June 4, 2001 – SecondsOut.com Assistant Editor Clive Bernath talks to former WBA light-heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad about his colourful career, 21 years after he won the title from fellow American Marvin Johnson.
By Clive Bernath: Eddie Mustafa Muhammad was born Edward Lee Gregory in Brooklyn, New York, on April 30, 1952 and will be remembered as one of the toughest and most resilient light-heavyweights of them all.
Gregory, as he was known in the early part of his career, failed to hear the final bell just once in 59 fights from 1972-1988. His final slate reads an impressive 50-8-1-(38), with a solitary stoppage defeat coming in his final bout against Arthel Lawhorne (l rsf 3) in Newark, New Jersey on October 21, 1988.
Though Muhammad only held the title for little over a year, he did defend the crown twice and reigned in an era when the light-heavyweight division was as strong as any time in boxing history. After 25 fights and defeating good men like Eddie Phillips and Matthew Franklin (later Matthew Saad Muhammad), Eddie finally got a crack at the title, against the classy Argentine Victor Galindez in 1977.
Muhammad lost a hotly disputed decision to Galindez, yet believes he should have been crowned champion that night. “I don’t mean to a be braggart at all, but I knew I was gonna be champion,” said Muhammad. “I beat Galindez fair and square. But they deducted two points from me and said I lost by one point. Like I said, it was just a matter of time before the opportunity presented itself and that I was gonna be world champion.”
Three years later, Muhammad got his chance in Knoxville against another tough and seasoned campaigner in Marvin Johnson, who had taken the title from Galindez just three months earlier. This time the judges were not required as Muhammad stopped the brave Johnson in the 11th round.
After two successful defences against Jerry Martin (w rsf 10) and Rudi Koopmans (w rsf 4), Muhammad faced a certain Michael Spinks, rightly considered one of the finest light-heavyweights of all time. Spinks duly outpointed Muhammad over the old 15-round distance and went on to ring greatness
But Muhammad does not see that as his toughest fight, and said Spinks just caught him at the right time. “Not at all, not at all, he was not my hardest fight,” said Muhammad. “He just caught me at a time when it was hard for me to make light-heavyweight. At that time, I was training for another fight and I put my back out of place. I was in the hospital for a long duration of time and they found out and pushed the mandatory.
“I wasn’t just gonna give the title up, so I said no problem. I had to work through it. It was hard to get the weight off. It took two or three times at the scales, but I made it. I was drained, but mentally I knew he couldn’t beat me.
“He knocked me down in the 11th round, but I got up and almost had him out in the same round. So that’s what we call a man that wasn’t gonna give up his title. You gonna have to carry me out or beat me in a fashion that, you know, I wasn’t gonna just give the title up. It was very rough for him.
“And the weigh-in was the same day, not the day before like it is now. But I’m not taking anything away from Michael Spinks, he was a great fighter. But you know if I was 100% we wouldn’t have Michael Spinks today. Like I say, I respect him. I respect him big time, but if I was 100%nah.”
After losing to Spinks in 1981, Muhammad’s fights became fewer and far between, with just five fights in the next four years. He decided to give it one last shot in 1985, winning five times in the space of seven months. His reward was a crack at the IBF light-heavyweight crown held by Yugoslavian Slobodan Kacar, but by now Muhammad’s skills were starting to erode and he dropped a decision over 15 rounds.
Following a two year break, Muhammad made brief return in 1988, but after the stoppage loss to Lawthorne decided to retire. Today he is based in Las Vegas, where he trains fighters and gives them the benefit of his vast experience.
“I try to be trainer. I’m a teacher of the game and show ‘em how to be a champion like I was and I’ve had great success,” said Muhammad. “I’ve had five world champions. Carl Daniels, Iran Barkley, Michael Bentt, Paul Vaden and Meldrick Taylor. Everybody that I’ve worked with became successful.”
Muhammad says they were all good champions because they all listened, but the one he has the most respect for is Iran Barkley. “When everyone said he was through I sat down and had a long talk with him,” added Muhammad. “I said we’re gonna do this here, you better listen to what I tell you. And he did, he beat Thomas Hearns, he beat Darren Van Horn for the super-middleweight title and he beat Tommy Hearns the second time, so he listened and became three-time world champion.
“I train Danell Nicholson, Monte Barrett, I also have a couple of guys that want me to train them. You know my phone never stops ringing. I’m trying, basically to shun away from training. I’ve done it all. I’ve been world champion, I’ve made other guys world champions and now I want to promote world championship fights,” said Muhammad.
“I defended my title twice, I’ve beaten Matthew Saad Muhammad, Ricky Parkey. I’m not ashamed of my career at all, I had a great career. You know I come to the gym and I have great time. It’s not just a gym for me, It’s a fun thing for me to come to the gym and share my experience. I’ve taken guys with losing records and turned them around. Before I got them, they were considered opponents. Now they win five or six fights and no more opponent status,” he concluded.