By Jackie Kallen
Watching the Adonis Stevenson fight last night reminded me of a light heavyweight champ that I knew back in the late ’70s. He was Matt Franklin back then and he was a hell of a fighter. Soon after I met him, he changed his named to Matthew Saad Muhammad and became a Muslim. But he was famous for turning fights around.
In 1979, I went to Atlantic City to watch him fight my cousin’s boyfriend from England–John Conteh. He stopped Conteh in four rounds. A couple of years later, I was back in Atlantic City to see Bay City, Michigan’s Murray Sutherland fight him for the WBC title. Knowing, and liking, both men–it was hard to watch with no bias. Muhammad stoppped Sutherland in the ninth round. But as always, Muhammad was a gentleman.
I was saddened today to learn that Muhammad, 59, has passed away. He would have turned 60 in a couple of weeks. His life was not an easy one. And it was not always a happy one. He enjoyed great highs, but suffered devastating lows as well.
Few could have had a worse start in life. Mathhew’s mother died when he was an infant and he and his brother were given to an aunt. She did the best she could but could not care for them so she decided to give the youngest brother away. She had him dropped off at a park where he was picked up by Social Services. They named him Matt Franklin and put him in foster care until a family finally adopted him.
His background served him well. He learned to survive and fight back. As a boxer his style was always action-packed and exciting. He could endure a ton of punishment and always seemed to come back. That earned him the nickname “Miracle Matthew.”
Though his heyday was over, Muhammad continued fighting until 1992,often fighting overseas. He’d win some, lose some, and mostly he just fought for a payday. He took an outrageous amount of punishment. He fought 58 times, losing 16. He was KOed eight times. He walked away with the bruises to show for it.
He was known to overcome knockdowns and come back to win. He had heart. He had guts. He could take a punch. He was a true warrior.
Slowly but surely the entourage left, the Rolls Royce was gone, and the money was, too. The hangers-on were hanging onto someone new and the so-called friends didn’t always return calls.
Having been a world champion didn’t do Matthew Saad Muhammad any good. His past glory would not buy him a meal. Or a place to live. The people he trusted most over the years had stolen from him and left him penniless. Managers who supposedly had his best interests at heart, benefited from his success and then abandoned him.
In recent years, he lived in homeless shelters and bounced around the streets. Sometimes fans recognized him, but most often he was just another faceless wanderer, scrounging food and staring at the passing cars.
My heart is heavy today to hear of Muhammad’s death. He was a sweet man, a great champion, and a survivor. He will be missed.