Maurice Hope: The Antigua-born Hackney fighter who made world title history

Maurice Hope is the latest trailblazer featured in our Hidden Figures online series, running in Black History Month, bringing to life the stories of black sporting pioneers you may never have heard of

Maurice Hope, the British world light-middleweight champion raises his arms after beating Italian-American Rocky Mattioli at the Wembley Conference centre. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Image: Maurice Hope raises his arms aloft after beating Rocky Mattioli

History was made on March 4, 1979 when Hackney fighter Maurice Hope became the first black British immigrant to win a world title by defeating Rocky Mattioli - as he inspired the UK's next generation of black boxers.

Born in Antigua in 1951, Hope moved to east London when he was nine years old with his parents and five brothers and sisters, unaware he would one day be propelled into stardom as a world boxing champion.

His natural boxing abilities were evident from a young age and Hope soon began training, joining London's oldest boxing gym - Repton Boxing Club - in Bethnal Green, famous for producing numerous British champions.

Hope won his first title in 1968, the Schoolboys National Senior Championships, and represented Great Britain at the Munich Olympics four years later. After a stellar amateur career he moved into the paid ranks, making a winning professional debut against John Smith on 18 June 1973.

Continuing to grow under manager Terry Lawless and trainer Frank Black, Hope became a British light-middleweight champion just a year later, beating Larry Paul by knockout in Wolverhampton. Next in Hope's sights was the Commonwealth crown, which he snared along with the Lonsdale Belt with victory over Tony Poole in 1976.

West Indies born boxer Maurice Hope fights against Mike Baker for the world light-middleweight title at Wembley Arena, London.
Image: Hope beat Mike Baker in seven rounds in his first WBC world title defence

Next was the big one. Hope landed a shot at WBC champion Eckhard Dagge in Berlin but after 15 bruising rounds the pair could not be separated. The three judges - one British, one German and one Italian - could not agree on a winner, with the British judge picking Hope, the German judge picking Dagge and the Italian judge opting for a draw, so it was Dagge who kept his crown.

Hope bounced back from the draw with six wins in a row, earning himself a second shot at becoming world champion in 1979 against Mattioli in Sanremo, Italy. This time, he made no mistake, knocking out the Italian in the ninth round.

"I sank to my knees when Mattioli retired in a brief prayer of thanks," Hope told the Hackney Gazette when reflecting on the historic moment.

 Former Boxer Maurice Hope (l) shares a joke with Repton Head Coach Tony Burns on October 10, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Image: Hope jokes with head coach Tony Burns at Repton Boxing Club in 2014

Hope defended his light-middleweight title against American Mike Baker, before beating Mattioli in a rematch and making a third successful defence against Venezuelan fighter Carlos Herrera.

The east London fighter then travelled to Las Vegas for a Caesars Palace showdown with Wilfred Benitez - his first fight in the United States - but his career across the pond was short-lived with a 12th-round knockout defeat.

After one more loss, this time to Luigi Minchillo, Hope retired from boxing with 30 wins, four losses and one draw from 35 fights, with 24 wins by knockout.

Hope, who has lived in Hackney for most of his life, enjoyed a career many could only dream of, and in 2009, his London Borough named a major cycle route after him in recognition of his boxing achievements.

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