Ex-champ Matthew Saad Muhammad dies at 59

After recovering from a period of homelessness, Matthew Saad Muhammad became an advocate for the cause.
After recovering from a period of homelessness, Matthew Saad Muhammad became an advocate for the cause. (RON TARVER / Staff)
Posted: May 27, 2014

Matthew Saad Muhammad, 59, one of Philadelphia's most exciting boxers, died Sunday morning at Chestnut Hill Hospital. Despite being abandoned by his family as a child, he rose to become a world champion.

The cause of his death was not revealed. Services were being planned.

The light heavyweight threw a heavy right hand and a solid left hook. Mr. Saad Muhammad was known for his will - he would take an opponent's punishment and then follow with a fiercer delivery of his own.

In an epic 1980 title defense against Yaqi Lopez, Mr. Saad Muhammad absorbed roughly 70 straight punches without returning a blow. But he did not go down and recovered to win by technical knockout, living up to his nickname, "Miracle Matthew."

He won the World Boxing Council light-heavyweight title in 1979, defended it nine times, and retired in 1992 with a 49-16-3 record with 35 knockouts. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1998.

His mother died when Mr. Saad Muhammad was an infant. According to the former champion, his financially-strapped aunt told his brother to leave the child in Center City.

"He took me out in the city, where I wouldn't know where I was or how to find my way home, and ran away from me," Mr. Saad Muhammad told One Step Away, a newspaper produced by residents of city shelters, earlier this year. "I tried to run after him. I ran as fast as I could. I was 5 years old and I was running for my life."

Mr. Saad Muhammad was found by a police officer and taken to Catholic Social Services. He did not know his name, and the sisters at Social Services named him Matthew Franklin after St. Matthew and the Ben Franklin Parkway, where the police officer found him that night.

He fought 14 times at the Spectrum against foes such as Billy "Dynamite" Douglas, Marvin Johnson, Richie Kates, and Lopez. Mr. Saad Muhammad stopped Lopez in the 11th round in 1978 to earn the North American Boxing Federation title. They met in a 1980 rematch for the fourth defense of Mr. Muhammad's WBC title.

Lopez pummeled the champ in the eighth round. But Mr. Saad Muhammad dominated the rest of the fight and finished Lopez with a swift right cross in the 14th round. Ring Magazine named it the fight of the year.

Mr. Saad Muhammad converted to Islam early in his career and adopted the name Matthew Saad Muhammad. He tracked down his family, Mr. Saad Muhammad said, but his aunt was only interested in collecting a $10,000 reward the fighter had offered if anyone could locate her.

Mr. Saad Muhammad became homeless four years ago and found shelter at North Broad Street's RHD Ridge Center, but he had his own place in North Philadelphia at the time of his passing.

The former boxer became an advocate for the homeless, teaming with One Step Away. He was the spokesman for their "Knock Out Homelessness" campaign.


mbreen@phillynews.com

@matt_breen

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