Lee Groves

10: Best fights staged in Montreal

June 27, 1987 – Matthew Hilton W 15 Buster Drayton, Forum

It had been 44 long years since a native-born Canadian had held a major boxing championship. During a tumultuous seven month period starting in January 1943, Jackie Callura of Hamilton, Ontario defeated Jackie Wilson to win the NBA featherweight title, retained it against Wilson two months later, lost three consecutive non-title fights (one by KO), won a fourth by four round knockout, then lost the belt to Phil Terranova via eighth round knockout. None of the bouts were staged in Canada and a subsequent sixth round TKO loss in December 1943 ended Callura's championship dreams for good.

Since then, outstanding fighters such as George Chuvalo, Clyde Gray and Yvon Durelle made multiple runs at world honors but each time they fell short against the likes of Muhammad Ali, Jose Napoles, Pipino Cuevas and Archie Moore, hall of famers all.

But when Matthew Hilton roared onto the world stage with knockout victories over Vito Antuofermo and Wilfred Benitez, the nation's prospects brightened considerably. Armed with a lethal left hook and a devastating body attack, Hilton captivated not only the province of Quebec but an entire country that hungered for top-shelf success. Hilton eventually vaulted into the IBF's number-one spot — and a chance to meet Drayton for his belt.

For years Drayton had been considered nothing more than a dependable journeyman. Between November 1980 and October 1983 Drayton went a dreary 9-8-1(5) but because he suffered only one KO defeat he was seen as a solid opponent who could provide excellent sparring for higher-grade boxers. One such client was middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler, who, after one session, encouraged Drayton to break away from the sparring partner circuit and get serious about his career.

After losing a decision to Fred Hutchings in October 1983 – the last fight of his personal Dark Ages – Drayton won 16 of his next 17 fights. That string began with three consecutive road upsets against Gregory Clark in South Africa (KO 2), Jimmy Cable in London (KO 1) and Mark Kaylor (KO 7) in London. Drayton's power shots took a uniquely dangerous flight path that few opponents could figure out. The only loss in the streak came against top middleweight James "The Heat" Kinchen in London and the margin of defeat was a singular point rendered by a singular man, referee Sid Nathan.

Drayton rebounded with four straight wins to set up a fight with Carlos Santos for the vacant IBF junior middleweight title, which Drayton won by majority decision. He continued to raise his profile – and his respect within the boxing industry – with 10th-round TKOs over Davey Moore and Said Skouma to retain his belt and set up the bout with Hilton, his mandatory challenger.

Even before a single punch was thrown, Drayton-Hilton was a battle of the ages because the 34-year-old Drayton was boxing's oldest reigning titleholder while the 21-year-old Hilton was attempting to become the youngest man ever to hold the 154-pound title. If successful, Hilton would also become the third youngest current titleholder. The leader in that category: Iron Mike Tyson.

Following a tense feeling-out period, Hilton swung for the fences and connected with a booming overhand right that dropped the normally iron-chinned Drayton. The Forum crowd that numbered approximately 9,000 exploded with joy but when Drayton arose and fought his way out of danger, those in the know realized the youngster was in for a long, hard slog.

“When Drayton got dropped in the early part of the fight, everyone went ‘there it is, it's over!’” Canadian boxing authority Russ Anber told Boxinginsider.com's Hans Olson. “But when he survived the first round, that's when they got a look. People who didn't know Buster Drayton, that's when they got a look at just how tough this guy was and what it was going to take to beat him.”

For the remainder of the fight Hilton, who had only gone 10 rounds three times in 26 fights, attempted to thread a difficult needle: Marshal his resources enough to last the 15-round distance if need be while also scoring enough points to keep Drayton at bay and put rounds in the bank. To achieve this, Hilton unleashed explosive bursts of power shots several times each round while resting the remainder of the time. Meanwhile, Drayton used his arms and elbows to deflect as many punches as he could, turned his head away from others and countered at every opportunity.

Between rounds nine and 10, Mickey Duff reminded Drayton that he was away from home and that a decision victory was impossible unless he picked up the pace. The pep talk apparently worked because Drayton began the session with his best combination to date – a right to the body followed by a right-left-right to the head. That salvo was followed by an even more extensive one, a 13-punch flurry capped by a jolting hook that stunned Hilton. The youngster shook off the blows to fire five rat-a-tat body shots that sounded like rifle shots but Drayton came back with yet another machine-gun burst of power punches.

The final five rounds was a genuine war of attrition. Hilton drove himself to the point of near collapse while the hard-working Drayton tried his best to take advantage but lacked the one-punch power to fully capitalize. The two men drained all remaining resources in the 15th and at the end corner men, photographers and well-wishers alike stormed the ring to congratulate the man they felt was seconds away from becoming a world titlist.

The margins were decisive – 147-138, 146-139 and 144-140 – and the winner was clear: Matthew Hilton. For the new champion it was a supreme test of stamina, courage and versatility because he had to bring out much more than the usual weaponry to achieve victory.

“I was brainwashed,” Hilton said in the March 1988 issue of KO. “Winning was all that was on my mind.”

As for Drayton, the Hilton loss was a study in determination and fortitude because he finished the fight with a pair of broken ribs.

“A true champion can admit defeat,” Drayton told KO. “It was a clean fight and I have no complaints. He deserved it.”

He did indeed.

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