Buster Drayton was tough, durable and almost impossible to deter. Like the city he was from–and a certain fictional icon also from Philadelphia—he just kept coming after you.
But he wasn’t necessarily supposed to be a world champion. He was looked upon more as a journeyman – a sparring partner for the great Marvelous Marvin Hagler and a hard-nosed test for anyone coming up the ranks. A spoiler. A gatekeeper. A fighter who would get whacked a few times and smile. But not someone who would be holding a championship belt aloft.
So the man born Moses Buster Drayton, fought Carlos Santos for the vacant IBF junior middleweight title sporting a record of 27-9-1 on June 4, 1986, naturally it was the smooth-boxing Santos, a former world champ, who was expected to win. It was a different time in boxing – a time when fighters got opportunities without being fan favorites or having glossy resumes. They got opportunities by being good fighters.
Drayton Got The Upset Win, and a World Crown
Buster Drayton took advantage of that opportunity on the Top Rank show in NJ, winning a majority decision to realize an unlikely dream. He held it for 10 months and two defenses, proudly representing his sport and his city. Below is the Tim Ryan/Gil Clancy call, with Buster's shoutout to a higher power at the end. “I gave my soul to Jesus, and he guided me,” he exulted:
Drayton died over the weekend, according to the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame. He takes with him a reputation of a fighter who would fight anyone and go anywhere. A fighter who liked to fight.
Take for instance a 1984 upset of Mark Kaylor in Kaylor’s U.K. Kaylor was 27-1 and, yes, expected to win. But Drayton, then 18-8 and 30 years old, had other ideas, stopping Kaylor in the 7th. (Video below features Marv Albert and Ferdie Pacheco on the call for NBC. It's worth your time to check out a crazed seventh round. Six times Kaylor hits the deck, with no mandatory eight count dispensed on each occasion, which blows Pacheco's mind.)
It led to a fight with contender James “The Heat” Kinchen in 1985. Buster Drayton lost a decision to the fast fighter who, at the time, had just one loss.
Then, after a four-fight win streak, Drayton was rewarded with something few expected him to ever receive – a world title fight. He was matched with former IBF champ Santos. It was the main event of a Showtime card that will probably be remembered for 1) being on a Wednesday and 2) having three championship fights that all went the 15-round distance. It made for a long evening – and a longer Thursday for those who attended the fight at Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, N.J.
After a close, rough-and tumble affair, Drayton was announced as the winner, by majority decision.
Buster Drayton vs Matthew Hilton Is 1987 Fight of the Year
He made two defenses in 10 months, stopping former WBA junior middleweight champ Davey Moore in 10 in August 1986, and contender Said Skouma also in 10 in March 1987. He then got the payday of his career, defending against undefeated hotshot Matthew Hilton in Hilton’s home turf of Montreal.
In a nationally-televised war, Drayton proved formidable, taking the left-hooking Hilton’s best shots in 15 rounds of warfare. A mid-rounds knockdown proved the difference in a fight that was named 1987’s “Fight of the Year.” Buster Drayton, then at 34 the oldest title holder in the game, lost his title by unanimous decision.
From there were knockout defeats to Julian Jackson and Terry Norris at a point in Drayton’s career when he should’ve probably retired.
But he was, after all, a fighter.
As it turned out, a very good one. Buster Drayton (40-15-1, 28 KOs) grew up in Philly, and learned to throw hands in the streets, as was common in the day for a kid coming up in the 50s-60s. He did a stint in the Marines, and worked in a bank after college. His parents counseled him that he was well suited for boxing, and he built his skill set sparring Hagler, turning himself from “journeyman” to champ. RIP to a fighter’s fighter who represented himself, and his sport, well.
Matthew Aguilar may be reached at [email protected]