By: Ken Hissner
They were closer than brothers and until this day are still best friends. South Philly’s Buster Drayton would get his title fight at age 32 defeating Carlos Santos for the vacant IBF light middleweight title in June of 1986. He was co-managed by Ivan Cohen and Gary Hegyi. Earl “The Pearl” Hargrove was 7-1-1 (6) in prison and straight out of prison he ended up in South Philadelphia.
His only loss in prison was to Artie McCloud the uncle of Bernard Hopkins. Both McCloud and Hopkins were champions at Camp Hill Prison. He landed at the Mike Rossman Gym in South Philly at 9th & Percy. “Bill Savage was the first trainer to work with me. I got spanked one day by Buster Drayton,” said Hargrove.
Hargrove won his first twenty-four fights by knockout under trainer Bill Savage and co-manager Gary Hegyi and at the age of 27 got his title shot for the vacant IBF Super welterweight title losing by stoppage.
“They were sparring one day and being best of friends were holding back with their punching. I told them never again,” said Ivan Cohen. Both fighters would go their separate way when Hegyi and Cohen split with Hargrove going with Hegyi and Drayton with Cohen.
“I was in the Marine Corp with Leon Spinks and Roger Stafford and had about ten amateur fights and turned pro in Virginia Beach in November of 1978,” said Drayton. He was 7-0-2 when he entered the ESPN tournament before losing to Philly’s Kevin Perry, 5-0, in Atlantic City in 1980. “Not to make excuses for him but he had the flu but insisted on fighting anyway. Abner had him in the corner and I told Buster to hit him with an uppercut. Abner hit him with an uppercut and thanked me. I stopped yelling instructions,” said Cohen.
“Earl and I grew up in the same neighborhood. He was a quiet guy. When he came out of prison he thought he was something. I invited to spar and show him a thing or two. Once he went to North Philly from South we didn’t hang out,” said Drayton.
Hargrove was told if he wanted to advance he should go to the Joe Frazier’s Gym in North Philly and speak to George Benton about train him. Gary Hegyi was one of the boxing managers at the gym who worked with Benton. Hargrove was signed by Hegyi and trained by Benton and he was on his way.
“Earl was very crude when he came to us and got better with George gaining more confidence. He would always hit but had to work on his accuracy,” said Hegyi. Having plenty of boxers at Frazier’s Gym like “Bad” Bennie Briscoe, Hargrove improved quickly. “I did all I could to get him to the title. George and I discussed opponents and it worked well,” said Hegyi.
Drayton’s career would take him to 15 states and 5 countries, with only 4 of his fights being in Philly were he went 2-2. Drayton found himself on French soil in a non-title bout stopping Benito Fernandez, 14-2, in 6 rounds in Paris.
The stage was set for Hargrove to make his Philadelphia debut in September of 1981 against Henry Hightower, 4-0 at the MLK Arena. Hargrove stopped him in 4 rounds and was well on his way. Several fights later he fought at the Villanova University Field House. Mike Hyman, 4-3, from SC was brought in. “He hurt me in the 8th round and I knew I had to take him out,” said Hargrove. This he did in the 10th. It was back to Atlantic City against the former NABF champion Greg Stephens. Hargrove would put him into retirement in 2 rounds.
In May of 1983 promoter J Russell Peltz put Hargrove in a TV bout against Donald King, 15-2. “George told me not to go for the knockout but to pace myself but I was upset about something King said at the weigh-in when King said “you beat a bunch of kids.” Hargrove came back with “yes, and I gave them respect. Now I’m going to knock you out”. Benton had to calm him down and Hargrove would stop King in the 9th round.
After the fight Ferdie Pacheco came up to Hargrove and said he could fight on NBC-TV anytime. “I wasn’t even trying to prove anything to my fans. I was just trying to prove something to King,” said Hargrove. He would run his knockout streak to 24 when he signed to meet Medal for the vacant IBF light middleweight title. “If you don’t follow instructions you will only beat yourself,” said Benton. “I was partying and doing things I should not have been doing. George was like a prophet,” said Hargrove. The fight in itself was a war with both fighters forgetting boxing and slugging it out. I was cut and got caught with a good right,” said Hargrove. He was stopped in the 5th round on a cut.
In June of 1986 Drayton won the IBF title defeating Carlos Santos 34-1 and 16 days later wins a non-title fight and in August he defeated fellow American Davey Moore in France in an IBF super welter title defense. In February of 1987 he wins another non-title fight in France.
Less than a month later he makes another title defense in France stopping Said Skouma, 22-4, a Moroccan who fights out of France. “The people voted me fighter of the year in Europe,” said Drayton. In June of 1987 he goes into French Montreal, Canada and is upset by one of the Hilton brothers, Matthew Hilton, 26-0, losing his title. “I broke my right hand in the third round,” said Drayton. His trainer Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts asked him if he wanted to stop it but he said “no way!”
After this Drayton goes 8-5 after that losing to WBA World Super welterweight champion Julian Jackson in a title fight.
“The Hilton people would never give us a rematch, so we took the one with Jackson,” said Ivan Cohen. Hilton would lose to Philly’s Rob “Bam Bam” Hines who chose to defend against Darren Van Horn instead of Drayton and lost his title. Then in a NABF Super welterweight fight loses to Terry Norris. “Norris ran the whole fight and Buster didn’t know how to cut off the ring,” said Cohen. Six months later he defeated Darryl Fromm, 15-4. “He looked so bad in that fight and I told him he should retire and I dropped out of the picture,” said Cohen. Drayton had a lot of success in France but leaving there it went downhill for him.
Drayton comes out to fights today and is always well welcomed by his many fans. He always has a smile on his face and recently retired from his job at the V.A. in Philadelphia.
After Hargrove lost to Medal he went 8-5 losing to John Mugabi, 23-0, a year after the Medal fight. “He was very strong,” said Hargrove. He fought mostly club fighters and finally retired after dropping his last two fights in 1995. “I knew I was finished after my last loss,” said Hargrove. This writer has seen him several times since he moved to Phoenixville, PA. He is always a very friendly person. Both Drayton and Hargrove made their marks in boxing and would probably be champions today if they were in their prime.
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