Three days a week former light heavyweight and cruiserweight
world champion Dwight Muhammed Qawi meets with as many as 35
troubled youths, teaching them anger management and conflict
resolution techniques, and drilling into them the virtues of
staying away from drugs and alcohol. A recovering alcoholic and
in his fifth year as a counselor with Lighthouse, a Mays Landing,
N.J., rehabilitation facility, Qawi draws from his own checkered
experiences. "Addiction is a disease that affects everybody," he
says. "People lose their families, their dreams. I like to work
with people who are down-and-out, like I was."
Born Dwight Braxton and raised in Camden, N.J., he was 19 when he
was convicted of armed robbery. He spent 5 1/2 years in prison
and while incarcerated learned to box. Upon his release in 1978
he began a pro career in which he would amass a 41-11-1 record,
including 25 KOs, and earn the nickname The Camden Buzzsaw. He
won the WBC light heavyweight title with a 10-round decision over
Mathew Saad Muhammed in 1981, after which he completed his
conversion to Islam and changed his name. Qawi made three
successful defenses and then lost the title in an '83 showdown
with Michael Spinks (right, in white trunks) that made SI's
cover. He moved up in class to cruiserweight and won the WBA belt
with an 11th-round TKO of Piet Crous in '85.
A tough, blocky fighter who stood only 5'6 1/2", Qawi wore down
opponents with powerful uppercuts and bone-jarring hooks. But
after he surrendered the cruiserweight title to a 23-year-old
Evander Holyfield later in '85, his life began to unravel again.
"When I was winning, people would send alcohol up to my room to
celebrate with," he says. "But after that fight I started
drinking as a coping mechanism. I had financial problems. I was
depressed. Everything was piling up on me. I was drinking so that
I wouldn't feel anything."
Qawi fought 11 times over the next four years, but in his biggest
bouts Holyfield knocked him out in the fourth round of their
rematch, and George Foreman dispatched him in seven rounds. All
the while Qawi was losing a more critical battle away from the
ring. "While I was training for the rematch with Holyfield, I was
drinking almost a fifth of whiskey every night," he says. "I was
empty inside." Then on April 30, 1990, he made what he calls the
most important decision of his life: He entered a four-month
alcohol-rehab program. He says he's been sober since. Qawi
mounted a comeback and fought 12 more times in the '90s, the last
time in '98, when he weighed 240 and lost by decision.
Now 50 and divorced, he lives in Somers Point, N.J., not 15
minutes from Atlantic City, where many of his ring battles were
staged. He has two sons, Dwight Jr., 19, and Thomas, 17, plus all
those troubled youths he tries to steer straight. "I've been
lucky," he says, "to be able to do the two things I love most:
box and help people going through tough times to launch their own
comebacks." --Luis Fernando Llosa
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO (COVER) PUNCHY Qawi (cover, left) lost a 15-rounder to Spinks.
COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY [See caption above]
A former world champion in two weight divisions and a recovering
alcoholic, Qawi counsels at-risk youths in New Jersey.