IT’S THE NIGHT of the Knock Out Homelessness benefit at Chickie’s & Pete’s, and Matthew Saad Muhammad is doing his best to play host to the $75-a-person donors.
The turnout is large, full of old fight fans, a tribute to the champ from those who still remember his ring wars. When I see Saad, he gives me a powerful handshake and a hug.
“Welcome, my friend,” he says.
I hear him say it to others, too. He seems to mean it each time. He’s around people again. It’s been a while. He was somebody once.
As the night wears on, though, exhaustion seems to catch up with him. He’s been dealing with people from his deep past and with family members he didn’t expect to see. The glad-handing, the photos snapped with fists up, the small talk with special guests Darren Daulton and Joe Frazier—it’s all beating him down.
Most taxing of all, he’s been forced to play rounds of Wii Boxing, the hyper-realistic- video game in which you trade big punches with your opponent on a big screen. The games leave Saad sweating and fatigued.
Near the end of the evening, I spot the ex-champ wandering alone at the edges of the crowd. He’s smiling, but his head is down, and he’s staying on the move. He’s not looking anyone in the eye, ducking interactions where he can, searching for a quiet place to be, hoping, above all else, to avoid contact.