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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Review of Matthew Saad Muhammad

Matthew Saad Muhammad: Boxing's Miracle Man
By William Dettloff
McFarland, 2023

Abandoned under the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia as a four year old, Matthew Saad Muhammad would rise to the heights of the boxing world as light heavyweight champion and the sport's most exciting fighter. In Matthew Saad Muhammad, William Dettloff narrates the incredible journey that took the charismatic boxer from the bottom rung of society to the top and back down again.

After he's abandoned, Matthew is adopted and given the surname Franklin because of the bridge where he was found. Understandably, he finds trouble as a young man but discovers his purpose inside a boxing ring. A slick boxer early in his career, Matthew changes course after a couple of dubious decisions don't go his way. He transforms into an all-action brawler, one who can ignore the blood streaming down his face in order to win.

After capturing the WBC light heavyweight championship from Marvin Johnson, Matthew announces that he has converted to Islam and changes his name to Matthew Saad Muhammad. An active champion, Matthew remains in the limelight for the next two-and-a-half years until he loses his title to Dwight Braxton. Matthew's career soon unravels, and he spends his remaining days as a fighter dreaming of reclaiming the title that surely will never come back to him. His years after boxing see him teetering on the edge of having his life together and everything falling apart, all while he believes he will recapture fame and fortune. His life is at once inspirational and dispiriting.

Matthew Saad Muhammad is a flawed man, and Dettloff treats him with the appropriate amount of empathy. Matthew isn't lionized nor is he demonized here, and that is one of many strengths of the book. Though his early career is perhaps glossed over too quickly, the rest of Matthew's life and career is compelling. The writing is smooth, the fights are gripping, and the reporting is fair. The only reason to put down this book is to go watch Matthew's old fights on YouTube.

Several Jews make appearances in the book. Mike Rossman is an important character throughout much of Matthew's life. Rossman isn't portrayed in a flattering light here. He comes across as entitled, his accomplishments are downplayed, and his dad doesn't believe in him. Nessim Max Cohen makes the briefest of cameos. J. Russell Peltz, the prodigious Philly promotor, was instrumental in putting together some of Matthew's early fights. Peltz's book Thirty Dollars and Cut Eye complements Detloff's book well. Many of the same names appear in both, but there isn't much overlap.

William Detloff's Matthew Saad Muhammad is highly recommended reading. Everyone who enjoys reading about boxing will appreciate it. For fans of 1970s and 1980s light heavyweights specifically, this is a must have.

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