Minter v Hagler: The Night That Shamed British Boxing

With their hero completely dismantled at the hands of the controversial challenger, British boxing fans showed their ugly side.
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With their hero completely dismantled at the hands of the controversial challenger, British boxing fans showed their ugly side.

By the time it was raining beer cans and vitriol into the ring at Wembley stadium in September 1980, it was too late to save their hometown boy.

Previously over seven and a half very one sided minutes the American challenger Marvin Hagler had pretty much proved what everyone knew deep down in boxing circles anyway. That his talent sooner or later was going to remove the belt from a lesser world champion. That individual just happened to be Alan Minter - an efficient but limited boxer who had been brutally dismantled by Hagler's nefarious venom.

It was a mismatch in many ways. Hagler had suffered politically at the hands of the two major boxing divisions at the ascension of his career. Nobody wanted to take him on because he was so dangerous, and even when he had a previous shot at a world title against Vito Antuofermo he had suffered a draw when everyone in the stadium knew he had triumphed. It gave Hagler a paranoid, tribalist edge. Fearsome looking anyway he was not a happy bunny by the time he arrived in London, ready to take it out on a champion that cut as easy as tracing paper and seemed almost like a sparring partner by comparison.

Minter was lacking in physical presence against his American rival, but the two fighters were more than equal in the sharpness of their tongues. Unbeknown to most, the contest had ramped up behind the scenes due to two alleged racist comments made by either boxer in the run up to the fight. Firstly, according to English boxer Kevin Finnegan, Hagler had refused to shake his hand upon their meeting, curtly informing him that he wasn't about to 'put his hand to white flesh.' If this wasn't bad enough Minter had apparently informed a journalist that he 'wasn't about to lose his title to a black man.' It quickly became the talk of boxing writers covering the fight. Top trump racism where both protagonists seemed to have severely crossed the line. It gave the contest a bitter unpleasant edge, threatening to tip a title fight into something a great deal nastier.

On a September night at Wembley, the watching crowd seemed to sense it too. English patriotism for the most part had been good natured and passionate at boxing events, but for once the flow of alcohol and Union Jack waving threatened to tip over into violence. Things were hardly helped of course when the imperious Hagler started to take their man apart. It had been a display most boxing analysts were expecting, but for the homegrown crowd, who had been starved of boxing world champions, it was a shock to the system that hardly abated as Minter cut up like a butcher's slab. The sight of their hero drenched in his own blood being soundly beaten caused a grumbling within the crowd, but it was to get worse. After less than three rounds, referee Carlos Berrocal stopped the fight and marched a crimson faced Minter over to the ringside doctor. They both agreed that the English boxer's cuts were too severe for him to continue. After less than 8 minutes of action the fight was over. Hagler was the new Middleweight king.

Pandemonium ensued. As the reality of the decision dawned on a cross section of the inebriated crowd, their nationalistic fervour immediately turned medieval as they sought instant revenge. Chairs were ripped up, fighting broke out and a volley of beer cans were launched at the centre of the ring as Hagler and his aides tried to beat a quick exit. It prompted American promoter Bob Arum to later call for the national anthem to be banned from boxing events and a disgusted Harry Carpenter to describe it as 'one of the most shameful nights on British boxing soil.'

Strangely though, in a one sided contest, the greatest action was actually saved for the commentators' area. Working as an analyst for the fight, boxer Vito Auntofermo had shaken his head sadly at the horrible atmosphere around him, whilst trying to dodge the constant stream of missiles flying over his head towards the ring. When a pissed up fan tried to storm his press box however he took matters into his own hands and knocked the protagonist out cold in an instant. It kind of summed up the whole night of shame. English piss and bluster being silenced by athletic authority. It would be a long time before a British ring would be seen as a respectful place to bring a travelling boxer again.

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