Lee Groves

10: Best fights staged in Montreal

5. Nov. 27, 1998 – Davey Hilton Jr. KO 12 Stephane Ouellet I, Molson Centre

 

 

In Canadian circles it didn't get much bigger than Stephane Ouellet vs. Davey Hilton Jr. One reason for this was the numerous cultural, stylistic, familial and behavioral contrasts. Ouellet was a slick boxer while Hilton was a hard-charging slugger. Ouellet spoke French to Hilton's English. Ouellet was in the prime of his career at age 27 while Hilton was less than two weeks away from his 35th birthday.

The tattooed, Harley-riding Ouellet nevertheless was the son of an accomplished poet and his ring sobriquet – “La Poete” – reflected that Ouellet himself was a published poet. Meanwhile, Hilton was a member of Canada's most celebrated fighting family. His father Davey Sr. won 65 of 81 fights, held Canadian titles at 126 and 154 and spawned five sons that each went into boxing. Hilton Jr. also was no stranger to long layoffs and out-of-the-ring problems. A jail term forced a 31-month layoff between 1985-1988 and for various reasons he endured hiatuses totaling 16 months, 13 months, 44 months and 13 months. Entering this match, however, Hilton had been active. Not only was this Hilton's third fight of 1998, he was fresh off a fourth round KO of Joe Stevenson just six weeks earlier.

The boxing-related stakes only added to the attraction. Ouellet, 25-1 (16), entered the fight on a 12-fight winning streak that lifted him to the number one spot in the WBC rankings. As such, Ouellet was in line for a crack at Hacine Cherifi, who surprisingly dethroned Keith Holmes six months earlier. Family honor also was at stake for Hilton, for Ouellet had scored not one, but two knockout wins over brother Alex.

All these factors coalesced into a highly attractive package. The fight generated massive media coverage, including a 15-minute pre-fight special on Canadian TV. More than 15,000 people jammed into the Molson Centre and those Canadians who couldn't see it live were able to view it on pay-per-view, or, for $5 a head to be paid to the promoter, at bars airing the ESPN 2 telecast. Curiously, the Montreal-based Hilton was greeted with boos while Jonquiere, Quebec's Ouellet was the clear crowd favorite.

The first two rounds featured a jabbing contest dominated by the taller Ouellet. In fact, Ouellet threw just one right hand in round one and of the 74 punches thrown, 69 were jabs. Hilton began to find his rhythm in the third with lead rights and, at one point, a triple left. In round four a confident Ouellet inched forward behind sharp combinations that caused Hilton's output to drop dramatically. A few moments after tasting a volley of jabs in round five, a frustrated Hilton snaked out five consecutive jabs – all of which missed.

While Ouellet's activity and superior boxing skills dominated the proceedings, Hilton was not without his successes. He was by far the more precise fighter as he regularly exceeded 50 percent accuracy and his blows were considerably more potent. In round six a rare three-punch combo by Hilton – a right-left to the ribs and a hook to the jaw – all sliced through but that was followed by a lull by Hilton and a rally by Ouellet.

Still, Ouellet's nose leaked blood by the seventh and the crimson became so heavy that his breathing was compromised for the remainder of the fight. Ouellet didn't let that stop him from carrying the eighth, ninth and 10th in a style befitting a number-one contender. Before the fight Ouellet's trainer criticized his charge's tendency to lose focus during fights and for reacting badly after getting hit but none of those flaws were evident to this point. His demeanor was calm and confident and his combination punching was impressively creative.

Hilton tried to mount a charge at the start of the 11th but Ouellet rode out the mini-storm and regained solid control of the bout. After 11 rounds the CompuBox stats reflected Ouellet's dominance as he out-threw Hilton 697-326 and out-landed him 252-173. One figure favoring Hilton was worthy of notice, however: 53 percent total accuracy to Ouellet's 36 percent. Despite being dominated statistically Hilton proved that when he threw, he hit – and hit hard.

Ouellet began the 12th by resting on his laurels but after a time-out caused by losing his mouthpiece he opted to go after Hilton, who responded in kind. Ouellet's series of clean punches appeared to portend a dream finish and the contented crowd waited for the clock to hit zero.

Hilton, however, had other ideas.

With 48 seconds left in the fight Hilton fired two jabs that set up a heavy right to the temple. That punch inflicted untold damage on Ouellet, who suddenly turned his back and walked toward the neutral corner. Seeing his man was hurt, Hilton jumped in with both fists but Ouellet managed to smother most of the fire with clinches.

Hilton broke away from one clinch just long enough to land a scorching left uppercut that left Ouellet's head dangling between the ropes. Hilton then slung two side-winding rights, one of which connected heavily on Ouellet's semi-protected head. Believing Ouellet was defenseless, referee Denis Langlois stepped in and signaled the end of the fight. Only 18 seconds remained on the clock.

The dazed Ouellet walked toward his corner without protest while Hilton wildly celebrated his miraculous come-from-way-behind victory. Clearly relishing the role of villain, Hilton provoked even more boos by raising his arms and jumping on the ropes. While Ouellet took the result rather well his seconds were outraged and the sudden stoppage was heavily criticized in the media. But no amount of protest would change the result and the fantastic finish that created it.

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