Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mark's Top 40 at 40: 3

Mark Lyons is back with the latest installment of his top 40 list.

Few fighters have managed to produce the kind of drama that this man gave us night in and night out. Combined with excellent skills, he had an unbreakable will and remarkable ability to absorb whatever was thrown his way. He was must-see TV, and he comes in at #3 on Mark's top 40 list.

Photo courtesy of The CyberBoxingZone

4. Matthew Saad Muhammad

Career Record: 39-16-3 (29)

Three favorite fights: All of them

Mandatory Viewing: Youtube Clip

Quite frankly, he was the greatest warrior I have ever had the privilege to watch. His fights were so exciting he made Arturo Gatti look like Paulie Malignaggi. He wasn't comfortable in the ring until he was getting his ass kicked. It must have been horrifying to wail him 20 consecutive times in the face only to see the fury start building up until he was on you like a raging fire. His fire was the product of a gut wrenching youth.

What leads to that type of determination and will? How about your mother dying when you're 5 years old, you have no father. Your older brother and you are sent to live with your Aunt. They can't afford to keep you both so they tell your older brother to get rid of you. He takes you to a park in a bad spot in Philly and just runs away. You try and keep up with him , but are too young. That was Matthew Franklin's youth, and after that no punch would ever hurt him. He stood in front of every man and said give me everything you have, because there is nothing in this world that I can't take.

There were fights on every weekend afternoon when I was growing up. One of the highlights of the week was getting either the TV Guide or the guide in the Sunday paper to see who was fighting. There wasn't advanced nationwide promoting except for the major bouts. Sometimes it would just say TBA and when you flipped on your set it would be Wilfred Benitez vs. Carlos palomino.

My father remarried when I was 6 and my step mother was fascinated by day trips on Sundays. My dad and I always watched the fights together and I would sulk at these trips when I was missing fights like Benitez/Weston 2. On 4/22/79 I checked the TV Guide in the Sunday paper and Marvin Johnson was defending his light heavyweight title against Matthew Saad Muhammad. I hadn't seen their first fight, but I had read about what a war it was. Shortly thereafter my step mother stated that we were going to some ridiculous tourist attraction and I exploded into tears and threw a massive fit. My dad tried to calm me down and I screamed, "but it's Saad Muhammad!"

He thought about it, turned to her and said "Go wherever you want, my son and I are watching the fight!"

And what a war it was. I can go on and on about them. Kates, Lopez x2, Johnson x2, Conteh x2, Gregory, even Sutherland, Martin and Vonzell Johnson. You will notice if you watch that highlight vid the most wicked left uppercut you've ever seen. Lotte Mwale was the recipient of that.

Saad had skills, but he hungered for war and if you couldn't give him war, you went to sleep early. He just couldn't possibly do boring and was possibly the greatest entertainer the sports world has ever known. I teared up again when he lost his gold to Dwight Muhammad Qawi.

They just don't make men like that everyday. I'm not one to trump the era I grew up in over the current scene. I love the sport as much as I ever have and there are plenty of fantastic fights. But you will never see a guy atop the most stacked division in boxing, taking on anyone who wants it and defying them to break his will with one sledgehammer blow after another. Just for a comparison, I saw Saad take infinitely more punishment than Cotto did against Margarito in 5 or 6 of his wins.

The eighth round of the Lopez rematch was the greatest round I have ever seen. Laying on the ropes eating flush shot after flush shot(same thing happened in the first fight) yet 6 rounds later, there was Saad standing over his vanquished challenger. That was just what a Saad Muhammad fight was like. They rivaled sex for pleasure and love for emotion. He was that damn good.

I really could go on forever. His fights were like a roller coaster ride that lasted anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Never a dull a moment and you were guaranteed to get your money's worth. He may not have been the greatest fighter in the world, but he was damn sure the toughest and the most exciting. Philadelphia is known for the "never say die" mentality of their boxers. Saad sits side by side with Joe Frazier as the epitome of a Philly warrior. I think that means more to him than any all time ranking. I'll just finish with, Matthew Saad Muhammad: gladiator of the highest stature and man among boys inside the ring and out. I miss you champ.

Mark's previous entries: Intro, 40-36, 35-31, 30-26, 25-21, 20-16, 15-13, 12-10, 9-8, 7-6, 5 & 4.

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mpar1 said...

Awesome writeup, Mark. I love this countdown.