Over in the UK we believe that we are in the middle of a renaissance of British boxing which has delivered us no fewer than 13 world champions, I have spent a wee bit of time thinking about when we last all felt this warm and fuzzy. I have gone back in time to the 1970’s and wandered around my memories which, added to by some research, I hope will challenge my own memories. Certainly, the first fighter I have taken some time to look into brought as much in controversy as he did in triumph.
There were some fantastic nights in that decade as I raised my head as a 5 year old in 1970 to being 15 at 1980. In between I think there were some great fights, tremendous boxers and nights with which to conjure.
But am I deluded?
The first fighter that I happened upon was one that I really liked and watched at various points during the decade. The 70’s were his, of course, as Alan Minter represented us at the Olympics in 1972 and entered the 80’s to briefly become the undisputed middleweight champion.
In 2017, he remains with us but a little less than the fighter he once was. Recently there has been much said about the battle with depression for ex boxers, Minter is an example of another illness that grips former pugilists – alcoholism. A few years back it was shown that he was down on his luck and this always threatens to blot a legacy a little. For the those of us who remember better times and not always with rose tinted spectacles; Minter was a class boxer.
A middleweight – doesn’t the UK produce some quality ones – Minter fought on 49 occasions, winning 39 of them, 23 by way of knockout, with 9 losses, 1 no contest and no draws.
Coming off that Bronze Medal at Munich in 1972, he became British champion 3 years later, European champion twice and world champion by 1980, after two big wins. Then his first defense in the UK hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
His start in the professionals was not without its issues. Five wins by knockout, followed by a distance fight over 15 rounds before back to knocking guys out was the start. It was then that cuts, cut short 3 fights and highlighted an issue with which he was to wrestle from then on; he cut easily. In 1974 he had added that no contest against Jan Magiarz. It was his third fight with Magiarz who had beaten him twice in a row in 1973.
His trajectory towards titles continued in 1974 which saw him fight abroad, in Hamburg, Germany, for the first time and win. It was in 1975 which saw the biggest fight of his career come against Kevin Finnegan as he took the British middleweight title. Having fought and lost a few times it showed just how tough the scene was at the time and as he headed towards the end of the decade one of the biggest names in world boxing would be waiting for that fateful night at Wembley.
In the meantime, 1976 gave Minter two successful defences of his British title and after beating the American Olympic Gold medalist, Sugar Ray Seales, he was put in the top 10 middleweights in the world. If he kept his win rate up a world title shot was surely around a corner.
The European belt came to him in 1977 as he knocked out Germano Valsecchi in the 5th round in Italy. The rest of 77 was a rollercoaster. He lost to a former world title challenger, Ronnie Harris, beat former two weight world champion, Emile Griffith, then lost his European title before retaining his British one. That win rate was not being kept up so he fell a little down the rankings and under the radar.
In 1978 there was tragedy of the worst sort as he regained the European title by knocking out Angelo Jacopucci; Jacopucci died afterwards due to injuries sustained in the fight. Minter also went to Las Vegas and fought on the Muhammad Ali/ Leon Spinks first fight and won on US soil for the very first time.
Despite that tragedy his work in 1979 got him back into contention for World honors and this came his way in 1980 as he took Vito Antuofermo’s WBA and WBC world titles at Caesar’s Palace. Minter was the first Brit since 1917 to go to America and win a world title. He then retained the title in a rematch in the UK but then the sport of boxing and the British fans disgraced themselves in one night in September 1980.
It was Minter’s defense against Marvin Hagler that was stopped after only 3 rounds. The fans who had turned up in their numbers to applaud their hero started a riot. The world was treated to images of Hagler being defended by his entourage as beer bottles were thrown into the ring. It was an image we didn’t need.
Alan Minter was now associated with one of boxing’s all-time lows. The WBA and WBC belts may have been contested in the ring but what was also being contested was the racial tension spilling over in a night that shamed boxing.
The records show that Hagler took under 8 minutes to dethrone Minter; it would take a lot longer to rub out the images of the riot.
Hagler became the champion, his crown not delivered until after he had been escorted form the ring for his own safety.
The story of how that reaction rained down upon him on a night where supreme boxing skill should have been celebrated and the birth of a true legend was born goes back to 1979. Firstly, and prior to the fight Hagler’s people had been seething. Hagler had been robbed in his 1979 title fight with Vito Antuofermo which was deemed a draw, leaving Antuofermo with the belts. Hagler had then to sit and watch Minter take the belts and then defend them in a rematch as he waited his turn. Hagler stoked the fire of resentment by strangely taking credit for Minter’s world title win by claiming Minter was only champ because he had softened Antuofermo up for him.
Tension was already high as Hagler had not shaken Minter’s hand when Minter had come to see the 1979 world title fight between Hagler and Antuofermo. Minter responded by claiming that he had not worked this hard to lose to a black man, and this left Hagler fuming once more. Minter claimed to have been misquoted but the reality was they were both happy to share the ring in anger.
It also led to demands that were hard to fathom including Minter’s insistence that Hagler shave his beard; less it was used to cut him in the fight. Hagler’s team warned Minter’s in response that they would be watching the cuts man to ensure he only applied legal substances to Minter’s face during the fight.
Legendary British boxing commentator Harry Carpenter described it as “my low point of my many years at British ringside”. He continued, obviously sickened by the scenes, “Wembley Arena was reeking, not so much of nationalism, but had a decidedly rancid smell of racialism.”
Minter had lost to a future legend. On the night his cuts were bad, bad enough to stop the fight. It led to him receiving 15 stitches later that evening. The promoter for the evening, Micky Duff was mortified and apologized to Hagler, commenting publicly, “There were 10,000 there and there were a maximum of 15 to 20 people involved. They were animals”.
One of the more interesting facts of the night was when one of the “animals” decided to pick a fight with former world champion, Antuofermo, who was taking part in an interview on Italian television. Antuofermo explained, “He punched me on the shoulder and I straightened him out on the floor with just one punch. What else could I do?”
By 1981, Minter was to retire from the sport which took him to highs and gave him more than a few lows too.
In 2014 he gave an interview to the Daily Mirror where he took pot shots at the lack of class being displayed by many of the fighters in the sport today. He claimed he no longer watches the sport that made him. In the interview, he claimed that he had watched one fight but ended up going to bed after it because, “There was no interest from the fighters, there was no power in the punches, no real fight.”
His descent into alcoholism became public and he admitted that losing his long term partner, Debbie had been a massive blow to him. Alcohol had deprived him of his partner and it looked now like it was going to deprive him of any long-term future. Of his infamous comment pre the Hagler fight he noted too, “I did say that ‘black man’ comment but it wasn’t meant, I was told to say it. It was a ridiculous comment but my reaction after showed how I felt. I know I shouldn’t have said it. I loved boxing and I loved my career. And in the end, we shook hands.”
Wherever he may be now, he showed what a wonderfully flawed human being can achieve. The things he got wrong are balanced by the things he got right and now we can look back at an entire career and not just one night for which he shares some blame but should not shoulder the whole event. I was right, he was great… Next up is the 1980’s… This should be fun… I was drunk for most of them so my memories might be a tad hazy!!!Contact the Feature Writers