This is an entry in an occasional series of posts looking back at the Ring Magazine Fights of the Year from 1970 to 2009.
In 1980, Matthew Saad Muhammad defended his WBC Light Heavyweight championship against Yaqui Lopez. This was their second meeting, Muhammad having defeated Lopez for the fringe NABF title 2 years prior, and Lopez’s 4th (and last) title shot at Light Heavyweight.
Muhammad would ultimately win by 14th round TKO, after knocking Lopez down 4 times in that round. I had scored the first 13 rounds 126-121 for Muhammad, which was a little wider than any of the official judges saw it.
Lopez would retire in 1984 without ever winning a major title; some say he was the best fighter ever to do so. Muhammad would successfully defend his title another 4 times before eventually losing to Dwight Muhammad Qawi. After losing the belt Muhammad’s career went into decline, ending with a 2-7-1 run between 1988 and his retirement in 1992.
There were two basic themes in this fight: Muhammad’s slight edge on the outside vs. Lopez’s slight edge on the inside, and Muhammad’s greater endurance overcoming Lopez’s early lead on the cards. Over the first half of the bout Lopez was able to control the fight and out-battle Muhammad on the inside, but the ferocious 8th round seemed to be a turning point. After that round Lopez began to seem the more tired of the two, and in my opinion the fight began to slip away from him in the 9th.
This was a tough fight between two men of unusual stamina and endurance; one is amazed at both the pace they were able to maintain and the punches that both could absorb. The ebb and flow of the fight was dramatic, as within a round the advantage would first lie with one fighter, then the other, then the first again. (The 8th round is justifiably famous on this score.)
In the end it was Lopez who was knocked out, but there were moments when Muhammad seemed equally liable to fall. As a result, this fight commands one’s attention, as its outcome feels constantly in doubt.
1: The fighters meet in the center of the right and begin to circle one another. They trade jabs, looking for range, and mix in the occasional opportunistic power shot. Muhammad gets much the better of it; his jabs seem crisper and more accurate, his defense looks cagier and better, he shows more movement, and his power shots, while sometimes wide and looping, seem more effective. Lopez looks dangerous, but clearly loses the round.
2: Muhammad seems to largely abandon the jab as he looks to land power shots. I don’t think the strategy serves him well; although he wins the bulk of this round, he seems staggered and perturbed by a solid left hook from Lopez late in the round. Lopez seems so strong in the last 30s that I award him the round, although an argument could be made either way,
3: Muhammad looks uncertain for the first two minutes of the round as Lopez seizes the initiative, driving him to the ropes and scoring well. In the last minute Muhammad seems to regain his composure and re-establish his jab, but he still loses the round.
4: A close round, in which Muhammad once again seems to often opt to trade rather than jab. I thought Muhammad’s punches were a little more effective, and his defense a little sharper, so I score the round for him. Lopez landed some excellent punches as well.
5: The initiative ebbs and flows in this round, now favoring Muhammad, now Lopez. Both fighters chase the other to the ropes at times. I think that Lopez looks relatively stronger when he is on the attack, and does a better job of fighting back when pressed, so I award him the round.
6: The round begins with Muhammad attacking Lopez, and ends with Lopez attacking Muhammad. Another close, action-packed round, which I feel Lopez wins on the basis of better punching (including two hard counter-uppercuts) and a more effective counter-attack. Most of the action is now close-in fighting.
7: Muhammad wins perhaps 2:15 of this round, while Lopez looks good for the remaining 45s (including a brief period in which he once again chases Muhammad to the ropes). Perhaps not coincidentally, the action seems to take place a slightly greater range this round. Although not in spectacular fashion, Muhammad wins this round.
8: An awesome round, as Muhammad begins by pressing the action, eventually trapping Lopez against the ropes. Lopez fights back, turning the tables on Muhammad, seemingly staggering him, and looks to have a chance at a (T)KO. Muhammad weathers the storm and re-asserts control by the end of the round. Both fighters land tremendous shots this round. Although Lopez’s best moments were better, Muhammad was more consistent, so I award him the round.
9: The pace slows, and this round looks more like the 1st as the fighters separate and trade jabs. Muhammad again shows a tricky defense, along with a strange leaping lead left hook/left uppercut that lands from time to time. Lopez lands as well, but not enough to win the round.
10: Lopez’s pace has slowed considerably, and despite landing some solid jabs, and even backing Muhammad against the ropes in the final 30s, he doesn’t come close to winning the round. Muhammad seems to be fighting at a pace and range with which he is quite comfortable.
11: A closer round, as Muhammad’s attack is less effective, and Lopez mounts an impressive counterattack for perhaps a minute. I score it very narrowly for Muhammad, as the more consistent aggressor.
12: Both fighters seem quite tired, but it’s Muhammad who’s coming forward. Lopez does seem to throw better punches, but he also seems to throw fewer of them, and in this case quantity is more important than quality.
13: Lopez comes out as the aggressor, re-establishing his jab. As the round goes on, he seems to run out of steam, and Muhammad re-asserts control. By the end of the round Lopez is absorbing considerable punishment, and seems unsteady on his feet. Muhammad does enough to salvage the round, despite a rocky start.
14: Lopez looks bad as the round begins, and Muhammad proceeds to knock him down 4 times before the fight is waved off. (The referee’s decision to allow the fight to continue after the 3rd KD is particularly questionable.) TKO14 for Muhammad.