Alan Minter vs Marvin Hagler: A Blast From The Past

23.11.05 - By Richard Hulse: The late summer of 1980. While walking through a London railway station, I noticed a billboard for a range of fashionable men's clothes. The picture was of a young man, dressed in a sharp suit. He smiled confidently out at the onlooker. The punning logo was 'The Cool Taste of Minter.' A few weeks later, it was autumn, and that young boxer had lost his world middleweight title to a rampaging Marvin Hagler.

I've always been intrigued by Alan Minter's brief championship reign. Not because I believe he was an exceptional talent, although I do think he had underrated ability. Maybe because it illustrates once again how quickly a good fighter can plummet out of the sunlight, down into the shadows that losers know so well. Hard to recall now, but for six months after winning the title in Las Vegas, Minter was the toast of English sport.

After seeing him on TV, a friend turned to me and said, 'This guy's bigger than boxing in this country.' And so it seemed. He was 28 years old, handsome, a happily married family man; almost the David Beckham of the British fight game.

He'd lost matches on cut eyes, on several occasions in situations where he looked set to win, but those defeats seemed behind him now. He was seasoned and capable. His claim to the undisputed middleweight crown had been reinforced by a comprehensive outboxing of the man he'd taken the title from, the rough and tough Vito Antuofermo. Even some Americans who'd questioned his first win over Antuofermo it had been a split decision - were now beginning to admit the Englishman could fight a bit.

A headline from the USA's Boxing Illustrated announced, 'Minter Proves his Title is no Fluke.'

Moreover, the future looked bright. The contenders, for the most part, were decent but not formidable. Wilford Scypion, Loucif Hamani, Fulgencio Obelmejias, all of them might well have ended up challenging Minter at some point, but he would have been odds on to beat them. After a promising early career start, Scypion was showing he wasn't a big occasion fighter. Obelmejias was a lanky Venezuelan who went on to challenge Hagler in two fights, but who gave the impression of being one of those somewhat protected fighters that the WBA occasionally liked to promote from South America. And Hamani had been cleanly outpointed by Minter in the 1972 Olympics. So, with a little luck, the Englishman seemed set to make several defences before someone finally got to him.

But although it wasn't formidable in depth, the division did have one exceptional package of talent, all of it compressed into the compact frame of one man. The autumn was bringing with it a shaven headed black southpaw from Brockton, Massachusetts. Marvin Hagler was Minter's mandatory challenger.

There was controversy before the match. Minter said he wouldn't let a black man take his title, but insisted later that it was his mouth moving before his brain was in gear. This explanation is, I believe, generally accepted. In the seventies a lot of white English people were less sensitive on racial issues, and Minter wouldn't have been what we'd now call politically correct. One of his best friends during that period was Billy Knight, a black fighter who once challenged for Minter's British title, and who also invited Minter to his wedding. That doesn't suggest he had any problems with Minter's attitude.

Minter had fast hands, a crisp punch and a good chin. But he was also a little tight in the upper body, with a straight up stance. Nor was he adept at slipping punches. Add that to his fragile facial tissue, and the odds weren't good against a hard and accurate puncher like Hagler. Yet curiously, many people, including promoter Mickey Duff, felt Minter would win, that Hagler wasn't quite as tough as he seemed, that in fact he might well choke if pressure was applied. The theory stemmed from the fact that Antuofermo had held the bald-headed one to a draw in 1979, mainly by dragging him into the trenches.

'Do you think Alan Minter is the toughest opponent you've faced?' asked one commentator when Hagler arrived in London. Hagler was hardly the man to say 'yes' to that. 'I've fought better,' was the baleful reply. 'We'll see where he fits in when I get him in the ring.'

Fight night. Wembley Arena under the spotlights. Hagler seemed muscular but short of stature. Minter towered over him, unshaven, and looking mean-eyed. The light glinted on the brass of a Royal Marines band, as they filed out of the ring.

Minter began by aggressively throwing combinations, but before long, Hagler's jab was finding his face, and by the end of the first round, the Englishman was already cut. In the second, Hagler was continuing to land and Minter was trying to slug his way out of trouble. He jarred the American with a right hook, but Hagler immediately counterattacked with a blizzard of heavy punches, whilst bobbing and weaving around Minter's own shots. By the third, Hagler had ripped open Minter's eyebrows, and the Englishman was recoiling from the onslaught. The referee's arms were up in the air. It was over, and within seconds, Hagler himself had to be rescued as drunken fans pelted the ring with plastic bottles, in a still-notorious example of English boxing hooliganism. Minter, head partially covered with a towel, stared at his cornermen, his face shaken and bewildered. He didn't even know there'd been a riot until someone told him in his dressing room. 'Were they after me?' he asked.

Minter returned to the ring the next year, insisting that his tactics had been wrong. He'd tried to wage war instead of boxing calmly. There was some truth in that, but only some. A more measured approach might have resulted in a longer fight, but it was impossible to see how Minter could have prevailed. Probably in his heart of hearts, the ex-champion knew that. Hagler simply had too much of everything. However, a good win over fringe contender Earnie Singletary paved the way for a gruelling split decision loss in Las Vegas to the up and coming Mustafa Hamsho. Minter landed plenty of jabs and rocked the Syrian in the fifth, but couldn't stave off Hamsho's sheer physical insistence in the later rounds. Finally a concussive defeat to countryman Tony Sibson ended his career.

In 2005, Minter reflected on his time in boxing, acknowledging that post-Hagler, he had lost much of his appetite for the game. He also sportingly paid tribute to Hagler's greatness as a champion.

That billboard in the railway station? It didn't stay long. Within a week or so of Minter's loss, it had been taken down. But it did last long enough for some wag to take a felt tip and draw in a Frankenstein-style latticework of black scar tissue over the smiling face.

Article posted on 24.11.2005

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