Dwight Braxton lies back in his king-sized hotel bed today, looking very relaxed for a man who will be defending his World Boxing Council light heavyweight title Saturday night at the Spectrum.
Matthew Saad Muhammad, who lost the title to Braxton in December, is a capable challenger. But Braxton is confident, even cocky, the Liberty Brawl will turn into The Liberty Bawl for Muhammad.
"Matthew's chances are slim to none, early (rounds) or late," Braxton said. "If he comes in early, I'll hit him. If he waits 'til the late rounds and tries to run, I'll catch him. At first, I said I wouldn't make any predictions. But the way I'm hitting and stinging and coming around, he's got to go between the third and fifth rounds."
Braxton, who defeated Muhammad by a technical knockout in the 10th round to win the title, is the favorite, not only because he is believed to be stronger than Muhammad, but also because Muhammad reportedly plans to scrap his previously successful head-hunting style for a boxer/puncher approach.
"Matthew can do both," said his trainer, Steve Traitz. "He can punch when he has to or box when he has to. You'll see someone really showing his wares tomorrow night."
Muhammad (34-4-2) did not appear for a scheduled press conference today and was not available to talk about his new style. Several people in the Braxton camp have hinted that the pressure of trying to regain the title has upset Muhammad. "There's nothing to that," Traitz said. "He's just had enough talking. It's time to do what he does best."
Braxton (17-1-1) was born in Baltimore 29 years ago, grew up in the ghettos of Camden, N.J., and spent much of his early life in reform school or jail. Having come all the way from Rahway State Prison to the light heavyweight championship in five years, Braxton refers to himself as "the prodigal son."
Muhammad, 28, was found abandoned on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, 23 years ago. He didn't know the name on his birth certificate, Maxwell Antonio Loach, until 15 months ago after spending $10,000 in search of clues. "It's a very interesting story," he said this week. "I'm planning on maybe making a movie about my life."
The movies important to Muhammad now, however, are those films that show Braxton's right jabs brutalizing him in the late rounds of the last fight.
Braxton, 5-foot-6, is often compared to Joe Frazier because his strategy is heavily dependent on inside, brute force. "The distinct difference between me and Joe, though, is that I don't take those punches," Braxton said.
But Braxton's relentless style is probably at least partly responsible for Muhammad's new up-on-the-toes, lead-with-the-left style he is expected to start with Saturday night. "The longer it goes, the better shape we're in," Traitz said. "We're ready for 15 rounds," he added.
Then, there's the weight issue from the previous fight. Muhammad said he suffered from exhaustion because he had to lose seven pounds the morning of the fight, by running the entire length of the Atlantic City, N.J., boardwalk and jumping rope in a sauna. Traitz said today that Muhammad won't have any need for any such exercise Saturday morning before the noon weigh-in.
"That man who beat me beat the shell of Matthew Saad Muhammad," the ex-champ said this week. "This time, he better be ready to face the body and mind of a fighter who wants to win the title back more than anything else in the world."
Said Braxton: "I don't care what he says. As sharp as I am, if he isn't on his edge, it could be over earlier than the third round."