Recently, I spoke with former WBA Light Heavyweight Champ, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. Born Eddie Gregory, Muhammad won two New York Golden Gloves Championships as an amateur. Known as "Flame", Muhammad would win the light heavyweight title against Marvin Johnson in 1980 by TKO. He defended twice before losing to Michael Spinks in 1981. He would retire in 1988 with a 50-8-1 record.
Shawn Murphy: Eddie, can you tell me the highlights of your amateur career?
Eddie Mustafa Muhammad: One of the highlights was being an alternate on the 1972 Olympic team. I also won the Golden Gloves titles in 1971 and 1972. I beat Vito Antuofermo in 1971 and Patrick Maloney in 1972.
SM: Where did you get the nickname the "Flame"?
EM: My first manager had a restaurant called The Flame. He said your hands are fast and thatʼs the way we cook the steaks, so we'll call you "Flame".
SM: What about your first title shot against Victor Galindez in 1977? Do you think you actually won that fight?
EM: You know what, everyone said I won that fight, even the announcers. But I was in his territory, so going in I knew it would be rough. Don't get me wrong, Victor Galindez was a very credible champion and it was an honor to fight a guy like that. It was a real good fight, but I thought I beat him.
SM: A couple of fights later, you moved up and fought Renaldo Snipes. Why did you take that fight against a heavyweight?
EM: I was having problems making weight, and at that time there wasn't a cruiserweight division. So I just moved up a division, I knew I wasn't really a true heavyweight. All Snipes did was run, he didn't stand there and go toe to toe with me. I said before the fight, if he goes toe to toe with me I'll knock him out. He just ran and grabbed and did what he had to do to win.
SM: You dropped all that weight and took on Michael Spinks just two months later. Is it the weight that hurt you in that loss?
EM: The weight loss was a huge problem. The key was that I hurt my back in training and was in the hospital for about three days. Only my camp knew that. I came out of the hospital and had to go right to the steam room to lose weight. That's bad news, you just canʼt do that. You know, things happen.
SM: What about your loss to Slobodan Kacar in Italy in 1985 for the IBF Light Heavyweight title?
EM: Everyone said it was a bad decision. The guy was an Olympic Gold Medallist. He knocked me down in, I think, the eighth round. I got up but it was a tough fight. If they had called it a draw I could have lived with that.
SM: Your last fight was a TKO loss, was it hard to go out like that?
EM: Not at all. I made a promise to myself when I first started boxing that if I ever was stopped in a fight, that would be my last. I got stopped in my sixtieth fight; I think that's pretty good.
SM: Who was the toughest fighter you ever faced?
EM: Mario Rosa, tough guy. He knocked me down in the sixth and seventh rounds and I knocked him out in the eighth round.
SM: How did you get started training boxers?
EM: After I retired, I took a sabbatical to Monte Carlo and stayed there a couple of years. I also went to Africa as well. I just wanted to find what direction I wanted to go in. I ran into Bob Arum in Monte Carlo and he said I should come to Las Vegas and teach boxing. I decided to take him up on that offer and I'm having a successful career. I train Chad Dawson, the light heavyweight champion and I've got a few up and comers who I think will be champions someday.
SM: Do you and Chad ever debate who would win a fight between you two in your primes?
EM: We have a lot of fun, but no we don't. We give each other mutual respect.
SM: How did you take Iran Barkley from three straight losses to a world title win over Thomas Hearns in 1992, after most thought he was through?
EM: We beat Van Horn and we also beat Thomas Hearns. I told Iran that I thought he had something left and if he would just listen to me he could become a champion again. Well, he listened as he became a world champ again, a three time world champion. We made a lot of money together.
SM: Another great story was Michael Bentt's huge upset of Tommy Morrison in 1993. How did you train Bentt for that fight?
EM: I told everybody that would listen that he would knock Morrison out the first punch he landed. Muhammad Ali had given me a pair of twenty ounce boxing gloves and I lent them to Michael during the course of training. I knew that training with those gloves, his hands would be faster and his punch harder. That's all we did. We knew how Tommy was gonna come out and he thought Michael wasn't a puncher. Michael faked a right hand and threw a left hook and that was that.
SM: I know you are heavily involved in the Joint Association of Boxers (JAB). How did JAB get started and what is it?
EM: Every sport has a union except boxing. And I got together with Danny and Walter Kane, they were Teamster members. We put our heads together and asked what do the fighters need?
SM: Are a lot of fighters taken advantage of now?
EM: A lot, they sure are. Just look at all the guys who have made tens and maybe a hundred or two million and who are now financially struggling. Being in JAB, you wouldnʼt have all of that. The first thing I did after I retired was become a Teamster member. In boxing, when you join JAB, you automatically become a Teamster member. We collect dues like every other union, and the members get benefits. Boxers now don't have anything like that. I'm trying to be a ray of hope for the guys.
SM: How many fighters are signed up for JAB right now?
EM: About 2500 right now. I get calls from all over. When I get this up and running, it will be the best thing that has happened to the fighters ever.
SM: How do fighters of your era and today compare you think?
EM: I respect all fighters today. Boxing has evolved as a business now and not a sport. I fought when it was still a sport. We were on ABC, CBS, and NBC. Now it's become HBO or pay per view. When I walk down the streets even today, people will stop me and tell me that when I fought, the light heavyweight division was the best ever. I take pride in that. I worked hard to get the recognition. But God bless all the fighters, I hope they get all the money they deserve. I'm trying to make sure they get a piece of what's theirs.
SM: Any regrets looking back now on your career?
EM: No, not really. My thing was to make my Mom proud. I think I did that. I became a world champion. You don't hear of Eddie Mustafa Muhammad getting arrested or that I'm broke. I've always been a positive person for myself and my children. That's how it should be. I'm a blessed person. I walk the walk and talk the talk.
SM: Any final words Eddie, for the fans/readers out there?
EM: Just tell them about our website, www.boxersunion.org. Anyone wants to get in touch with me about becoming a union member, I can be reached through the phone number on the website. Also tell the fans out there that I shall return! (laughing). No, I shall return to the refrigerator (laughing). No, my boxing days are over, I'm a blessed man now.
SM: Eddie itʼs been a real pleasure.
EM: Thank you.