Lee Groves

10: Best fights staged in Montreal

4. Dec. 15, 2000 – Davey Hilton Jr. W 12 Dingaan Thobela, Molson Centre

Hilton's theatrical victory over Ouellet spawned a rematch six months later and the 35-year-old repeated his triumph in even more emphatic fashion by scoring a third round TKO. After outpointing Eddie Hall over 10 rounds in February 2000, a third match with Ouellet was waged seven months later and this time Hilton lost a decisive 10 round decision. More troubled loomed for Hilton outside the ring. He was scheduled to face sexual assault charges the following month and for the last two months he had been residing at a detox center to deal with his alcoholism.

In the meantime Thobela, who held WBO and WBA titles at 135 in the early 1990s, shocked many in the boxing world by capturing a major belt at 168. On September 1, 2000 in Brakpan, South Africa, Thobela stopped Glenn Catley with just seven seconds remaining in a fight he was losing on two scorecards (105-103, 108-100 while the third was 104-104). Catley's team lodged a protest after the fight that accused Thobela of fighting with loaded gloves, prompting the WBC to mandate that the winner of Thobela's first title defense must next defend against Catley.

With a voluntary defense to be made, Team Thobela opted to fight Hilton, who, despite having never fought at 168 and despite losing his most recent fight, was made the 14th rated contender by the WBC. To maximize the bout's money-making potential it was staged at the Molson Centre, where a near sellout crowd of 20,000 gathered to witness Montreal's first world title fight in 13 years.

Hilton, who wisely scaled just 160½ to Thobela's 166½, won the first two rounds with vicious body punching as well as with unexpected hand and foot speed. Two rights to the body buckled Thobela's knees in rounds two and three but the South African began to find the target with light but quick volleys.

Thobela's lightweight hand speed came to the fore in the fourth when the fight moved into close quarters. The champion's right uppercuts proved particularly effective, as well as a spring-loaded right that landed flush on Hilton's face. The unfazed challenger responded with full-blooded hooks to the ribs that helped stem the tide in the fourth and won him an otherwise nondescript fifth.

Thobela's counters reddened Hilton's face in the sixth and his superior work rate in the first two minutes offset Hilton's late rush in the seventh. Hilton switched tactics in the eighth as he got on his toes and peppered Thobela with twitchy combos and his rally got the crowd back into the fight. The ninth was particularly fierce as both men accelerated their attacks and took turns seizing the momentum. The toe-to-toe slugging in rounds 10 and 11 set the stage for a potentially compelling and decisive finish.

The 12th featured the fight's best two-way action as Hilton started strongly behind his trademark body attack while Thobela's right uppercut-right cross combo appeared to hurt the challenger later on. Hilton launched another surge just before the final minute and at the final bell one had to wonder which man had earned the right to own the belt and to face Catley, who was seated near ringside.

The decision was split. Oren Shellenberger saw Thobela a 115-113 winner while Barbara Perez viewed Hilton a lopsided 117-111 leader. The decisive vote belonged to Julie Lederman, who scored the fight 115-113 for the winner – and new – champion.

The Catley-Hilton fight never happened because Hilton was found guilty and served a little more than five years in prison before making a one-fight comeback in 2007 (W10 Adam Green).

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