Canadian legend and former IBF 154 pound champ Matthew Hilton should, in the opinion of many, have become a great. Hilton fell short yet today the 53 year old says he is, and always will be, content due to the fact that he achieved his “lifelong dream,” of becoming a world champion.
“I wanted it so much I would have fought for free,” Matthew, who exited with a fine 32-3-2(24) record in 1993, tells ESB when looking back today:
Q: You went pro in January of 1983 and pretty soon you were known as an exciting fighter with a big punch. You come from a family of fighters of course?
Matthew Hilton: “Yes, I would spar my brothers in the gym all the time. We would really have gym wars. I’m just a warrior, I was, and I just wanted to fight. Back in the day, there was a fight card every month. I would fight four-round fights, then six rounds, and then ten.”
Q: Was there a rivalry between you and your brothers, to see who was the best, the toughest?
M.H: “To be honest with you, no. I was a big fan of my brothers, I really was. So there wasn’t really any of that competition, that competitive level, no.”
Q: Who was the toughest fighter you met on your way up as you became a world title contender?
M.H: “Easy. Vito Antuorfermo (in 1985). He was without any doubt the toughest son of a gun I ever fought. I tell you honestly, I hit him with absolutely everything and I don’t think I ever hurt him – I don’t know if he even felt it.”
Q: Yet you made him retire on his stool after four rounds. Were you surprised when he never came out for the next round?
M.H: “Well, not really, seeing as how I had sent his teeth flying.”
Q: (laughs – wow!) You then faced a defensive genius in Wilfred Benitez and you KO’d him (in round-nine in 1986). Not too many people can make that claim.
M.H: “You know, you just said it, the guy was a friggin’ genius in the ring. His plan was to take me into the late rounds and get me tired. I was getting tired, I admit, but I knew what he was trying to do. And in all honesty, I was winning the fight all the way before the ending. But I was always going for the knockout in fights then.”
Q: How long did it take for you to build the massive army of fans you had in your career, when you were regularly pulling in big, big crowds at your fights?
M.H: “Probably when I left Montreal and went with Don King in the U.S. My brother Davey was the big star here in Montreal. I went with King and a lot of my fights were on under-cards, Mike Tyson cards.”
Q: We all know Tyson is a student of the game and he must have noticed you and liked your style of fighting?
M.H: “We lived together way before he was famous, in the Catskills. He is such a down to earth guy, even now. I don’t brag about it but we are friends and every time he sees me he makes such a fuss over me!”
Q: The big win over Buster Drayton when you became IBF champion of the world at 154 pounds in June of 1987 – obviously a great moment for you.
M.H: “You know, I was a little intimidated by the 15-round distance. Yet saying that, I trained so, so hard, I could have gone 20 rounds! I was saying my prayers the night before the fight, it was my lifelong dream to become world champion, and now here I was in the ring. It’s hard to put into words what it meant. I got my dream. Lots of people, they never manage to get theirs.”
Q: You were a young guy, was the pressure and the expectations too much for you?
M.H: “I was 21. I loved it and I really would have fought for free. I just wanted to become world champion, I never cared about the money. I became champion and I felt that I had achieved my goal and that was it. Winning the world title, that should have been the beginning but it was really the ending. I should have retired after I became world champion. It’s a strange way of thinking maybe, but I really didn’t care any more after I’d become world champion.”
Q: The loss to Robert Hines, where you lost the title (via decision in November of 1988 – Hilton’s second defence), you were all over him early on. What went wrong?
M.H: “I had a rib injury ahead of that fight, picked up in sparring. It was a legitimate injury and the fight should have been postponed. I struggled to make weight. I hadn’t been in the gym in days because of the rib, so how was I supposed to make weight? I blew the title, I really did.”
Q: You then moved up to middleweight and fought Doug DeWitt for the WBO 160 pound title, a fight that took place on the big Foreman-Cooney card. What went wrong in that fight?
M.H: “I knew Doug from the gym. We had sparred years earlier in New York, and I killed Doug in the gym. He was supposed to fight another guy (in January of 1990), I think Iran Barkley. He wanted no part of me, and they had to increase his pay to fight me. To this day, in all honesty I have no clue what happened in that fight. I could feel his knuckles through the gloves. My eye closed and that was the end (Hilton being pulled out by his father/trainer after 11 rounds). That fight was the beginning of the end of my career.”
Q: Do you look back with regret today? The experts say you should have achieved much more than you did.
M.H: “I do have regrets. I live in a hole, I have two kids, and no job to fall back on. I thought the money [from boxing] would always be there. So I do look back with some regret. But I was world champion, and that was all I ever wanted. My biggest regret is not listening to my father like I should have. I did the exact opposite of what he said; you know how kids are. I signed a six-fight deal with Bob Arum and aside from that, I was in line to fight Sugar Ray Leonard, here in Montreal. But I blew it with the Hines fight. I would have got $7 million for that fight. But one thing I swear on is this: never once in any fight was I ever hurt. Never. I never had my bell rung once.”