9. Matthew Saad Muhammad Vs Yaqui Lopez II
July 13, 1980
McAfee, New Jersey
Venue: Great Gorge Playboy Club
Coming off his scintillating win against Marvin Johnson to claim the WBC Light Heavyweight title, 26-year-old Matthew Saad Muhammad stayed busy, defending his title three times within a year. His fourth defense would be a rematch against the 29-year-old Mexican contender Yaqui Lopez. Lopez had given him hell before Saad Muhammad knocked him out in the 11th round back in 1978. For Lopez, this would be his fourth attempt at winning a version of the 175-pound title. The first three times he lost by razor thin decisions. Lopez was determined this time not to allow the judges once again to deny him of the title.
Both men were excellent boxer-punchers who worked everything off the jab and went to the body often. Before the fight began, my father commented on how they were mirror images of each other and that’s why their first fight was such a great fight. The first five rounds bore this out as both men landed often with their jabs and viciously to the body. Both men tended to slug it out when hit hard, and there were glimpses of that in the first five rounds. At that moment, it was still mostly a technical fight. The action would soon heat up.
Indeed, the next two rounds the action did heat up. Both fighters engaged in several heated exchanges, with Lopez getting the better of each one, especially with his left hook. Saad Muhammad, sensing he was behind in the fight, came out and immediately attacked Lopez in round eight. For the first half of the round, he landed several hard shots to Lopez’s head and body while Lopez was trapped against the ropes. Then all of a sudden, Lopez landed a crackling combination that staggered Saad Muhammad. Lopez then landed about 40 consecutive shots with Saad Muhammad laid up against the ropes. After Lopez’s barrage ended because of arm weariness, Saad Muhammad hurt Lopez with his own combination and he went back to battering Lopez on the ropes. When the round ended, my father proclaimed it was the single, greatest round of boxing he’d had ever witnessed. It would be five years before we saw another round that would top this one.
After the epic eighth round, both men were visibly tired. The next four rounds saw Lopez attempting to box from the outside while Saad Muhammad walked him down. Saad Muhammad dominated these rounds by being more aggressive and landing several ferocious shots to Lopez’s body. Those body shots, my father added, were going to wear Lopez out to the point where he was going to get knocked out.
The 13th round was another intense display of infighting. Lopez briefly stunned Saad Muhammad early in the round with a brisk left hook, but once the exchanges occurred, it was the champion who dominated. Twice, Lopez was staggered by vicious right crosses. Less than a minute into the 14th round, Saad Muhammad landed a crackling right uppercut that finally knocked Lopez down for the first time in the fight. Lopez got up, but was badly hurt and fatigued. Saad Muhammad dropped him three more times with right crosses before referee Wlademar Schmidt stopped the fight. My father got up from his chair and told me it was like he said earlier, “It was those body punches that set him up for the finish.”
Lopez would get knocked out in his next fight against future great Michael Spinks. He would get one more world title shot, an unsuccessful shot at a version of the cruiserweight title. He would retire in 1984 at the age of 33. Lopez currently runs a boxing gym for at-risk youths in Stockton, California. He is one of the greatest fighters never to win a world title.
Saad Muhammad successfully defended his title four more times before losing it to fellow Muslim Dwight Muhammad Qawi in December of 1981 and the subsequent rematch. At the age of 28, Saad Muhammad was a shot fighter due to all the amazing wars he participated in. Unfortunately, due to financial issues, he fought 10 more years. After only winning seven of his eighteen last fights, Saad Muhammad finally retired in 1992 at the age of 38. His financial problems escalated to the point where he became homeless in 2010. When Philadelphia homeless advocate Kevin Roberts found out that Saad was a resident of one of Philadelphia’s shelters, he quickly befriended the ex-champion. With Roberts’s help, Saad Muhammad was able to find employment and housing. Saad Muhammad died from the disease ALS in 2014 at the age of 59.