FORMER WBC light-heavyweight and WBA cruiserweight champ Dwight Muhammad Qawi – all 5ft 7ins of him – was a terrific fighter in his day. With no amateur career, Qawi – who had been sentenced to five years in jail for robbery, learning how to box while in Rahway State Prison – made a swift march to the top. Turning pro in 1978, the Maryland native with the incredible workrate and subtle defence went 1-1-1 in his first three fights, before going on to make astonishing progress. Now the Hall of Famer has some career to look back on. Despite being in fine health, he does have his regrets, however. 

Of all the great fights you had, which one do people want to talk to you about the most today?

People talk mostly about two fights: the first fight with Evander Holyfield [l sd 15] and the fight with Michael Spinks [l ud 15]. Just the other day some people were telling me I won both of those fights [smiles]. I had problems with my nose going into the Spinks fight – I had a damaged septum. I couldn’t fight my usual fight – going in on the attack. I had to wait and box. Even a touch to my nose hurt bad. I can’t even describe the pain.

The first Holyfield bout is widely considered as the greatest cruiserweight fight ever.

There was no way I thought he could go the distance – 15 rounds. I had seen Holyfield on TV and he couldn’t even go six rounds [without struggling] with my sparring partner, Lionel Byarm. Holyfield went to hospital for two weeks after our fight – he pushed himself and his body beyond anything! I always thought there was something else going on.

By that, do you mean – as has been written a few times over the years since your fight with him – that Holyfield might have taken some illegal stimulant?

Yes, I do. Because after 15 rounds he was still jumping around [laughs]! I was dead-tired. I had that burn in my stomach, what you get from sheer fatigue. He was still jumping around like it was the first round. Then he went to hospital – I think his body went into shock. I’m very disappointed by how that fight went. It’s the biggest disappointment of my career, let me put it that way.

You were a cruiserweight by then. Were you at your absolute best as a light-heavyweight?

Yes, the second fight I had with Matthew Saad Muhammad [w rsf 6] I was at my peak. Back then, in 1982, everything was going right for me – I was unstoppable. During that time, I went to California and I ran the hills there, and let me tell you, those hills did something to me! I thank them hills! I was so disciplined then, hungry and unstoppable. If I’d stayed so disciplined I’d have been at least a three or four-time champ – not just a two-time champ.

Who gave you your nickname: ‘The Camden Buzzsaw?’

It was Phil Marder – a writer for The Camden Post at the time. It was right after my fight with Mike Rossman [w ko 7]. The next day, I read how he called me “The Camden Buzzsaw”. I was so fast and I fought like I was chopping down trees. I had great stamina too. I was a fireball. I threw a lot of punches and my punches were short; so short you couldn’t even see them!

Dwight Muhammad Qawi

You also had a very good defence.

Right. After my third fight, my trainer Wes Mouzon told me he could teach me what I needed, which was a good, tight defence. It was gonna be a tough, hard career without one! It’s about making a punch just miss you, you make it skim off – that’s the way it’s done. That way, you’re not out of position after the punch misses, and you can throw back.

Up at cruiserweight, were you as fast and powerful?

I wasn’t as fast, but at the same time, I wasn’t sluggish. My team wanted me to go up to heavyweight, but I stopped at cruiserweight first. I sparred heavyweights and I did good with them. One of my regrets is not going up to heavyweight sooner than I did, when I fought George Foreman [l rsf 7].

I wasn’t living the life by then. I was drinking and not training properly. I was beating George, but I got tired, and I knew I needed more time, and more money, for that fight. But I hurt him, and up until the end of the fight he was very conscious of my power.

Boxing politics got to me at that stage of my career. They gave me just two weeks to get ready for Foreman. Sometimes we boxers are too kind for our own good, and we get abused by the people we make money for. I was supposed to get a lot more, but I got only $35,000 for the Holyfield rematch, while he got $1m. Also, I wasn’t as dedicated by then. [Former world heavyweight champion] Jersey Joe Walcott once told me I was burning the candle at both ends! I could have been even greater if I’d maintained the discipline I had in the early ‘80s.