By: Ronald Cameron
A little while ago, the IBHOF (International Boxing Hall of Fame) released some of the 2012 candidates and there are some no-brainer choices such as Thomas Hearns and the legendary broadcaster Al Bernstein. But writing an article about those guys would be somewhat redundant since there is no doubt they belong in the HOF. What must be highlighted are two guys who I believe deserves HOF consideration. Watching boxing ever since I was 6 years old, I have some idea as to who belongs in the fraternity with other great fighters.
A few months ago, I wrote an article stating why I believe Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe belongs in the HOF and I stand by that but I also believe that former 3-time light-heavyweight champion Marvin “Pops” Johnson and former light-heavyweight champion and current trainer, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad should also be considered and I will state my case as to why each guy deserves to be there.
Credentials: Former Olympic bronze medal winner, Former 3-Time light-heavyweight champion
Biggest wins: Mate Parlov (TKO 10)
Victor Galindez (TKO 11) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxboEsFvqWg
Hailing from Indianapolis, Indiana, Marvin Johnson won 2 National Golden Gloves Championships in 1971-72 – one as a middleweight and as a light-heavyweight and he went on to the 1972 Olympics and came away with a bronze medal. Nicknamed “Pops”, Johnson always came forward and he wore his opponents down with his busy work-rate and accurate power shots. Johnson turned pro in 1972 and he won his first 15 fights, 12 by knockout.
On July 26th 1977, Johnson fought future light-heavyweight champion Matthew Franklin (better known as Matthew Saad Muhammad) and the two fought in a classic war. The two pushed each other to the limit for 11 rounds and both were dead tired, but Matthew had a little more in the tank in the final round as he stopped Johnson in the 12th and final round.
Johnson brushed off this loss and won 7 of his next 8 fights and he finally got his title shot against WBC champion Mate Parlov. Johnson rose to occasion and he stopped Parlov in the 10th round, winning his first World Light-Heavyweight title. Johnson could have fought an easy opponent after winning the title, but Johnson was a true champion and he wanted to avenge one of his losses, so he defended his title in his first defense against Matthew Saad Muhammad. As great as their first fight was, their rematch was even better.
In a fight that resembled Arturo Gatti vs. Mickey Ward 1, Saad Muhammad and Johnson took turns beating the hell out of each other. Both were cut and swollen after 7 brutal rounds and it came down to who could take the most punishment and who had the most endurance. Johnson did everything he could and he came close to knocking Saad Muhammad down a few times, but Johnson could not close the show. In the 8th round, both guys were fighting on sheer guts and whoever could land one good power shot would be the one who would be victorious.
After a brutal exchange, Saad Muhammad connected with a series of right hands and he proceeded to throw about 60 punches non-stop. Fighting like a champion, Johnson tried his best to weather the storm and he landed some good shots, but Saad Muhammad would not be denied and finally Johnson could no longer defend the shots and he fell to the floor and was counted out. Saad Muhammad was a bloody mess and Johnson’s face was swollen after the fight, but both fighters left everything they had in the ring.
To those that haven’t seen the end of this classic fight, here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcQ-f-pR3Wo
Losing twice by knockout to the same guy would discourage some fighters, but Johnson wasn’t like most fighters’. Seven months later, Johnson received another title shot, this time against Hall of Fame light-heavyweight champion, Victor Galindez. Just to give you some perspective on how boxing was back then compared to now, this fight was shown on ABC, along with 2 other main event caliber fights. On this night, Marvin Hagler fought middleweight champion Vito Antuofermo (and was robbed without a gun) and Sugar Ray Leonard fought welterweight champion Wilfred Benitez. It was quite a night that I will NEVER forget. On this night, Marvin Johnson fought in my opinion his best fight as a professional as he dominated Galindez and knocked him out in the 11th round, winning the WBA light-heavyweight title.
Remember I said that Johnson could have fought a tomato can for his first defense? Johnson always wanted to fight the best possible competition so instead he took on top contender Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. Johnson fought well at times, but on this night Eddie was too much for the champion. Johnson displayed the heart of a champion but he had nothing left down the stretch. Eddie closed the show in the championship rounds and stopped Johnson in the 11th round.
Surely this would be enough to send Johnson into retirement, right? As he did before, he brushed it off and fought on, winning his next 3 fights. In his next fight he was matched against future Hall of Famer, Michael Spinks. Johnson was very impressive in the first 3 rounds and was winning the fight hands down but in the 4th round, Spinks caught Johnson with a devastating left uppercut/hook that landed flush and Johnson was knocked out cold.
There were some who believed Johnson was done at this point, but Johnson fought on and won his next 14 fights before finally receiving another title shot. Five years after losing to Spinks, Johnson fought for the vacant WBA Light heavyweight title against Leslie Stewart. Johnson turned back the clock and was sharp on this night as he dominated the fight and he stopped Stewart in the 7th round, winning the WBA light-heavyweight title, making him the first man to win the light heavyweight championship 3 times.
Johnson successfully defended the title 7 months later, stopping Jean-Marie Emebe in the 13th round. Being the gracious champion he has always been, Johnson granted Leslie Stewart a rematch. On this night, Father Time finally caught up to Johnson and Stewart proved to be too much for the champion as Stewart stopped Johnson in the 8th round. Johnson retired after this fight and unlike many fighters who retire, Johnson stayed retired.
An outstanding career for the former 3-time Light heavyweight champion, yet it was not enough to be elected into the Hall of Fame. Did Marvin Johnson do enough in his career to warrant a Hall of Fame induction?
Eddie Mustafa Muhammad:
Credentials: Former light-heavyweight champion, who fought and beat many top contenders and Hall of Fame caliber fighters.
Biggest wins: Matthew Franklin (W SD)
Marvin Johnson (KO 11)
Far too often, I believe voters out-smart themselves and just look at stats instead of watching an athlete and judging them by what they accomplished in their respective sport. I’ve stated my case on Marvin Johnson, but there is another former light-heavyweight who has been over-looked and that man is Eddie Gregory, AKA Eddie Mustafa Muhammad.
Hailing from Brooklyn, NY, the same area that produced Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, Eddie won 2 New York Golden Glove Championships at 147lbs and beating future middleweight champion Vito Antuofermo to win his first Golden Glove title. Eddie was also an alternate on the 1972 Olympic team. Nicknamed “The Flame” because of his fast hands, Eddie was a very skilled counter-puncher who had a solid left jab, he threw accurate uppercuts and hard right hands and what separated him from many big men was that he was a tremendous body puncher.
Eddie turned pro in 1972 and he won 13 of his first 15 fights before facing the rugged Bennie Briscoe in Philadelphia, PA. The fight was close, but Briscoe won a hard fought split decision over Gregory. Not to be discouraged, Eddie fought on and won his next 7 fights by knockout before facing future Hall of Famer Matthew Franklin, better known as Matthew Saad Muhammad. In a back and forth battle, Eddie outworked him and won a split decision in Franklin’s hometown of Philadelphia, PA.
This was a huge win for Eddie and this fight helped him earn his first world title shot against WBA light-heavyweight champion Victor Galindez in Italy on November 20th, 1977. The challenger suffered a knockdown in the 5th round, but he out-worked the champion in the middle rounds and he fought well down the stretch. The crucial moment in the fight happened midway through the 13th round when Galindez hit Eddie with a blatant low blow and instead of warning Galindez, the referee yelled at Eddie. After that exchange, Eddie retaliated with a low blow of his own and the referee again chastised Eddie and this time he took a point away from him which proved to be costly.
Eddie took the fight to the champion in the last two rounds and won them and when the fight was over, many fans thought the 25 year old Brooklyn native won the fight, but the judges had other ideas. Galindez won a unanimous decision over Gregory and if not for the referee taking a point away for “low blows” Gregory would have got the decision.
Eddie fought on and won 12 of his next 13 fights (He lost a close fight to Rahway prison’s inmate, James Scott) before receiving another title shot, this time against a tough champion, Marvin Johnson on March 31, 1980(Which was another GREAT night of boxing on ABC. I miss those days!) Johnson fought a game fight, but Eddie fought the fight of his life as he dismantled Johnson with counter right hands, uppercuts and brutal body shots that wore down the champion. Eddie made the most of his opportunity and he stopped Johnson in the 11th round, winning the WBA light-heavyweight title.
Eddie successfully defended the title twice and then moved up to Heavyweight and fought contender Renaldo “Mr.” Snipes and he lost a controversial split decision. Eddie revealed later that he had problems making weight and since there was no Cruiserweight division at that time, he had to fight in the Heavyweight division. After losing to Snipes, there was still the matter of defending his Light-Heavyweight title, which was scheduled only 2 months after that loss and he had to lose 25 pounds. And on top of that, he hurt his back in training camp which made things even worse.
So instead of giving Eddie proper time to recover and lose the extra weight, his promoters matched him with the number one contender and future Hall of Famer, Michael Spinks. In what was a courageous performance considering the circumstances, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad didn’t make any excuses, instead he stood toe to toe with Spinks for 15 rounds and he lost a decision and his world title to the future Hall of Famer.
One quick comment: To those who believe Michael Spinks would have beat Eddie Mustafa Muhammad if Eddie had proper time to lose the extra weight- you may be right, Spinks was one of the 5 best Light-Heavyweights of All-time. But Eddie should have had the opportunity to defend his title under fair circumstances and some boxing fans don’t believe he received that going into his fight with Spinks.
And also, remember when Roy Jones moved up to heavyweight and then dropped back down to light-heavyweight? Remember how drained he looked against Antonio Tarver in that fight? Roy blamed it on the loss in weight and many fans and boxing experts gave him the benefit of the doubt even though Jones had plenty of time to lose the excess weight. Eddie Mustafa Muhammad never once complained about only having 2 months to lose 25 pounds and then having to defend his title against the great Michael Spinks. He went in there, gave it his best shot and he went the distance. Sure he lost the fight, but still he gained a lot of respect among many boxing fans that night.
After losing his title to Spinks, Eddie went on a 10 fight winning streak, beating guys like Lottie Mwale and future cruiserweight champion Rickey Parkey. After winning his 10th straight fight, Eddie received one last title shot, this time against IBF Light-Heavyweight Champion Slobodan Kacar in Marche, Italy on December 21st 1985. Just as was the case against Galindez, Eddie went overseas and lost another close, controversial decision, coming up short in his bid to win back the Light-Heavyweight title. Eddie went on to fight 3 more times, losing his last fight to Arthel Lawhorne via a 3rd round TKO and after that fight he called it a career.
One thing that has to be said about Eddie Mustafa Muhammad: When he was in his prime, he could compete with any light-heavyweight in his era. He fought every top contender in what was one of the best eras for light-heavyweights. He beat Matthew Saad Muhammad who is a Hall of Famer, he also beat Marvin Johnson, who I also believe should be a Hall of Famer and he fought tough contenders like Bennie Briscoe and James Scott in their backyards and while he lost to both of them, he held his own against them. That’s all you can ask of any fighter, to take on the best competition and do well against them. Eddie Mustafa Muhammad did just that.
Now I have one thing to say to voters and fans who don’t think these fighters are Hall of Fame worthy: It’s easy to look at a fighter’s “stats” and then judge them, but all I ask of boxing fans and IBHOF voters is to go back and watch some of their fights. After you watch those fights, then ask yourself this question: Is Marvin Johnson and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad Hall of Fame worthy?
I was fortunate to have seen many of their fights back in the late 70’s and 80’s on TV and when I watched him, I was convinced that both fighters always gave fans their money’s worth. Both fighters did suffer some setbacks, but they both came back and went on to win big fights. Marvin was a three-time light-heavyweight champion and Eddie is a former champion who fought every top light-heavyweight back when the division was stacked with Hall of Fame fighters and top contenders. Does that make them Hall of Fame worthy? I’ll let you decide.
***What do you think of this boxing article? Your voice only counts if you use it. Leave a comment and tell us your thoughts***
Thursday, Nov. 17th, 2011
“The Greatest Middleweights Of All-Time” by Ronald Cameron