Matthew Hilton of the Fighting Hilton’s First World Champion! - Interview Ken Hissner (March 16, 2010) Doghouse Boxing
After an outstanding 106-0 amateur record winning the under 19 Canadian championship Matthew Hilton turned professional at the age of 17 in 1983. He would stop 8 of his 10 foes that year stopping Eddie Hollett, 4-1, in the 5th of a 10 rounder in December. His father, Davey Hilton, Sr., 67-16 (49) was a former Canadian Featherweight champion while brothers Davey, Jr., then 13-0 and Alex, then 6-0, were on the same card when he turned professional at the Paul Sauve Arena, in Montreal, Canada on January 25th. Henry Spitzer was the promoter in the beginning.
It would be 4 months before scoring a 1st round knockout followed by another technical stoppage over Nino Gonzalez, 29-5-1, who had gone the distance with Roberto Duran. Hilton was 11-0 (9), when I met him on June 20th, 1984, along with his brothers Davey, Alex and father. It was on one of my visits to the home of Cus D’Amato, one of the sharpest minds ever in boxing. The father always wanted D’Amato to train him so he had his sons up at the house that summer. “I couldn’t adapt to that peek-a-boo style. Cus was great but the style was not for me,” said Hilton. I myself always wondered how they got any power out of it, but Tyson certainly did.
Hilton ended 1984 with a stoppage of Bill Bradley, 22-6, and opened 1985 with a 10 round win over Francisco DeJesus, 20-0, the South American champion for his 16th straight win. The Hilton brothers were grossing over a million dollars at the gate in Montreal, but things were about to change. The father promised Don King he would let him promote his sons someday. King’s first show with both Matthew and Alex on it was in Buffalo in April of 1985. Tony Tubbs fought Greg Page in the main event with Camacho, “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon and “Bonecrusher” Smith on the card. Though his opponent Roberto Hernandez, 5-8-2, had a losing record, he had recently gone the distance with Philly’s Earl “The Pearl” Hargrove, then 25-1 (25). Hilton came in at his lowest career weight of 145 stopping his opponent in the 9th round. After another easy win in Miami, it was back to Montreal for Hilton.
On his return to Montreal Hilton’s opponent was the former WBC/WBA champion Vito Antuofermo, 50-6-2, in October of 1985. “He was the strongest fighter I ever fought,” said Hilton. It would be Antuofermo’s last fight after retiring in the corner at the end of the 4th. He had won 4 straight since losing the rematch with Marvin Hagler. In February of 1986 Hilton defeated another former world champion in Wilfred Benitez, 49-4-1, the former WBC 147 and 154 pound champion that Jim Jacobs had once managed. Once again before the Montreal crowd he stopped his opponent with a 9th round knockout. The rest of the year King had him back in the US defeating 5 ordinary opponents.
In April of 1987 Hilton was matched with Muhammad Eltassi, 9-0, of Jordan, fighting out of Winnipeg, who had just defeated Jimmy Ellis, Jr. over 10 rounds. Eltassi suffered a deep cut over the eye leading to the stoppage in the 2nd round. At 162 this was more or less the warm-up fight in less than 2 months for the IBF light middleweight title held by Philly’s Buster Drayton in June in the Forum in Montreal. Hilton’s father said “I preferred he waited”. Hilton was 21 years old and entered the ring in his usual Scottish trunks like an untamed Mustang ready to do whatever it took to not leave the ring without the title.
After defeating Carlos Santos, 33-1, for the title, Drayton won 4 straight in France, including 2 title defenses. This defense would be before many French Canadians but quite different in atmosphere. “Don King was put under house arrest at the airport in Montreal for lying about being a felon. He went back to the US. Hilton came in at 156 and I told them this wasn’t a non-title fight. It took him 4 ½ hours to take off the 2 pounds,” said Ivan Cohen. He was Drayton’s manager. “I told him not to mix it with Hilton so he went out there and did a shoe shine and got dropped in the 1st round,” said Cohen. “I broke my right hand in the 3rd round and my trainer Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts asked if I wanted to quit. I was able to go the distance mostly using my left hand,” said Drayton. Hilton was 27-0 and reached his dream of becoming a world champion at age 21. “My heart was never in it after that. I had accomplished my goal of becoming champion,” said Hilton.
It was back to the US in October for a title defense against Jack Callahan, 23-0, in Atlantic City, under the Mike Tyson-Tyrell Biggs championship bout. The overmatched Callahan didn’t come out of his corner after the 2nd round. It would be almost 10 months before fighting again, and that a non-title bout halting Paul Whittaker, 22-1, in the 4th round in Las Vegas raising his record to 29-0. He was 163 for this fight and would have to wait until near the end of the year which was almost a year since his last defense before fighting Robert “Bam Bam” Hines, 23-1-1, of Philly, in Las Vegas. Tommy Hearns and Michael Nunn were also in title bouts on this card.
“I hadn’t fought many southpaws,” said Hilton. Hines would win the 12 round decision ending Hilton’s unbeaten streak in his 30th fight. Hines people signed to meet Darrin Van Horn with the promise from Top Rank they would get a 5 fight deal including with Italy’s Gianfranco Rosi. Hines injured his hand in the 1st round and lost to Van Horn who would lose to Rosi.
It would be 11 months before Hilton would return to the ring defeating Tim Williams 16-10-1, in the 10th and final round in Las Vegas. He would stay at 160 and fight Fermin Chirino, 11-4-1, of Venezuela to a draw 2 months later in Atlantic City. “There’s no way guys like him should have been going a draw with me,” said Hilton. This set up an inaugural WBO middleweight title bout between Hilton and Iran Barkley. When Barkley pulled out Doug DeWitt, 31-6-4, was brought in. They had sparred in New York prior to this. This was on the Foreman-Cooney undercard in Atlantic City’s Convention Hall. In a close fight through 10 rounds Hilton had bad swelling around both eyes so his father stopped it in the 11th. This was January of 1990 and the last time Hilton would fight in the US.
Hilton would return to Canada, but never fight in Montreal again. He defeated Knox Brown, 38-21-2, having him on the canvas in the 3rd but had to settle for a 10 round decision win in Edmonton. It would be 16 months before defeating Clarence White, 15-3, in Quebec, over 10 rounds. After another 15 months of inactivity he would have his final bout in Halifax losing to the former Canadian middleweight champion Darrell Flint, 10-6-1, in a super middleweight match over 10 rounds. His final record was 32-3-2 with 24 knockouts.
His father is now 69. His brother Davey won the WBC super middleweight title in 2000 at the age of 37. “In the New York gyms they would say Davey fought like a black guy”, said Hilton. His older brother had all the moves, but it was the young Hilton who won the title at 21 while older Alex achieved winning the Canadian middleweight title. His brother Stewart died in a car accident at 17. He has another brother Jimmy and a sister. “I met Marvin Hagler 2 years ago. He sent his driver over for me. He was a real nice guy,” said Hilton.
One has to wonder if they didn’t sign with Don King what would have happened to them. Today in Montreal the influx of Romanian and Haitian boxers winning world titles the fans show their appreciation in numbers. There may never be another family like the Hilton’s to come out of Canada who were born there and not imported. Matt Hilton will always be remembered for those Scottish trunks he would wear into the ring and like a real Scotsman he would come to war with you. There I was in the gym at Catskill with Mike Tyson just 6 days from turning 18 and not yet a professional and Matthew Hilton at 18 with a 12-0 record. Tyson was just over 2 years away from winning the world heavyweight title and Hilton almost 3 years to the day from winning the light middleweight title. One man brought them together that day in June, Cus D’Amato!