SPORTS

Canada’s new lord of the ring

DAN BURKE July 13 1987
SPORTS

Canada’s new lord of the ring

DAN BURKE July 13 1987

Canada’s new lord of the ring

SPORTS

Matthew Hilton’s victory party was appropriate, if exhausting. Four days after becoming the first Canadian-born fighter in 44 years to win a world professional boxing championship, the 21-year-old Montrealer last week attended a Canada Day celebration in Hudson, Que. There, he was mobbed by hundreds of cheering fans and autograph seekers until well past midnight. The hero’s welcome—so soon after his punishing 15-round unanimous decision on June 27 over the International Boxing Federation’s junior middleweight champion, Buster Drayton—left him drained. Indeed, Hilton slept through a wakeup call the following morning and failed to appear for a scheduled interview on CTV’S Canada AM. Said Hilton later that day of his sudden popularity and the growing demands on his time: “Everything is happening so fast. The phone is ringing so much at my house that my poor mother is going crazy.” Still, Hilton says that he welcomes the attention from his newfound admirers and the nation’s media. Before Matthew’s championship, media attention had focused on the Hilton family’s problems with the law. And a Quebec commission of inquiry on boxing in the province reported in 1986 that the Hiltons were associated with Montreal organized crime figure Frank Cotroni, 56, now in jail facing a murder charge. The commission report documented Cotroni’s financial assistance to the family, including paying grocery and rent bills while four of the five sons of Dave Hilton Sr. pursued their boxing careers. Since then, Matthew’s older brothers, Dave Jr., 23, and Alex, 22— both former Canadian champions and world-ranked boxers —have served jail terms, and their once-promising boxing futures are in doubt. Dave Jr. was convicted on alcoholand weapons-related charges, and Alex is now serving his second sentence, a sixmonth term for an assault. Stewart died in a car crash last year shortly after his professional boxing debut. He was 17. Now Jimmy, 15, is training to become a boxer.

Despite his brothers’ problems, Matthew has never wavered from his goal of winning a world title. In fact, he has not lost a bout. Trained and managed by his father—a former Canadian featherweight and junior middleweight champion—Matthew recorded 106 consecutive victories as an amateur and

has won all 27 matches since turning pro four years ago. But Hilton has failed to receive the national exposure and acclaim accorded former Olympic boxing medal winners Shawn O’Sullivan and Willie DeWit, whose professional careers have foundered. Hilton— who, like his brothers, did not attend high school—told Maclean's: “With all that has happened to us outside of box-

ing, I don’t think Canada realized I was a potential champion. Now everyone knows I am one of the best.”

Still, his title—two other boxing organizations also boast their own champions—did not come easily. Hilton knocked Drayton down in the first round of their fight, but the 33-yearold former champion recovered and battled Hilton until the final bell before a fiercely partisan crowd of 12,000 at the Montreal Forum. As a result, Hilton soaked in an epsom-salt bath after the fight to ease his aches. But the agonies of victory hardly diminished his satisfaction in accomplishing

what no Canadian has done since Jackie Callura of Hamilton won the National Boxing Association featherweight title in 1943.

Hilton is now poised to expand his growing popularity beyond Canada. His boyish good looks and pleasant demeanor outside the ring, combined with his devastating boxing style inside it, make him highly marketable.

Indeed, the Drayton match was the second of his fights carried by a U.S. TV network. Said David Downs, director of programming for ABC sports: “We were very pleased with the show he put on. Matthew has the potential to grow a lot bigger.”

But Hilton’s future matches may not be held on his home turf. Earlier this year his father signed an exclusive contract for as long as Matthew is champion with controversial U.S. boxing impresario Don King, who has been banned from promoting fights in the city by the Montreal Athletic Commission. The ban followed the 1985 Quebec inquiry’s discovery that King’s purses to the Hiltons under a previous contract were often far below a negotiated guarantee of $50,000 per fight. But, said Matthew, “I’m going to fight like anyQ thing to be able to fight in Montreal.”

The new champion, who received $100,000 for his title fight, says that he simply intends to continue concentrating on boxing. For him, boxing is more than a livelihood; it is a way of life. Said Hilton: “It is a challenge that brings out a lot in a person. It takes a lot of heart just to get into the ring.” Added Hilton, who remembers growing up in cramped trailers and motel rooms where his mother, Jean, cooked meals on a hotplate: “Now, I just want to make enough money for my family to live comfortably. I figure we have paid the price.”

— DAN BURKE in Montreal