Boxing / Sports

Former WBC titleholder Matthew Saad Muhammad dead at 59

PHILADELPHIA -- Matthew Saad Muhammad, 59, one of Philadelphia's most exciting boxers who was abandoned by his family as a child and rose to be a world champion, died on Sunday morning at Chestnut Hill Hospital.

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. Saad Muhammad was known for his will -- he would take an opponent's punishment and then follow with a fiercer delivery one of his own.

In an epic 1980 title defense against Yaqi Lopez, Saad Muhammad absorbed roughly 70 straight punches. 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 Saad Muhammad was an infant. According to the former champion, his aunt did not have money to take care of him and she told his brother to leave the child in Center City when he was 5 years old.

"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," 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."

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. 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 Saad Muhammad's WBC title.

Lopez pummeled the champ in the eighth round with 70 straight punches until Saad Muhammad returned a single shot. But the champ refused to go down. He dominated the rest of the fight and finished Lopez with a swift right cross in the 14th round. It was Ring Magazine's Fight of the Year.

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

Saad Muhammad was homeless again four years ago and found shelter at North Broad Street's RHD Ridge Center. He had his own place in North Philadelphia at the time of his passing. The former boxer was a homeless advocate, teaming with One Step Away. He was the spokesman for their "Knock Out Homelessness" campaign.

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