While Matthew was powerful and explosive in the ring, the best of the boys was oldest brother David Jr.
By Bill Tibbs
Canada’s Hilton brothers, all 5 of them, were born and raised to box. Two of them, David Jr. and Matthew, conquered Canada, and the boxing world was beckoning.
Dave Hilton Sr. had over 80 fights from the late 1950’s through to the mid-1970’s. Boxing was in the family and there was no question what his sons were going to do for a living if Pops had anything to say about it.
Dave, who could be as rough out of the ring as he was in it, along with his wife Jeannie, raised 5 sons - all of them would fight. By the age of 5, they were all in the gym and learning the trade that had seen their father become a national champion. Time would tell as to what degree of success each son would have as an amateur or a professional. But, make no mistake, for the Hilton’s, boxing was the family business.
After long amateur careers, the direction of the sons would play out. Sadly, and tragically, son Stewart was killed in an auto accident at age 17. Brother Jimmy never turned pro. Alex, rough and rugged, worked his way to a Canadian title. However, brothers Matthew and Dave Jr. managed to wrap world title belts around their waist; they were the best of the bunch in terms of success in the ring.
All the Hilton brothers had been in boxing their whole life and it was evident in the ring as both amateurs and professionals. They all had a little something – be it speed, power, guts, and if nothing else, lineage. However, it was brothers Dave and Matthew that were indeed the best of the bunch. For a period of time, they were as big a star as any athlete in Montreal and they played to packed houses. Success as world champions seemed a certainty for the brothers who had simply been born and bred to box – but life doesn’t always play out like you plan.
Matthew would turn pro in 1983 and by 1987, at 26-0, with 23 KO’s, would challenge and beat Philadelphia tough guy Buster Drayton to capture the IBF world junior middleweight title in front of a packed Montreal Forum where the fighting Hilton’s had become huge stars in the province of Quebec. After one successful title defence, Hilton would lose the title to American Robert Hines in 1988. He would challenge WBO middleweight champion Doug DeWitt 3 fights later but would get stopped late in the fight. After the DeWitt loss, amid poor training habits and out of the ring troubles, Hilton would go 2-1-1 over the next couple of years to close out his career.
While Matthew was powerful and explosive in the ring, the best of the boys was oldest brother David Jr. He didn’t have a little something, he had a whole lot of everything. He really had it all - exceptional speed, good foot work, good head movement, he had power in both hands and, not unlike his father, was iron-tough. He was, or could have been, a great fighter on a world class level.
Dave Jr. turned pro in 1981 and would go 17-0 over the first couple of years before drawing with fellow Quebec fighter Mario Cusson in 1983. He would avenge that resume asterisk with a KO 1 against Cusson in his next fight and then would rattle off 10 more wins before losing a split decision to fellow Quebec fighter Alain Bonnamie. After 6 straight wins, Hilton would face Bonnamie 2 more times scoring a draw and a win over a 4-month span in 1996. Fights with fellow-Quebec fighters like his trilogy with Bonnamie, and later Stephane Oulette, and his pair with Mario Cusson, drew huge attention in the province, led to sold out houses with thousands and thousands of fans, and made Hilton a local star.
After the 3rd Bonname fight, Hilton would put 2 more wins together before stopping massively popular Quebec fighter Stephane Oulette in the 12th round of their Canadian middleweight title bout in 1998. They would have the rematch 5 months later and Hilton would stop him in 3 rounds on this occasion. After a win to kick off 2000, the two would meet later that year with a distracted and unfocused Hilton losing a decision.
However, 3-months later, the handlers for Dingaan Thobela, now the WBC world super middleweight champion, were looking for a name fighter for their champion to make his 1st title defence against. Hilton was a massively popular Canadian star and would draw a huge crowd in a world title fight. Dave, now 37 years of age, had been leading an undisciplined lifestyle and, they assumed, would be easy pickings at this stage of his career. So, Hilton was the choice they made for their champion – that was a mistake.
In December of 2000, in front of a very pro-Hilton crowd at the Molson Centre in Montreal, Canada, Davey would bang out a 12-round, split decision to capture the WBC world super middleweight title; the Hilton family had another world champion.
Unfortunately, by this stage of his life, Hilton was making poor choices away from boxing and was in trouble with the law. Before long he found himself in prison, and the title, and his boxing future, was gone. While he did come back after being released from prison several years later to pick up one more win, his career, for all intents and purposes, was over.
The Hilton boys Hilton grew up in a rough and tumble environment - all the boys knew was boxing and it was all they were ever trained for. While it would make them into massively popular fighters in their native Quebec, one-man franchises for a time in the province, they struggled with life outside of the ring. In short, legal troubles and substance abuse would be the downfall of Dave, Matthew and Alex’s career.
But, make no mistake, during their brief, but exciting, run in professional boxing in the province of Quebec, the Hilton boys were huge stars. Matthew, with his child-like innocence out of the ring and his aggressive and exciting style in it, made for box office magic in Montreal. Dave, friendly and easy-going out of the ring, and so clearly so talented in it, had superstar written all over him.
When focused and disciplined, and on point in his career, Dave Hilton Jr. was as good a fighter in his weight class as anyone in the world. He could have competed with the very best fighters of most, if not all, eras of boxing – he was that good. Dave was fast, had excellent head movement, could put together fast and effective combinations to the head and body and had an excellent chin; he really was the whole package. If Dave’s lifestyle outside of the ring matched his talent in the ring, the fighter that Hall of Fame trainer Angelo Dundee once called, “the best welterweight in boxing”, could have indeed been a long reigning world champion.
Legendary Quebec cornerman Russ Anber has worked with some of the very best boxers in the world, on both an amateur and professional level. He was around the Hilton’s throughout their whole career and in a recent chat was quick to weigh in on Dave and Matthew. He clearly remembered a time in his home province when the Hilton boys were huge stars in Canadian boxing and the world was beckoning.
“Of course, being from Montreal, I know the Hilton’s very well Bill”, he said. “In his prime, Matthew, as both an amateur and a pro, was without a doubt the most devastating puncher and fighter I had ever seen. He was not only crushing guys; he was hurting them with highlight reel KO’s. He was Tyson before Tyson! Matthew is really the only one who can answer this, but something changed as soon as he won the title”, said a reflective Anber. “From the outside it appeared that once he achieved his goal of becoming world champion, he seemed to say, ’I did it.’ He was never the same. But, despite that, he was always a wonderful, likeable kid who seemed to have the world in the palm of his hands”.
Asked about Dave Jr. Anber clearly saw the former Quebec star as a special fighter.
“Dave was a great fighter, but he never quite reached the pinnacle of what he should have. He had it all! A great smile, fan-friendly, a happy guy; a very, very tough guy in the ring. Fans loved him, had all the talent in the world. He could have been a huge international star, an excellent all-around fighter”, he said. “This country has produced some great fighters and I am quite confident in saying that he was the best Canadian fighter, pound for pound, in history”.