Dwight Muhammad Qawi (born January 5, 1953) is a former world boxing champion in the light-heavyweight and cruiserweight divisions. He is considered one of the top boxers of the decade of the 1980s, and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004.
Qawi, then known as Dwight Braxton, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, but grew up in a ramshackle section of Camden, New Jersey, where he got involved with crime at a young age. He was eventually convicted of armed robbery and spent more than four years at New Jersey’s Rahway State Prison.
It was at Rahway that Braxton found his place in life. The prison had an extensive boxing program and one of its inmates, James Scott, was a middleweight title contender who fought several times inside the prison itself. Braxton took up the sport, and when he was released from prison in 1978, immediately became a professional boxer.
He went 1-1-1 in his first three pro fights, but then reeled off 14 straight victories to move into the world rankings at light heavyweight. The last of those wins came on September 5, 1981, when Braxton returned to Rahway to fight Scott, with the winner promised a shot at Matthew Saad Muhammad’s WBC world championship belt. Braxton won a unanimous 10-round decision.
On December 19 of the same year, Braxton faced Saad Muhammad in Atlantic City. The ex-convict was the underdog against Saad, one of the most popular fighters of his generation and a fellow Hall of Famer, but Braxton defeated him on a 10th-round technical knockout and became a world champion for the first time. It was shortly after this that he announced his conversion to Islam and changed his name.
He defended the title three times in the next 15 months, knocking out Jerry Martin, Saad Muhammad a second time and Eddie Davis. On March 18, 1983, he lost a close but unanimous decision to WBA champion Michael Spinks in a unification bout. It shall be pointed out, that Qawi became the first person to drop Spinks when Spinks went to the floor in the eighth round of that bout. It was, however, a controversial knockdown that continues to be debated: some say that Qawi actually landed a punch before Spinks hit the floor, others claim Spinks tripped on one of Qawi’s feet as Qawi hit him.
Qawi felt that making the division’s 175-pound weight limit had drained him physically, and resolved to seek another world title in the newly created cruiserweight division. Freed of the need to fight to keep his weight down, Qawi reeled off another series of wins and claimed the WBA cruiserweight title on July 7, 1985, knocking out Piet Crous in Crous’ native South Africa.
He won two more fights, including a victory over former world heavyweight titlist Leon Spinks, before accepting a challenge from up-and-coming Evander Holyfield on July 12, 1986. Their fight, in Holyfield’s hometown of Atlanta, is considered by many to be the last great 15-round battle ever contested. When the fight ended, Holyfield had taken a split decision that Qawi still believes he deserved to win.
After the loss to Holyfield, Qawi fought off and on for the next 12 years, but never regained a world title. He rematched with Holyfield in 1987 for the WBA and IBF cruiserweight titles, but was stopped in the fourth round.
After a short stint in the heavyweight ranks, where in 1988 he lost to George Foreman by knockout in seven rounds, being forced to quit from exhaustion, he tried to regain the cruiserweight title. On November 27, 1989, he dropped a split decision to Robert Daniels for Holyfield’s vacated WBA title.
Qawi retired in 1999 at the age of 46, with a career record of 41 wins, 11 losses and one draw, with 25 wins by way of knockout. Currently, he works as a boxing trainer in New Jersey.