IN the beer garden of The Globe in Hackney, Maurice Hope is biting down on an imaginary gumshield and whaling away with boulder-like fists, complete with sound effects – “BAM! BAM! BAM!” People watching probably think he’s an old toughie telling tales of street fights, but the truth is rather different.
The man on the end of those blows is – and was – the great Wilfred Benitez, whom Hope fought in Las Vegas in 1981. That afternoon at Caesars Palace was the best and worst of times for Hope, a fabulous payday that ended with a brutal defeat, the loss of his world title and a miserable night in hospital. But Hope had been hit with harder things than Benitez’s wand of a right hand.
Born on Antigua, Hope was nine when he joined his parents and six siblings in London in the summer of 1961. His dad was a porter at the Royal London Hospital and saved up enough money in five years to buy his family a house, which says as much about property prices at the time as the old man’s spirit. One day at work, Hope’s dad met and shook hands with the Queen (Hope still has the photo on his wall). But not everyone in London was as cordial.