWI: Well, see, what happened was I had a car but it was an older one. Hell, I hadn't made any big money yet and this guy who was a good friend of mine, he was a little older, he'd buy a new car every year, usually a Cadillac. Well, he asked me..."Are you going to see your mom? Take my car champ." He was all excited for me and everything, so I took it, went to the gas station and got some gas for it. All of the sudden there was this pole that I did see going in, but I sure didn't see it as I was leaving backing up. I smashed up his trunk something good. I was so excited that I won that I saw it but then forgot that I did see it.
But see, going back to the fight... The emotional feel and high from that fight lasted so long that even that didn't matter because to win that fight how I did, by stopping him (Matthew Saad Muhammad) and I was a huge underdog, I think 11 to 1 was what it closed at so you know it was a lot higher to start out with, but it was the best moment. There's nothing like the first time. You know the second time (vs. Piet Crous, 11th round TKO) it was great, but there's nothing like your first time.
FREEMAN: You have that peek-a-boo style that Mike Tyson used to use before he started loading up for the kill shot every time. What fighters did you enjoy watching when you were growing up or while you were fighting?
QAWI: Wow, to be honest man I really didn't watch a lot of guys to get my style. Muhammad Ali was my hero, there's no doubt about that. Watching those guys on TV was different for me, I was a street fighter, I didn't go to the gym I was outside fighting people, I didn't know anything about boxing and didn't care anything about it at the time. Seeing Ali was different for me because he was cocky, aggressive, and stood for something and I could relate to that, so I respected him. However, to be completely honest with you I grew up watching little short fighters in Camden New Jersey fight in the street because that's what I was. I can't tell you how many times I'd see these little guys come out there and drop big guys. It wasn't like the kids today either; we'd fight, someone would eventually lose and then it'd be over, no one was going to get any guns to settle problems, just fists. As a matter of fact, guys would be friends after that, you know shake hands once the beef was over or whatever. No one was getting stomped either, just straight fisticuffs and that would be it. Those were my idols, the street fighters in Camden.
FREEMAN: What about while you were fighting?
QAWI: (Very excited) While I was fighting I liked watching Salvador Sanchez. He was the most complete fighter that I've ever seen, kind of like watching an artist paint, you'd watch him and think there was nothing in the sport of boxing that he couldn't do.
I loved watching little guys in Philadelphia fight, like Meldrick Taylor and his brothers. I liked some punchers before my time as well, like Sonny Liston, he had that killer instinct he'd come right after you and go to work he was aggressive for sure but he also had a plan to his attack, and the pressure he'd put on you would make you fold and that's how I did, I'd apply the pressure on you keep it on you and hell pressure if you do it long enough will bust a pipe so you already know what it will do to a person. Another Pressure guy was Roberto Duran, as a lightweight boy he was on it he'd be on you butt from ding-ding till the final dong. Again I took that from him I'd be right next to you making you miss and making you pay.
FREEMAN: What's it like to be honored in the Hall of Fame? You put in all the hard work and now you will be immortalized...
QAWI: Yesterday, getting my fist casting, I had goose bumps all over my arms. As a matter of fact, I was so excited that I thought my fist was shaking too much at first, during the casting, for the guys to be able to get an accurate measure of it. As far as being here, with so many great fighters in my profession, man it's wild and it's really good to see so many guys doing well in health. You know we've got a tough profession on the body maybe one of the toughest ever, there's nothing good about getting hit in the head so I worry a bit but it looks like most of the people here are holding up pretty good. When I first got into boxing I had no idea that I'd end up in the Hall of Fame, I just wanted to do it because I felt like I'd be good at it and it'd be a way to do something with my life, I never thought it'd land me here, so this is all gravy from here for me.
FREEMAN: If you could do it all again, what would be something you do differently or change about your career?
QAWI: If I could do it all again, and I don't want to call anyone's names or gossip or slander anyone, but I would have kept my team together; we had a tight bunch and for some reason I screwed it up. I mistakenly went outside our circle and included someone that I shouldn't have, it messed up the chemistry and the energy up with the people that were there originally. So if I could do it over I would have stayed with the circle that I had formed.
FREEMAN: Why does that happen so much in boxing? You see guys like Roy Jones Jr. for example, who when they focus on boxing and what got them there they are fine, but then they get into all this other stuff and end up sacrificing the thing in 'boxing' which got them there and I don't want to pick on just Roy because it happened to Tyson, it happened to De la Hoya... it's happened many fighters in years past and will continue to happen to fighters years on down the road.
QAWI: Well, it's one thing. Ego. (Laughing, and then serious). Ego is a tricky thing, people get full of themselves. You know the saying, stick to the basics, you have to stay grounded and stay with the fundamentals and you know your Ego, like I said is very tricky. You can try and justify why you're having the success... "This is me, I work hard, I was blessed," but you better be careful because ego can really creep into that so you have to keep your ego in check. The best way to do that is to be disciplined and also just stop and take time to think. See where ego can get tricky is -because ego is not always bad- hell, sometimes it can help you out, especially in a fight if you dare to be great, but it always has to be checked, always. And if your ego is unchecked, like mine was and same with all the people that you mentioned, then you're going to make a lot of mistakes.
You hear fighters using the expression 'I'm the man now that I beat the man...' A lot of those guys hear you but they don't. A lot of times these fighters don't bother listening to what a trainer, manager, or friends are telling them and that's where ego comes back and will kick your ass. So that's what happens. If you can remain humble to your own benefit, you'll make better decisions, but watch out for the ego boy, it's like getting a high.
FREEMAN: You should get into training. A lot of young people need to hear that and take something away from your message. Have a great time the rest of the day getting autographs...
QAWI: Thanks a lot Aladdin, I really appreciate it. Talk to you soon.
***Evander Holyfield has rated his fight againt Qawi for the WBA Cruiserweight title as his #1 great moment in the ring. The fight took place in Atlanta, Georgia on July 12, 1986. It was ruled a Holyfield split decision win. The card was aptly billed, 'PANDEMONIUM."
Qwai's comments at the Boxing Hall of Fame induction: I had a great career. It's like putting a cap on everything. It's like I've arrived. No matter how much money or belts you won, to be honored amongst your peers is the tops. This is another peak for me and it's the highest peak, I feel, because I'm honored with my peers. This is like closure for me." ...