MARCH 28, 1983
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� 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�", Qawi wore down opponents with powerful uppercuts and bone-jarring hooks. But after he surrendered the cruiserweight title to a 23-year-old Evander Holy-field 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."