Decades have passed since the golden era of the light heavyweights of the late 1970s and early 1980s when Saad Muhammad was surviving brutal knockdowns, grotesque blows to the face and come-from-behind victories, one after the other.

It was a magical time for the light heavyweights.

Muhammad (formerly Matthew Franklin) wasn’t the only 175-pounder that shined in that period.  From Brooklyn came Eddie Mustafa Muhammad (formerly Gregory), Indianapolis brought Marvin Johnson, and from New Jersey came Dwight Muhammad Qawi (formerly Braxton) and Mike Rossman. England’s John Conteh and Argentina’s Victor Galindez made up the international contingent.

Those were just the champions.

Just below them were Yaqui Lopez, James Scott, Jerry “The Bull” Martin, Jesse Burnett, Renaldo Snipes, Mate Parlov and Eddie Davis.

Up and down the light heavyweight division you had warriors.

The wars between Philadelphia’s Saad Muhammad and California’s Lopez alone would make most casual observers wince. They literally exposed their souls to nationwide audiences in their two bloody and merciless battles.

But every good thing must end, and when Qawi lost to Michael Spinks in 1983, that fight capped a magnificent era.

“They were some pretty good fighters,” said Art “Handsome Slim” Carrillo a former middleweight who fought light heavyweights too. “That Saad Muhammad was in war after war.”

Here we are 25 years later with a new Wild Bunch that includes Antonio Tarver, Clinton Woods, Chad Dawson and Glen Johnson. All four will be engaging in a light heavyweight showdown on Saturday April 12 from St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida. The battles will be televised on Showtime.

“I believe we have the four best light heavyweights in the world,” said Shaw during a telephone conference call.

Of course, that’s ignoring Joe Calzaghe’s clash with Ring light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins on April 19 in Las Vegas.

This could be the second dawn for light heavyweights. They’re back.

It was southpaw boxer-puncher Tarver who ended the one-man dominance of the division with a single blow in 2004. That overhand left kayoed not only Roy Jones Jr., but also the unbeaten record that many truly felt wouldn’t be blemished.

Not only did Tarver beat him once, but also a second win happened in 2005. After that consecutive win over Jones, the long-necked Tarver was adorned the true and rightful owner to the light heavyweight crown.

Then he stumbled.

Jamaica’s Johnson with his wrinkled baldhead and no-nonsense fighting style out-slugged Tarver at the Staple Center in Los Angeles. That fight typified the current state of the light heavyweight division.

Tarver won the rematch, but has been unable to secure Napoleonic-like dominance with usurpers like Johnson, Hopkins and others ready to spoil his coronation party.

That bald noggin of Tarver (26-4, 19 KOs) refuses to submit to the punches of younger boxers though Hollywood did snatch him away briefly for the Rocky film in 2005.

Age has not proven to be a detriment to his fighting or talking skills. IBO titleholder Tarver meets Great Britain’s Woods who holds the IBF title.

“The bottom line is I know I’m the best and I’m going to prove that,” said Tarver, 39, a Florida resident. “I told the world I wanted to become undisputed champion.”

Woods, 35, who comes from Sheffield, hasn’t fought in the U.S. since losing by technical knockout to Jones in 2002. But he’s racked up victories over Julio Gonzalez, Rico Hoye and Glen Johnson who is also on the card.

“It’s probably the biggest fight of my career,” said Woods (41-3-1, 24 KOs). “I’ve been champion for three years now.”

The winner between Tarver and Woods will fight the winner between WBC titleholder Dawson and former world champion Johnson.

“On Saturday it will go down as my greatest victory,” Woods said if he wins. “It’s a massive event for me.”

The Chad vs. Johnson

The sleek 25-year-old southpaw Dawson has jabbed his way to the title with a smooth efficient boxing style similar to a machine. He fires a lot of punches and seems effortless in doing so.

Now he meets the in-your-face style of Jamaica’s Johnson.

“I don’t really see a weakness,” said Dawson (25-0, 17 KOs) of his challenger. “I definitely expect him to be aggressive like’s he’s been in previous fights.”

Johnson, 39, who’s as rugged as they come, began his pro career as a middleweight and lost his first world title bid against Bernard Hopkins. No shame in that. Then Johnson captured the light heavyweight title by defeating Woods for the IBF title in 2004 and defending it successfully against Roy Jones Jr. and Tarver in the same year. He lost it to Tarver in a 2005 rematch.

Known as “the Road Warrior”, Johnson doesn’t cry or whine about anything. But most opponents seem to beg out when contracted to fight him.

“Chad is a great fighter and I definitely have respect for him,” said Johnson (47-11-2, 32 KOs) one of the great gentlemen of the sport. “I really don’t have any tactics. I love to let it (the fight) develop.”

Dawson captured the WBC title from Poland’s Tomasz Adamek a year ago with a skillful display of the right-handed jab. He has defended it twice. But this time he faces a former world champion who loves to attack the body. Johnson knocked the speed right out of Jones in 2004 who still suffered the effects of moving to heavyweight and dropping back down.

With respect to Hopkins and Joe Calzaghe, who fight each other on April 19, the four light heavyweights in the Florida tournament are among the best half dozen in the division.

“I’m just fortunate enough to be a young guy in the top 10 with these guys,” said Dawson. “Antonio Tarver has had a great career. Glen Johnson had a great career. Roy Jones Jr. has had a great career. I’m just honored to be mentioned among those names.”

Veterans of the boxing game and long-time fans agree that the 175-pound division is in the best shape in 30 years.

“Every time you turned on the TV they were showing one of the light heavyweights. And they weren’t just sluggers they had skill too,” said Carrillo of the 70s and 80s light heavies.

It’s going to seem like watching a rerun of Muhammad and Qawi this Saturday.

“Its’ pretty exciting stuff,” says Shaw.

Fights on television

Fri. Telefutura, 8 p.m., Jesus Soto Karass (19-3-3) vs. Chris Smith (21-4-1).

Fri. Showtime, 11 p.m., Josesito Lopez (22-2) vs. Edgar Santana (23-3).

Sat. HBO, 7 p.m., Miguel Cotto (31-0) vs. Alfonso Gomez (18-3-2); Kermit Cintron (29-1) vs. Antonio Margarito (35-5).

Sat. Showtime, 9 p.m., Chad Dawson (25-0) vs. Glen Johnson (47-11-2); Clinton Woods (41-3-1) vs. Antonio Tarver (26-4).

Sat. Showtime, 9 p.m., Chad Dawson (25-0) vs. Glen Johnson (47-11-2); Clinton Woods (41-3-1) vs. Antonio Tarver (26-4).