Minter vs Hagler: British Boxing’s Night Of Shame
It was in many ways, a bad night for British boxing. Alan Minter losing his world middleweight title to the slashing brutal fists of Marvin Hagler wasn’t the story. In truth, it hardly mattered to most.
The whole evening was a low point, a disgusting night where the large amounts of beer consumed and the smell of racism took over from any semblance of decency or sportsmanship. It wasn’t a night of patriotism, nothing can hide what transpired, nothing can disguise what it plainly was.
It started in the pre-fight words, Minter allegedly said: “I am not letting any black man take the title from me.” Minter said it was taken out of context and claimed he actually said: “I am not letting that black man take the title from me.”
Even the revised version hardly exonerates the reigning champion. A sign of the times and the wrong choice of words at best, he later apologised for what was said, but the fuse for hate was set.
Hagler had his own problems and actions to defend as some sections of the British media went looking for their own pre-written headlines. Previous opponent Kevin Finnegan said Hagler had refused to shake his hand and apparently told him: “I don’t touch white flesh,” which Hagler always denied and said he wouldn’t shake the hand of any opponent. The narrative was set. The BBC commentator Harry Carpenter would later say:
“Wembley Arena was reeking, not so much of nationalism, but had a decidedly rancid smell of racialism.” Carpenter was right, the passing years haven’t dimmed the message of that highly toxic evening in London.
The road had been a long one for both champion and challenger. A path of frustration, setbacks and tragedy. The fact that both had reached that point in September 1980 bears testimony to their resilience in a sport that leaves battered bodies and minds behind at all to regular intervals.
Minter had a fragility around his eyes and suffered early defeats as a result of a weakness that has held plenty back. But the stalled progress up the boxing ladder would only be temporary. The former Olympic bronze medallist was by 1977 a British and European middleweight champion. Names like Emile Griffith and Sugar Ray Seales were on his resume, familiar but faded fighters. The torch is often passed in the most brutal way in a sport that doesn’t let the past fade away with much dignity.
But the three wins over Kevin Finnegan made his name and proved his quality. Finnegan a forgotten fighter who would have been a world champion in many an era.
Tragedy would hit in 1978, in defence of his European title, Angelo Jacopucci would pay the ultimate price. It hit Minter hard, thoughts turned to not carrying on, boxing a sport with the highest risks where some pay for their passions with their lives.
Hagler toiled on the Philly circuit, meagre purses with little career forward trajectory. The Philadelphia crowd were tough and unforgiving, they expected, demanded wars even. Hagler had more than his share. Like Minter, Hagler suffered early reversals. He was too often ignored and avoided, his chase for glory would be a long one. Hagler would be 50 fights in before he finally nailed down a world title opportunity in 1979. Vito Antuofermo kept his titles with a highly controversial and debated draw. Not for the last time, the Las Vegas judges left Hagler a cold and bitter man. Hagler wanted a rematch, Minter got there first.
The British challenger went to Vegas in 1980 and came home a world champion, the first British fighter to win a world title on American soil since 1917. The scoring said it was close, it wasn’t, but Antuofermo got the immediate rematch that Hagler craved. The ex-champion came to London and left an ex-champion still, a bloody affair that Minter left no doubt as to who was the better fighter.
But Hagler couldn’t be avoided any longer. All the years of suffering and frustration Minter would be made to pay for the avoidance of others, and no doubt for what was allegedly said in all the pre-fight war of words. Hagler hardly needed any extra motivation after the years of waiting not so patiently in line and the bitter taste his fight with Antuofermo had left, was fuel enough. But the fight with Minter now had an uncomfortable air about it. It wouldn’t end well in different ways.
Minter wore Union Jack underwear at the weigh-in which hardly helped in toning down the racial feelings. The National Anthem as the late Harry Mullan referenced was a ‘hymn of hate’ on a night that always threatened to end one way. The Minter faithful shouted out Land of Hope and Glory. Their man had little hope, they had no glory.
This time Hagler would let his fists be the judge and jury, he would not be denied what he felt was already his. Minter was cut inside the first minute. It didn’t get any better for the British world champion. It was exciting while it lasted, brutally so. A savage fight of primitive methods that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the streets. Minter went to war, suicidal tactics that Hagler willingly obliged in.
Minter had one moment in the second round, but that’s all he had. But as more cuts opened up on Minter’s fragile skin, his plight looked more hopeless by the second against the marauding challenger who had no intention of leaving without the belts around his waist.
A leaping right-hand lead rocked Minter to his boots early in the third round. The end was near. The gumshield came flying out not long after, fighting without many things, hope was one. Minter was a crimson mess, the referee would soon save him from further punishment. As the fallen champion was covered in a red towel that once was white, the tensions in the crowd boiled over. Bottles and other missiles came flying over the ropes, all aimed at the new champion. Some said it was because the crowd thought Hagler had used his head to open up the cuts that ended the fight. They were being kind. The flying debris had a far more sinister meaning on British boxing’s night of shame. The ringside VIP’s and the press, some of which had stoked the fire, fled for cover under the ring.
Hagler’s cornermen formed a human shield and mercifully they got their man back to his dressing room without serious injury. After his long wait for the world title, Hagler was denied his rightful crowning in the ring, his moment took away by the racial alcohol-induced mob inside the arena.
Minter talked about getting Hagler next time, but next time never came. He had three more fights, losing two of them before retiring after the last of those defeats to Tony Sibson in 1981. A year previously Minter was a world champion, the ride to the top of the mountain was a long one, the descent anything but. Minter was only 30 when he left the sport for the last time.
However, the hard-earned world title would not be relinquished quickly by Hagler. He found respect and acceptance hard, but beating Thomas Hearns in 1985 got Hagler everything he wanted. The reign ended in 1987 when Sugar Ray Leonard won a disputed split-decision, the Vegas judging again leaving Hagler feeling short-changed. Hagler never fought again.
Sadly both Minter and Hagler are no longer with us. Their recent deaths separated by only a few months.
Minter deserves to be remembered for more than one night, Hagler will be remembered as perhaps the greatest middleweight of all time.
The night Hagler won the title will be remembered for all the wrong reasons which is a shame because Hagler was practically punch perfect in his destruction of Minter. It was probably one of the few times Hagler fought with real anger. Minter got his tactics badly wrong but it’s doubtful it would have mattered how he would have fought. Hagler had the look of an unstoppable force on a night of pure hate, his fists should have the last word.