By Neto Baptiste
Former world Jr Middleweight boxing champion, Maurice Hope, said that although he fought under Great Britain’s flag when he captured the prestigious title in March of 1979, it was still a proud moment for him as an Antiguan and as a black boxer fighting for respect in a still racially divided country.
Appearing on the Good Morning Jojo Sports Show, Hope said the ninth round knockout of then world champion Rocky Mattioli was a victory for all Antiguans and blacks who all celebrated with him.
“Wow, I couldn’t walk the streets and it was because they [blacks] knew what it was and even at the time I saw Viv [Sir Viv Richards] up there and even he knew of the significance and black people felt really proud and as a matter of a fact they felt like it was them who had won the world title,” he said.
“My parents, and moreso my father [Norris Hope] because he used to box too when he was in Antigua and I didn’t realize until I came to England, but he felt very proud, and all of my family. Everywhere I went, the people made me feel really good and I put Antigua on the map in boxing and it will always be there,” he added.
Hope, who successfully defended the WBC’s world title on 25 September that same year by knocking out Mike Baker in the seventh round in London, reminded that the climate was not exactly welcoming for black boxers and blacks on a whole at the time.
“There was a lot of prejudice as well, especially in the gym, and it was very hard. Sometimes when you’re boxing, to get the verdict you have to knock out the fella [opponent] to get a point, so it wasn’t very easy at all going up there [England],” the former boxer said.
“There weren’t too many black people also in the gym, I was one of the very few so like I said, a lot of prejudice was there but it taught me to look after myself and I had a good coach as well who liked me and so he looked after me and guided me and directed me,” he added.
The Antiguan credited an older sibling for his move into boxing at a very young age.
“My brother [Denzil Hunte], who is much bigger than me took me into boxing and he was looking out for me like parents. But I wanted to go out and enjoy myself with my friends and stuff like that which I did, party and stuff. But after a while, I realised that that I was getting good. I lost couple fights but it wasn’t because the boys were better than it, it’s because I wasn’t training properly. I didn’t have a trainer and so on and I was leaving school [to go train] so I decided to buckle down and became champion of the world,” he said.
Maurice Hope had a record of 30 wins, 4 losses and 1 draw in 35 bouts, with 24 wins by knockout.