Buster Drayton, Philly’s Globetrotting IBF Champ!
Interview by Ken Hissner, DoghouseBoxing (Feb 9, 2009) Photo © PhillyBoxingHistory.com  
I ran into Philly’s former world IBF light middleweight champion Buster Drayton in May of 2008 at the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame dinner. At 54, he still looks like the same Buster, with that big smile of his, and dressed in a tuxedo at the head table! It was like stepping back in time. At the other end was title challenger, Stanley “Kitten” Hayward who told me he was 69 and I couldn’t believe it! I don’t know what they were drinking at that table but it must have come from the “fountain of youth.”

“I was in the Marine Corp with Leon Spinks and Roger Stafford,” said Drayton. “I had about 10 fights and turned pro in Virginia Beach in November of 1978,” he added. Ivan Cohen who was co-manager with Earl “The Pearl” Hargrove became his manager. After a draw in his debut he was unbeaten in his first 9 fights (7-0-2) before losing to Kevin “Lil Abner” Perry (5-0), in the ESPN tournament in Atlantic City in 1980. “Not to make excuses for him but he had the flu but insisted on fighting anyway,” said Cohen. “Abner had Buster in the corner and I told Buster to hit him with an uppercut,” said Cohen. “Abner hit him with an uppercut and thanked me. I stopped yelling instructions,” added Cohen.

I asked Drayton who was the toughest guy he fought. “They were all tough, but I lost to Mario Maldonado twice. I could just not beat that guy,” said Drayton. He lost in an 8 in 1981 and a SD loss in a 10 in 1983.

Drayton was a late bloomer, winning the title at 32, with a (27-9-1, 20 KO) record. He was ranked #2 while Puerto Rico’s Carlos Santos, (33-1), was #3. The vacant IBF light middleweight title would be fought in the Meadowlands Arena, in East Rutherford, New Jersey in June of 1986. Two of the judges had Drayton ahead by 4 and 5 points with the other judge voting it a draw, giving Drayton the title by majority decision! “Davey Moore stepped aside agreeing to take the winner,” said Cohen.

Drayton’s career would take him to 15 states, and 5 countries, with only 4 of his fights being in Philly (2-2). Just 16 days after winning the title, Drayton found himself on French soil in a non-title bout stopping Benito Fernandez, (14-2), in 6 rounds, in Paris.

This would set the stage for Drayton’s 2 title bouts and another non-title bout all in France in the next 9 months. Less than 3 months after winning the title, he defended against former WBA light middleweight champion, Davey Moore, (15-2), by stopping him in the 10th round in Alpes-Maritimes, France. “Moore said that no non Olympian was going to beat him,” said Cohen. “I told him I would let Buster know when its time to knock him out,” added Cohen. “I knew Moore would never adapt to Buster’s style of hitting him with those punches coming from all different angles,” said Bobby Watts. A former conqueror of Marvin Hagler and former top middleweight Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts was brought in to help out in 1984 for the Mark Kaylor fight in London. Watts had fought Kaylor in 1983. “Buster and I were friends who sparred all the time together,” said Watts. “He was a good listener, but did things his way,” added Watts.

In his 3rd fight in France, Drayton, had another non-title knockout, in 2 rounds over Mexican Juan Alonso Villa, (14-5), in Val-de-Marne. Less than a month later, Drayton would successfully defend his title stopping Moroccan born Said Skouma, (22-4), of France, in the 10th round, again in Alpes-Maritimes, France. It was his 9th straight win, all by knockout except the Santos fight. “The people voted me fighter of the year in Europe,” said Drayton. “They loved him in France,” said Cohen. Everything was looking great for Drayton, but on the horizon was a defense in another French city, this time in Montreal, Canada.

Drayton would be defending against the unbeaten 21 year old Matthew Hilton, (26-0, 20 KO), of the fighting Hilton family. ”I broke my right hand in the 3rd round. My trainer Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts asked if he wanted me to stop it,” said Drayton. “I told him no way for I knew I had a good left hand,” he added. The fight would go the15 round distance, but Drayton’s world would come tumbling down as Hilton would take Drayton’s title in June of 1987! “Hilton came in 2 pounds over at 156 and I told them it’s a non title bout,” said Cohen. “It took 4 ½ hours for him to take off 2 pounds,” he added.

Hilton would come to Atlantic City 3 months later for his first defense against a hand picked Indiana boxer with a built-up record named Jack Callahan, (23-0), who quit in his corner after 2 rounds. Drayton waiting until the end of the year for the hand to heal took a fight in Davenport, Iowa, stopping Leroy Jones in 4 rounds. It was a long way from Paris. Hilton’s next fight would be on July 29th, 1988, in a non-title bout with another built-up record boxer from New Orleans, Paul Whittaker, (22-1), whom he stopped in 4 rounds in Las Vegas. “The Hilton people would never give us a rematch so we took Jackson,” said Cohen. The following day in Atlantic City, Drayton would challenge the knockout king, Julian Jackson, (34-1, 33 KO), who held the WBA light middleweight title. “It was a slugfest while it lasted,” said Drayton. He was dropped in the 2nd and 3rd round before it was stopped.

In November Hilton would lose to Philly’s Robert “Bam Bam” Hines. Why wasn’t it Drayton who got the rematch with Hilton? Would Hines defend in an all Philly title bout with Drayton? Hines chose another in Darrin Van Horn in February losing his title, while Drayton was in a NABF title bout with future world champion “Terrible” Terry Norris, (19-2) losing a decision in Las Vegas in March. “Norris ran the whole fight and Buster never knew how to cut off the ring,” said Cohen. This would be the beginning of the end for Drayton who would never again fight for a world title.

Drayton had just turned 35 and the future looked bleak. Some 6 months later he won in Florida over Darryl Fromm (15-4). “I had just come back from Florida and was told I had a fight in Philly a week later,” said Drayton. “He had an easy fight in Florida and had an opportunity here in Philly. He looked so bad a told him he should retire and I never worked with him again,” said Cohen. He would stay inactive for 19 months.

Drayton would return on his own with a win in Canada, but another loss came in Philly. He then started a streak of 5 wins before finishing out his career against Derrick Rolon, (21-2), in Worcester, Mass, losing by decision in 12 for something called the IBF-USBA North Atlantic Middleweight title in June of 1995. “My daughter told me I never used to get hit with those kind of punches,” said Drayton. “I knew it was time to quit,” he added. It would be the end of the line for Drayton. A career that covered the globe over almost 17 years, including such far away places as South Africa, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada and France. “I was a sparring partner for Marvin Hagler for 4 years,” said Drayton. “The show in Italy was one he headlined,” he added. Overall, Drayton had won 40 fights, 28 by knockout, while losing 15, with 1 draw and 1 no contest.

Some of the notable opponents Drayton faced over the years were wins over the before mentioned Santos, Moore, Skouma, 1976 Olympian Clint Jackson and Commonwealth champion Mark Kaylor. “We were in Tennessee and Jackson was over 200 pounds but I knew Buster could still knock him out,” said Cohen. “They gave us $5,000.00 more and Buster knocked him out in 2 rounds,” Cohen added. “Kaylor was 20 pounds overweight in London. Prior to winning the title he fought future champions Lindell Holmes, the IBF super middleweight, Duane Thomas, the WBC light middleweight and Sumby Kalambay, the WBA middleweight champion. “He stopped Thomas on a Philly vs Detroit show in Atlantic City,” said Cohen. Others were James “the Heat” Kinchen (lost by 1 point) and Mark Holmes, along with before mentioned Hilton, Jackson and Norris. “Holmes came in overweight and I still think Buster won,” said Cohen.

Today Drayton has been training Cohen’s son David (9-2). Drayton may have lost that title many years ago, but he still has that smile of a champion and the many fans who throughout the world applauded him over the years!

Ken at: kenhissner@yahoo.com

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