It pains me to read that former “blood and guts warrior” Matthew Saad Muhammad lies in a Philadelphia cemetery without a headstone.
Saad Muhammad died last year at the age of 59. The cause of death was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
It’s not surprising that in the end, his huge heart was stronger than his body.
Saad Muhammad was dropped off at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia in 1958 when he was four years old. Transported to a police station, the youngster waited for a family member to claim him.
Nobody ever did.
Saad Muhammad was taken to a Catholic Social Services office where a nun named him Matthew Franklin. A Portuguese family living in South Philadelphia adopted the youngster when he was seven.
He grew up a tough neighborhood where he joined a gang after getting tired of getting beat up on a regular basis.
He eventually landed in reform school and found his calling when a counselor introduced him to boxing.
After a brief amateur career (29 fights), still fighting under the name of Matthew Franklin, Saad Muhammad turned professional.
He won his first seven fights, before dropping a decision. His handlers wasted no time putting him up against top-notch competition. He was pitted against two future world champions, Matt Parlov, and Marvin Camel, both undefeated.
He beat them both.
His reputation was growing. He was a fan-friendly fighter--never in a dull fight.
In 1977, Saad Muhammad met heavy-handed Marvin Johnson in his hometown of Philadelphia. The NABF light heavyweight title was on the line. Both fighters wasted no time getting at each other. Johnson had a slight edge through seven rounds. He had stunned Saad Muhammad with vicious hooks and uppercuts.
But there was no denying Saad Muhammad. He knocked out Johnson in round 12. He defeated Billy Douglas, Richie Kates, and Yaqui Lopez. With each fight, his popularity grew.
He faced off against his old rival Johnson in a match for the WBC light heavyweight crown in 1979. Saad Muhammad came roaring back to stop Johnson in eight brutal rounds. After the fight, he officially changed his name to Matthew Saad Muhammad.
In what would prove to be his last blood and guts war, Saad Muhammad knocked out Lopez again, this time in round 14. The fight, like many of Saad Muhammad’s bouts, was a see-saw affair. Lopez appeared to be on his way to winning the title, until Saad Muhammad found some extra juice to turn the tables on Lopez.
It was memorable, bloody, and vicious.
In 1981, Saad Muhammad finally met a fighter who wouldn’t allow him to mount a comeback. Heavy-handed Dwight Muhammad Qawi stopped him in 10 vicious rounds.
In a rematch six months later, Qawi beat Saad Muhammad again.
He was only 27, but he was finished as a top-notch boxer. The battles had finally caught up with him.
Saad Muhammad would fight on for another 10 years, losing more than he won--a shadow of what he once was in the ring.
His estimated four million dollars in ring earnings was gone too.
Five years ago he was living in a homeless shelter.
He tried to come back from defeat once again, but this time ALS won.
Now we, the boxing community, should show the proper respect for a fighter who gave his fans everything he had by donating to provide Saad Muhammad's final resting place a proper headstone.
All it needs to say is “Champion."
An online campaign has been set up to raise the funds needed for the purchase of the gravestone. Please go here to contribute --
Those who prefer to make a donation by check or money order, should make their contribution payable to “Gravestone Fund / Fairhill Street Productions”, and mail it to:
Fairhill Street Productions / Philly Boxing History Gravestone Fund
PO Box 428
Sewell, NJ 08080