ATLANTIC CITY — The city has produced two world boxing champions in Bruce Seldon and the late Leavander Johnson.
Qa’id Muhammad was supposed to be next.
Many local trainers, managers and fighters believed Muhammad would someday have a championship belt around his waist.
“He wanted to follow in their shoes,” trainer Bill Johnson, Leavander’s father and trainer, said Wednesday. “He talked about wanting to be a world champion since the day he first walked into the gym at 10 or 11 years old.”
A single gunshot ended Qa’id Muhammad’s dream.
Bill Johnson was among hundreds of people who attended Muhammad’s Janazah service Wednesday morning at the All Wars Memorial Building (Old Soldier’s Home). Muhammad, 29, was fatally shot in the torso last Wednesday outside Las Vegas, where he was living and training.
Police in Henderson, Nevada, arrested 38-year-old Ryan Small for suspicion of murder with a deadly weapon.
The news of Muhammad’s death shook the Atlantic City boxing community. His service was held just one block from the Atlantic City Police Athletic League gym, where he began boxing at age 10 under the guidance of his father, Abdur Rahim Muhammad, Bill Johnson and others.
“I looked at Qa’id as my son,” said Jean Williams, a Hall of Fame boxing judge who also helped run the PAL’s amateur boxing program. “And he looked at me as his mom. He grew up with my (grandchildren), so I had known him almost his whole life. He was always respectful and very dedicated. When he moved to Las Vegas (in 2016), he did so with the mindset that if he trained hard, he could become a champion.”
Qa’id Muhammad’s service occurred almost 13 years to the day from when Leavander Johnson was buried Sept. 30, 2005. Johnson, the former International Boxing Federation champion, died Sept. 22 of that year from injuries sustained in the ring during his fight with Jesus Chavez.
The bout was in Las Vegas.
“Qa’id definitely had the potential to be a champion,” Bill Johnson said. “But there is no straight line to the title. There’s a lot of stuff that can happen along the way, in the game and in life.”
The crowd of people who showed up to pay their respects filled the courtyard outside the All Wars Memorial Building and stretched for two blocks. Two dozen members of the Atlantic City Fire Department stood at attention while mourners filed into the auditorium for the 20-minute service.
The crowd filled the seats and lined up against the walls while members of the local Islamic community moved toward Qa’id’s casket and performed his Salat al-Janazah, an Islamic funeral prayer.
Mourners included family members, lifelong friends, and a contingent of fighters, trainers, boxers from the PAL. That group included manager Mike Brestle, manager/promoter/trainer Ray McCline, light-heavyweight prospect Gabriel Pham, trainer Arnold Robbins, former fighter Julio Sanchez, and Seldon.
Seldon, the former World Boxing Association heavyweight champion, slowly shook his head and fought back tears while watching the ceremony.
“Such a shame,” Seldon said.
Qa’id, a 2008 Atlantic City High School graduate, grew up in Atlantic City and Ventnor. He played football for the Atlantic City Dolphins of the Atlantic County Junior Football League before taking up boxing.
He rose quickly through the amateur ranks, winning a slew of national titles and earning a spot as an alternate on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team. He turned professional later that year and posted an 8-0 record as a pro with seven knockouts as a bantamweight.
He had moved to Las Vegas in 2016 to train at the Mayweather Boxing Club in hopes of jump-starting his career.
“Qa’id was one of the best to ever come out of this area, hands down,” said McCline, who is president of the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame. “He was something special.”
Before the service, McCline presented Qa’id’s father with a special championship belt from the World Boxing Council.
Afterward, Qa’id’s younger brother, Rishard (24), who is also an outstanding amateur fighter, was holding it.
“The last thing (Qa’id) told me two days before his passing was ‘You are better than me. Get back in the gym and get after it just like me,’” Rishard said. “That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going back to the gym on Monday and I’m going to turn pro. I’m going to win a world title for my brother.”