There are better known and more heralded trainers than Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, but few can get more out of their fighters' abilities than he does.
Muhammad, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., has a well-deserved reputation as being able to get his boxers to fight at a higher level. Whether he's working with an obscure preliminary fighter on a club card or training a veteran who's headlining a nationally televised card, he motivates his boxers with a hard-nosed, no-nonsense style.
Muhammad is a former WBA light heavyweight champion. He stopped Marvin Johnson in the 11th round in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1980 to capture the WBA 175-pound championship.
Then known as Eddie Gregory before he changed his name, Muhammad defended his title twice -- he stopped Jerry Martin in the 10th round in McAfee, N.J., and Rudy Koopmans in the third round at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, both in 1980.
Muhammad lost the championship on a 15-round unanimous decision to Michael Spinks in 1981 at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas. He retired from boxing in 1988 with a record of 50-8-1, took a couple of years off and started training fighters when he moved to Las Vegas in 1990.
He has worked with a number of world champions, including James Toney, Iran Barkley, Michael Bentt and Johnny Tapia. He currently trains WBO super featherweight champion Joan Guzman and WBC light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson.
Dawson defends his title Saturday on April 12 in Tampa, Fla., against former champion Glen Johnson.
Muhammad, who has trained Dawson for about six months, said he improved Dawson by working on his balance.
"His balance wasn't that good," Muhammad said. "All great fighters -- [Muhammad] Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson -- have great balance. They all started with balance. I wanted him to move on his toes and I showed him how to do it."
Barkley was the first well-known fighter Muhammad worked with. Muhammad took over Barkley's corner in 1991 after Barkley had lost successive fights to Roberto Duran, Michael Nunn and Nigel Benn, with his only win to break the losing streak coming in a "get well" bout over an opponent with a 3-10 record.
"I got Iran when they said he was through," Muhammad said. "I got into Iran's head so hard. I said, 'If you listen to me, I'll make you a three-time world champion and a millionaire.' He looked at me like I lost my mind. His life was so low. He had a detached retina that he had fixed he was flat broke. But he listened to me."
Muhammad's counsel worked; after taking an eighth-round technical decision over Jesus Castaneda, Barkley won the IBF super middleweight crown by stopping Darin Van Horn in the second round at the Paramount Theater in New York.
In his next fight, Barkley became the only fighter to defeat Thomas Hearns twice with a narrow 15-round decision at the Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion in 1992 to capture the WBA 175-pound title.
Against Hearns, Barkley was like a man possessed under Muhammad's motivation. Barkley looked like he was ready to take on six opponents and simply would not be denied. It's hard to remember ever seeing a fighter more psyched up.
Barkley hugged Muhammad in the ring after the fight. "I fulfilled my promise to him," Muhammad said.
How does Muhammad get his fighters fired up to overachieve so consistently?
"I let them know the old saying: You will be remembered for your last fight. That gets them steamed up," Muhammad said. "They want to go out and put a hurt on these guys."
Muhammad helped engineer another upset when he trained Michael Bentt to a first-round knockout over Tommy Morrison in 1993 in Tulsa, Okla., as an example of this.
Bentt's shocking upset victory cost Morrison a showdown with WBC heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and a multimillion-dollar payday. Muhammad made Bentt wear 20-ounce gloves in training.
"I did that so his hands would be much quicker when he put on regular gloves," Muhammad explained. "'Bentt told me, 'These gloves are like lead.' We worked three months on how to beat Morrison."
Muhammad had friendly wagers with some Las Vegas boxing figures that, when Bentt was through with Morrison, the Lewis-Morrison fight would never happen. It did, but stood as an example one of the worst scheduling mistakes in boxing history.
Muhammad said he took junior welterweight Ricky Meyers, whom he described as an average club fighter, to a No. 5 world rating in 1993 before Meyers' management took a fight against Zack Padilla, which Muhammad didn't want Meyers to take. Padilla stopped Meyers after the sixth round.
"That blew [Meyers'] chances of ever winning a title," Muhammad lamented. "We were moving in the right direction."
Muhammad's knack for getting the most out of his fighters has grabbed the attention of boxing insiders, as well. Top Rank matchmaker Bruce Trampler, DiBella Entertainment matchmaker Carl Moretti and Bob Goodman, vice president of boxing operations for Don King Productions, all agree that Muhammad's training makes his fighters raise their game to a higher level.
"Eddie had a very strong background as a fighter," Trampler said. "He was a world champion and he had a good amateur background; he had a tremendous background to become a trainer."
Trampler says that one of Muhammad's assets is the fact that he paid his dues as a fighter, which, in turn, serves as inspiration to the fighters he works it.
"Not all guys can teach what they have learned or pass on their knowledge; Eddie can," Trampler said. "Most of his students or proteges know he was a world champion and respect that. The fact that he can pass on what he has learned over the years separates him from others who haven't done that."
But being a world-class fighter doesn't necessarily mean you'll have the goods to train.
"I've known Eddie since he was Eddie 'The Flame' Gregory," Goodman said. "Great fighters don't always make great trainers, but there are exceptions to the rule, and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad is certainly one of them. He really pushes his fighters to get the most out of them. It is a trust factor that you have to have with your fighter. The fighters know they can trust Eddie."
Despite his proven success, the consensus is that when it comes to well-known trainers, Muhammad is, as Moretti says, "flying under the radar."
"I'm surprised that Muhammad doesn't get more chances to [work with more] major fighters," Moretti said. "If you have Eddie Mustafa Muhammad as your opponent's trainer, you have your hands full. You know they are going to be in shape and have a specific game plan. He gets the best out of his fighters. If he has time to spend with his fighter, they will be tough to beat even if they are not that talented."
In the past five years, Muhammad has split his time training with organizing his boxers' union -- Joint Association of Boxers (JAB), which is affiliated with the Teamsters Union.
Muhammad said he is still in the process of organizing JAB and has signed up more than 2,000 fighters.
"Every organization has a union except the fighters," he said. "This is my legacy, the union. When they can no longer fight and no longer hear the roar of the crowd, the fighters will still have their medical and health benefits.
But it doesn't end there.
"That's just the tip of the iceberg. We will send them to school to learn a trade, a craft so they can keep up with society and not stay in the fight game way past their due. This is something they need. They get a pension when they can no longer perform. I have done something I am very proud of."
It's something that boxing can be proud of, as well.
Royce Feour was the boxing writer for 37 years at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.