Matthew Saad Muhammad 'Miracle Matthew': Boxer and campaigner for the homeless

Light-heavyweight known as 'Miracle Matthew' thanks to his ability to recover from bloody, heavy beatings

Nobody saw the small boy leave Maxwell Antonio Roach on the corner, nobody reported him missing and he was just five when he was found walking on the streets of Philadelphia and taken in by nuns.

The nuns gave him a new name and from that point until 1979 he was known as Matthew, after the apostle, and Franklin, after the street he was found on. In 1979, shortly after winning a world title, he converted to Islam and took the name Matthew Saad Muhammad.

Muhammad's mother died when he was an infant and he and his brother were taken in by an aunt. However, the aunt struggled to cope and the elder brother was told to go and lose the five-year-old. He did. "I tried to run and chase him, but he was too fast," said Muhammad.

His life was troubled even after the nuns rescued him; his adoption with a family in south Philadelphia failed to halt the descent and there were too many bloody nights in a street gang and then reform school before he found his way to a boxing gym. "It suddenly all started to make sense," said Muhammad.

In the ring, Muhammad quickly established a reputation for coming back when seriously hurt and this led to his odd boxing sobriquet of "Miracle Matthew". He fought his way as a pretender on the vicious Philly beat to fringe contender, often supplementing his ring earnings with gym wars that enhanced his reputation in a city of brotherly contact.

"My fights reflect my life, the way I had to come back," said Muhammad. "All I ever think of when I'm getting hit is: 'You better win this before the fight is over'." Muhammad, fighting as Franklin, kept winning – and in 1979 he finally got his chance to win the world title against former opponent Marvin Johnson; the pair had shared the ring two years earlier at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, and it had ended in the 12th round with Muhammad the winner. It had been a brutal brawl and the rematch for the WBC light-heavyweight title was even more savage.

Muhammad was cut, bleeding heavily, shaken – but somehow he came back to stop Johnson in the eighth round in a fight that set new levels of pain and resistance. "I can still feel the punches now," said Muhammad.

The first defence was against Liverpool's John Conteh and once again there was blood, guts and shattering knockdowns during an exceptional fight. Muhammad was cut so severely above his left eyebrow in round five that it looked like the fight would be stopped and Conteh crowned champion. However, in Muhammad's corner the veteran cutsman Adolph Ritacco had applied his secret coagulant, which turned out to be roasted tea leaves, to his fighter's brows – and by round nine the bleeding had stopped; a black substance was visible over the wound and George Francis, who was in Conteh's corner, had seen enough. At the end of round nine he rushed over to Ritacco, who threw a punch at the "fucking limey". In round 14, Conteh was dropped twice, but survived until the end of the 15th round, when Muhammad retained his title by a slender margin on points.

Perhaps Muhammad's finest night took place in July 1980, his fourth of eight defences, when he met Mexico's Yaqui Lopez. The eighth round, when Muhammad was hit 71 times without reply, something that no modern referee would ever allow, was ferocious. "I hate to watch my old fights," said Muhammad. "Nobody wants to celebrate that." He was wrong; it was voted the fight of the year and Muhammad came back, took control and stopped Lopez in the 14th round of an unforgettable fight in a forgotten period when too many men made heavy physical sacrifices inside the ring. He was Miracle Matthew.

"You sweat, you work hard, you spill your blood and then they take half of your money," said Muhammad. "I was abused and used by the wrong people – I thought they were my people and I was wrong." It is calculated that he made in excess of $4m during his 68-fight and 18-year career, which finally ended in 1992 with him as a tragic loser travelling to pick up small change for another beating. His riches and his health were long gone before the final round in the ring.

"I know about hurt, I know about pain and I know about surviving," Muhammad used to say whenever he was asked to speak to the homeless in Philadelphia. Muhammad, by the way, was given the Keys to the City of Philadelphia by four different mayors during his career. He needed the keys to a home, though, and in 2010 he sought shelter when he became homeless, staying four months before leaving and working with a homeless organisation. "I still feel some of those punches," he once said. Anybody that has ever watched him live or on TV will know exactly what he means. µ STEVE BUNCE

Matthew Saad Muhammad (Maxwell Antonio Loach), boxer and campaigner for the homeless: born 16 June 1954; died Philadelphia 25 May 2014.

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album