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"I don't see any problem," the relaxed champion said on Friday in his hotel room. "He's a lot like Joe Frazier in style. I expect a lot of pressure. I have to adapt to his style. I'm just in there with a tough kid."
But Saad Muhammad did have a problem: weight. He was up and running the boardwalk early Saturday morning. At 6 a.m. a security guard let him into the room where the official weigh-in was scheduled to take place two hours later. He was six pounds over the limit of 175. At 8:20 he was down to 177. At 9:55, only five minutes before he would have had to make the weight or forfeit his title, he made it, at 174�. Braxton had weighed in at 174� and had returned to bed.
"The official scale was way off," complained Sam Solomon, Saad Muhammad's 65-year-old trainer hours before the fight. "We had one in our room that was certified and sealed and he was O.K. on that one, and on the two scales in the hotel health center. But they wouldn't let us use any of those."
A notoriously slow starter, Saad Muhammad was told to come out firing his jab to keep Braxton at bay. Because of his height disadvantage—Saad Muhammad stands 5'11"—Braxton figured to work in close, hooking the body with both hands.
In the opening round Saad Muhammad threw 44 jabs, although very few found Braxton, who did little more than test-fire the howitzers that had stopped eight of his last 10 opponents.
Then Braxton uncoiled. He doesn't try to jab at people, but through them, as though aiming for the back of the head or the spine. He delivers the jab like a battering ram, a savage jolt to the chest or a head-snapping bolt to the chin. Midway through the second round he hurt the champion with a heavy right to the head, and then rocked him again with a right uppercut near the end of the round. Another right hand riding behind a snapping jab hurt Saad Muhammad in the third. At the bell Braxton was busily working over the champion's head and body.
A savage jab had blood pouring from the champion's nose in the fourth, and he was rocked twice by right hands. By now Saad Muhammad had all but shelved his jab, which was proving useless against Braxton's well-planned assault. The champion had expected a heavy body attack; instead he was being torn apart by the jab and by right-hand rockets to the head. Saad Muhammad switched to heavier guns: He tried to load up for an overhand right, and he dropped his left as he looked for an opening for the upper-cut. All he accomplished was to leave himself open for even more right hands.
The pattern didn't change. Braxton rocked the champion in the sixth with a stunning counter-hook and wobbled him in the eighth with an overhand right that sent blood splattering two rows out. At the end of the eighth, Braxton peered at Saad Muhammad as though wondering what was keeping him erect.
His teeth bared, Braxton began the ninth by digging both hands to the champion's body; then he sent him reeling back into the ropes with a hook to the head. Moving in swiftly, the chunky challenger fired 27 punches without answer—although more than half missed—before Saad Muhammad could slip away.
The champion fought the 10th round as though he knew it would be his last. Battered early, in desperation he tried to fend off Braxton with a volley of weak jabs, only to be stung by a double jab. Digging deep within himself, Saad Muhammad found the strength for one more assault.