DWIGHT BRAXTON, who changed his legal name to DWIGHT MUHAMMED QAWI after winning the WBC Light Heavyweight Title in December of 1981, was also a world champion at the Cruiserwight class. He fought against many notable fighters, includiung Mike "The Jewish Bomber" Rossman, Matthew Saad Muhammed, Leon Spinks, Evander Holyfield, and George Foreman.
only Dwight Qawi could have dealt with his problems outside of the ring
the way dealt with his challenges inside the ring, there's no telling
the impact he could have had in the light heavyweight and cruiserweight
divisions. Because of substance abuse, Qawi unraveled towards the end of
Camden Courier-Post - Sunday June 15, 2003
Camden boxer hurdles stormy career, and battle with drugs, booze
By DON BENEVENTO, Courier-Post Staff
There was a time when Dwight Muhammad Qawi was considered one of the meanest, hardest hitting, most determined, straight-ahead boxers ever to enter the ring.
"He was a brawler more than anything else," said Qawi's longtime trainer Wesley Mouzon. "He wasn't really a boxer, because he was too short. They said he was 5-foot-7, but he was really 5-6 1/2. But what he did was, he'd put a lot of pressure on you. He'd always have you backing up. He had a heck of a lot of success at what he did."
All Qawi did was win and defend world championships in two weight classes, the 175-pound World Boxing Council Light Heavyweight crown and the 190-pound World Boxing Association Cruiserweight title.
He did so while fighting some of the best known boxers of the 1980s, including Evander Holyfield, George Foreman, the Spinks brothers - Michael and Leon - and his local rival, former WBA light-heavyweight champion Mike Rossman, known then as Turnersville's "Jewish Bomber."
Carrying his own nickname, "The Camden Buzzsaw," Qawi compiled a record of 41-11-1 with 25 knockouts.
Talk to the 50-year-old Qawi today, however, and he will tell you his biggest victory came over a battle with drugs and alcohol. For the past five years, he's been working as a counselor at The Lighthouse, a rehabilitation center located in Mays Landing where he is now trying to help others who face similar problems he had.
He no longer wants to be known as a brawler or a boxer. He is proud of his years in the ring, but he said times have changed.
"That was all in the past," he said. "This isn't 1981. Now I'm a nice guy."
At The Lighthouse, Qawi works with adults and teenagers who are battling their own demons. His supervisors say he has a unique ability to connect with troubled people.
"He pours his heart and soul into his work," said Janet Ricci, the director of adult and patient services at The Lighthouse. "He's a very strong patient advocate. He uses his own life experiences to reach out to addicts and empower them to lead productive lives."
Jude Lackman, who works with adolescents at The Lighthouse, said that Qawi also has the ability to reach out to the younger patients as well as he does with adults.
"He's invaluable in so many ways," she said. "He works physically, culturally and emotionally to broaden the scope of the program for the children. We have kids here who have big problems, but Dwight has taken the time to make a real commitment to their personal growth, which is the cornerstone of our field."
Life has never been easy for Qawi, who began his career under his given name, Dwight Braxton. He admits to getting into trouble as a youngster and spent time in prison before he began his career as a boxer by fighting Leonard Langley to a draw on April 19, 1978 in Washington, D.C.
"I got caught up in my foolishness and I had to face the consequences," said Qawi. "One day I said to myself I had to stop the foolishness. I just woke up."
Qawi recalled that boxing was not his first choice when it came to turning around his life.
"I had an A, B and C plan and boxing was my C-plan," he said, noting that he was encouraged at the time by friend, Ike Hamilton.
"Ike Hamilton was the first one to say, `this guy can box.' So they put me in the gym and I sparred with some of the great middleweights around here like Bennie Briscoe, Bobby Watts and Willie Monroe. I worked hard and I did pretty good against them, and that was how I got started. I think I'm one of the only boxers to win a championship without having an amateur career."
But Qawi did not get off to a great start to his professional career. After three fights, his record was 1-1-1. He was not discouraged, however, and he then went on a streak of 18 straight victories, including the one over Rossman. In one of his first big fights, Qawi stopped Rossman in seven rounds on May 31, 1981 in Atlantic City.
"The night he fought Rossman, he came off the stool and went right after him from the first minute," said boxing historian Ralph Citro, who was working in Rossman's corner as a cutman that night. "He had very fast hands and he was a good technician. Along with Joe Walcott, he was one of the better boxers to come out of this area."
The victory over Rossman helped set up Qawi's first title fight, which came on Dec. 19, 1981 when he defeated local legend Matthew Saad Muhammad with a 10th-round TKO in Atlantic City to win the WBC Light Heavyweight Title.
Pitfalls of celebrity
With his title in hand, Qawi suddenly found that he was a celebrity. As much as he enjoyed the attention, it also set him off on a bad course that eventually would lead to a life that was dominated by drinking.
"When I was on top, I used to drink to celebrate," he said. "Then later, I would drink to get over the pain of the losses."
Qawi also underwent some other problems. He and his wife divorced, and he ran into some financial difficulties as well. But it was during this time that Qawi also engaged in one of his most memorable fights.
On Aug. 7, 1982, he successfully defended his WBC Light Heavyweight Title with a six-round TKO over Saad Muhammad in the Spectrum, but he sustained his first significant loss when he turned the title over to Michael Spinks by losing a 15-round decision on March 18, 1983.
Qawi said he was injured when he fought Spinks. He had a broken nose and a deviated septum, a fact that was disclosed in an article in Sports Illustrated, which he felt that gave Spinks an edge in the fight.
"I was conscious of getting hit in the nose the whole time," Qawi said. "I couldn't fight like I normally do. I was hesitant. I would have fought better if I had time to heal, but there was a lot of money involved and I didn't want to put off the fight."
It would be another two-plus years before Qawi would get another title shot. But he made the most of if by defeating Piet Crous on July 27, 1985 in Sun City, South Africa to win the newly created WBA Cruiserweight Title.
He defended that crown on March 22, 1986 with a sixth-round TKO over Leon Spinks in Reno, Nev., and then he engaged in the first of two memorable bouts with the up-and-coming Holyfield.
The two met for the cruiserweight title on July 12, 1986 in Holyfield's hometown of Atlanta. At the time, Holyfield had only taken part in 10 professional fights, but he was an Olympic champion and Qawi felt that the fight was won on reputation more than what happened in the ring. Qawi lost a split decision that still annoys Mouzon.
"It was a very good fight," the ex-trainer said. "I thought Dwight won it, but they didn't give it to him. It was a tough loss."
On Dec. 5, 1987 Holyfield came to Atlantic City to face Qawi in a rematch. This time, Holyfield scored a fourth-round knockout. By then, Qawi said he could feel his life slipping out of control.
"I was under a lot of stress," he said. "I never knew it would get that bad. I was on a spiral going downhill. I didn't want to drink like I was, but it was part of the addiction."
He next tried to move up to the heavyweight division, and he met Foreman on March 19, 1988 in Las Vegas. But it proved to be a mistake.
"I wasn't ready to fight," Qawi said. "By then I was drinking heavily. I was buying a fifth of whiskey a day. Sometimes I would pour some of it out, but I was drinking a lot."
Foreman stopped Qawi in the seventh round, and Qawi admitted that he did not fight his best.
"By then, I was thinking crazy," he said. "I wasn't thinking strategically. I wasn't doing what I had to do to win."
Qawi would fight for the world title only one more time. He lost a 12-round decision to Robert Daniels on Nov. 27, 1989 in Nogent, France. He tried to work his way back up in the rankings over the next couple years, but his lifestyle began to take its toll.
He retired from the ring in 1992 to become a boxing consultant, but then - as many boxers will - he returned to the ring to fight a couple of more times, never reaching the heights of the early part of his career. In his final bout, he lost an eight-round decision to Tony LoRosa on Nov. 25, 1998.
"It was difficult to let boxing go," he said. "It was like another addiction. I guess you can say I stayed past my dream."
It was at that point that Qawi knew he had to do something that would not only save his own life, but possibly save someone elses.
Qawi joined the staff at The Lighthouse soon after the conclusion of his boxing career in 1998. He came aboard as one who knew first-hand of the effort it takes to overcome addictions to drugs and alcohol,
"The compulsion, the addiction is so powerful," he said, "that life becomes unnatural."
Qawi credits his recovery to a rebirth in his own spirituality.
"This was one fight where I had to surrender in order to win," he said. "I believe God led me to my recovery. He made me realize I didn't have to have a million to feel like a million."
Now he tries to send that message to others who need help.
The father of two sons, Thomas, 17, and Dwight, 19, Qawi now spends most of his time with his family and working with those who need help at The Lighthouse.
He has become, as he said, a nice guy, and something more.
"He's turned his focus from a physical to a mental to a spiritual one," Lackman said. "I can't say enough about what he has meant to us as a person."
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