Wembley Arena, London, England – September 27, 1980.
It was on this day that a great fighter’s hard-earned coronation as world middleweight champion was overshadowed by events that led to the fight being referred to as one that “shamed British boxing”. Marvin Hagler, the fearsome shaven-headed southpaw from Brockton, Massachusetts, challenged British hero Alan Minter for the world crown. There was controversy before the fight, with Minter, who was making the second defence of his belt, infamously declaring how “no black man will ever take my title”. And there was controversy in the form of wickedly ugly scenes in the ring after the fight. If you could call it a fight. A bloody slaughter might be a more accurate description of the 7-minutes and 45-seconds the bout lasted.
Hagler, hungry (see starving) and still smarting over “being robbed” in his 1979 challenge of then-champion Vito Antuofermo, the fight being ruled a draw at the conclusion of 15 gruelling rounds, was a slight underdog against Minter and he was determined to smash his way to the title this time. Minter, who had won the title by decisioning Vito, and had stopped him in his first title defence, had no idea what was in store for him against his ravenous challenger.
Hagler was all over the defending champion from the start, soon opening a nasty cut above Minter’s left eye. The blood was soon pouring, Minter suffering four cuts in total by the end (later needing 15 stitches). Hagler was the epitome of a fighter who would simply not be denied. Minter was stopped on his feet, trying his best to fight on through the blood, and then more carnage broke out. Minter’s “fans,” most of them drunk, felt Hagler had butted their hero and that his shaved dome had caused the atrocious facial lacerations, not his fists. Soon beer bottles and cans were being fired into the ring.
Hagler, on his knees celebrating his big win, was protected by the human shield formed by his corner-men. Commentator Harry Carpenter was not so lucky, “I’ve just been struck on the head by a bottle,” Carpenter informed the TV audience, a slight slur noticeable in his words. It was a ghastly scene and later, Mickey Duff, manager of Minter, apologised “for everyone in boxing in this country.”
Hagler was so disgusted he vowed to never return to the UK again. Minter was taken to the hospital.
Though his great moment had been spoiled, Hagler was as determined as ever, if not even more so, to keep a firm grip on his beloved world title – the one he had laboured so hard and for so long to earn. A splendid title reign indeed ensued, with Hagler ruling the world for almost seven long years.
Today, when looking back, Hagler has respect for Minter, and for Antuofermo. At a boxing dinner a couple of years ago, Marvelous Marvin recalled both his failed title challenge and his successful one.
“First things first, I want to talk about Vito Antuofermo,” Hagler said when asked abut the day he finally became world champion by beating Minter.
“I give Antuofermo a lot of credit, because he was a little bull. He was kinda tough and we knew it and I trained very hard for Antuofermo. And I tell you, he kept coming but I was snapping them jabs and I was hitting him with right hands, I was landing combinations and I had a lot of footwork and movement and I felt as though I beat him, but at the end, when the smoke cleared, I lost and he won because he was [still] the champion. I thought that was unfair and I thought a lot of politics were involved. But one thing that was very nice was when I walked down the stairs, Joe Louis, I remember, grabbed my hand and said, ‘Hey, Kid, you won that fight, don’t give up.’ I said, ‘Hell, no, I’m going back to the gym.’
“So then I focused on Alan Minter. I never knew that much about Alan Minter at that time, except that I knew that I should have been the next one in line, for a return match with Antuofermo. That put a lot of anger inside me – and you don’t wanna see me mad (laughs). So I think that’s when the fire started burning. I knew there was a guy across the sea, all the way over in England, and I knew he had something that I wanted. And I felt as though I deserved it [the title] and he didn’t deserve it. Every day I ran beside the ocean and I was dreaming about it, of becoming champion of the world. I had to go across that water to take what I wanted.
“But I thank Alan Minter to this day for giving me the opportunity. He was a well respected champion and he showed me what kind of a champion he was, even though that was a three-round stoppage. He took a lot of punishment but he showed me a lot of guts. All the things that happened after, I really went blind because I was so happy that I had finally achieved what I wanted and what I worked so hard for, and when I went down on my knees to thank God, I didn’t realise all these things were going on. My people covered me and bottles were just missing my head, and I remember the bobbies [policemen]. But it was only a handful of people who made the whole country look bad.”
A truly unforgettable day in British boxing history. If not for pleasant reasons.