Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, former light heavyweight champion and current-day trainer and activist, has never hesitated when it comes to addressing boxing’s many problems. When Senators John McCain and Harry Reid introduced legislation last week that would create what would be called the United States Boxing Commission, Muhammad was among the first – if not the first – to offer his services.
“I spoke with an aide to Senator Reid a week-and-a-half ago and with Senator McCain’s aide Gavin Parke earlier today,” Muhammad told RingTV.com. “I told them that I am ready, willing, able and available to help regulate – but not over-regulate – the sport of boxing. I know what’s wrong with boxing and I’m not afraid to point people out.”
Muhammad’s fearlessness is well documented. In his 16-year professional career, he amassed a 50-8-1 (39) record that included a title-winning 11th round TKO over then-WBA light heavyweight champion Marvin Johnson and two title defenses against Jerry Martin (KO 10) and Rudy Koopmans (KO 3). He lost the belt to Michael Spinks (L 15) less than two months after an ill-fated heavyweight foray against Renaldo Snipes (L 10). Other outstanding fighters he faced included Bennie Briscoe (L 10), Eugene “Cyclone” Hart (KO 4), Matthew Franklin (later Matthew Saad Muhammad) (W 10), Victor Galindez (L 15), Jesse Burnett (W 10), James Scott (L 12), Lottie Mwale (KO 4), Tyrone Booze (W 10), Ricky Parkey (W 10) and Slobodan Kacar in his final title try (L 15).
After retiring in 1988, Muhammad began training fighters and experienced similar success. He guided Iran Barkley to two of his three divisional titles by channeling their shared tough New York City upbringings and other titlists he piloted included Michael Bentt, Carl Daniels, Joan Guzman, Danny Romero, Johnny Tapia, James Toney, Paul Vaden and Zab Judah. These days he works with, among others, Ishe Smith, Badou Jack and Hasim Rahman, who at 39 is scheduled to challenge WBA heavyweight titleholder Alexander Povetkin.
But his experiences inside the ring and in the corner only served to exacerbate the sense of unfairness plaguing his chosen sport. Because fighters had no pensions or health benefits, Muhammad teamed up with the Teamsters Union to form the Joint Association of Boxers (J.A.B.).
Muhammad believes his wide-ranging experience would be an asset to the board.
“I’m not a Johnny-Come-Lately in this sport,” he said. “I wake up every day wondering what I can do to help our sport. I have a grasp of what will work for boxing and what won’t work. I want to use all my political connections to let them know what’s going on and what we should do about it. I want to step into the forefront and help to fix it. What’s more, I know how to fix it.”
One major impetus for this move is the urgency he feels about the general state of boxing, which absorbed another major hit following the Bradley-Pacquiao scoring debacle two weeks ago.
“Every sport has jumped over us, and it’s not just MMA,” Muhammad said. “The NBA Finals just had one of their biggest ratings in their history. As far as boxing is concerned, nobody’s doing anything but talking. We can no longer be content with what is going on and the longer we wait to do something about it the more likely it is that nothing gets done.
“I want to put boxing back at the top because we have the right athletes to put us back there,” he continued. “But what the higher-ups are doing is tearing us down. We once had over-the-air networks rearranging their prime-time schedules just to put boxing on and now we’ve lost that. Without the networks, boxing has lost its farm system. Now is as good a time to do it again because it’s an Olympic year and we can start building back what we had lost. I’m willing to take the lead, but it’s up to Senator McCain and Senator Reid (to push this legislation through).”
He has yet to hear back from Sen. Reid’s office and he’s still awaiting a response from McCain’s people. He’s not even certain the bill will ever see the light of day, for past efforts to create a national commission have died in committee.
Even so, Muhammad is optimistic that this effort will turn out differently. Plus, he senses that his entreaty is being treated positively.
“I’ve gotten more confidence from Reid’s aide because he directed me to the right people to talk with,” he said. “Anything can happen in politics. We put these people in office because we are asking them to perform a service. Now that we see an injustice we can do something about it.
“I’ll take the lead,” Muhammad concluded. “They have my number.”
Photo / Ethan Miller-Getty Images
Lee Groves, a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va., can be emailed at email@example.com. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won seven writing awards, including a first-place for News Story in 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales From the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics.” To order, please visit Amazon.com or e-mail the author to arrange for autographed copies.