The ingredients were all in place for what was to follow at Wembley: a simmering race-row between the pair leading up to the fight; petty squabbles on seismic issues such as beards and cuts; the defeat of a home favourite in quick time; and a beer-fuelled crowd, unable to accept what had taken place in front of their
eyes. It doesn’t excuse what happened, yet it goes a long way to explaining how the evening descended into scenes which Harry Carpenter would later describe as "my low point of my many years at British ring-sides".
Minter's rise to world champion could hardly be described as smooth. After winning a bronze at the Munich Olympics as a light middleweight, Minter's professional career began promisingly, eleven straight wins earmarking him as a fighter to watch. But Minter's Achilles' heel throughout his career was about to strike, as his prospects took a nose dive in the space of one turbulent year.
Losses to Don McMillan, Jan Magdziarz (twice), and Ricky Ortiz blocked Minter's progress between 1973 and 1974. That all of these defeats were down to cuts was a worrying development, one that would come back to haunt him in future bouts against Ronnie Harris and Gratien Tonna in 1977, although Minter would show great determination and resolve after losing the latter. Eight straight wins, including his third over Kevin Finnegan, and a revenge win over Tonna, gave Minter a shot at Vito Antuofermo's WBC and WBA titles in Las Vegas.
A split decision win in America - the first British man to go to the States and win a world title since Ted Kid Lewis in 1917 - saw an emotional Minter achieve his dream in March 1980, and after successfully defeating Antuofermo in a rematch at Wembley, a defence against the number one contender in Marvin Hagler zoomed into focus.
That Minter had fought Antuofermo at all still rankled with Hagler and his camp. Somehow the world title fight between Hagler and Antuofermo in 1979 had been deemed as a draw, meaning the Italian-American retained his belts, although anyone who witnessed the bout, including referee Mills Lane who congratulated Hagler at the final bell, knew that Hagler was the rightful winner (The Times' Boxing Correspondent Srikumar Sen even had Hagler ahead by four rounds).
Such was Hagler's annoyance, that he claimed credit for Minter's subsequent win, stating "Minter's only champion because he gained the benefit of the beating I gave to Antuofermo in Las Vegas". It was not the only shot fired in the war of words that led up to judgement day.
Unfortunately, the first few exchanges between the pair, were to stir up racial tensions. The row began in earnest before the Antuofermo-Hagler fight, with Hagler refusing to shake Minter's hand - the British fighter was in the country to watch the contest - and on Hagler's arrival in the UK, the subject was dug up once more.
It had been claimed that Hagler had once said to Kevin Finnegan that "I don't touch white flesh," although Hagler strongly refuted this accusation. "I make a point of never shaking hands with future opponents," commented Hagler, adding that he didn't feel it appropriate to do so with someone he intended to inflict damage upon, and also indicating that he always shook hands with his opponent, including Finnegan on two separate occasions, after a fight.
Minter did not exactly help matters though. Talking about the challenge ahead, his proclamation that he had worked seventeen years to get to the top and that he "did not intend to lose his title to a black man," was unhelpful to put it mildly, Hagler understandably responding in a furious manner: "He will pay for saying that
when we meet at Wembley". The defence put forward by Minter - that he had been misquoted and had actually said "that black man" - papered over the cracks somewhat, as either way he had referenced the colour of Hagler's skin, and fanned the flames ahead of the fight.
It appeared that both parties could find anything to fall out over, a case in point being the Minter camp insisting that Hagler shave his beard off pre-fight, their obvious concern relating to Minter's cut history and the American using his stubble in clinches to his advantage. Not to be outdone, back came Hagler's team,
pointing out that they would be keeping a very close eye on the work of Minter's cuts man - the Californian expert Jackie McCoy had been used by the champion in his two previous world title fights - insisting they would have Minter stripped of his title if any unknown substances (other than one part water to 1000 parts
adrenalin) were applied to his face.
According to The Times, the bookies had Minter as 8/11 favourite with Hagler at 11/10, although the previews of the fight tended to paint a different picture. "I feel Minter is in grave danger of losing to Hagler, the man good judges rate the most capable and dangerous in the division," penned the Daily Mirror's Frank McGhee, and he was not alone in voicing his concerns. Srikumar Sen in The Times was chillingly accurate in part of his assessment: "So, for British supporters, the bout could well have an unsatisfactory ending with the referee stepping in to prevent Minter losing too much blood".
If the booing greeting Hagler's arrival to the ring on the night was inevitable, and the disrespectful whistling of the US national by a minority not totally unexpected, the hostility in the crowd was something else. "Wembley Arena was reeking, not so much of nationalism, but had a decidedly rancid smell of racialism," noted
Harry Carpenter after the fight, and stories of over zealous fans ripping up any banners held by Hagler supporters were commonplace. Hagler's wife, Bertha, was advised to leave her stars and stripes flag safely tucked away, through fears of trouble. Very wise.
The sight of Minter approaching the ring behind a Union flag and St. George's cross increased the volume within the venue, with the rousing rendition of God Save the Queen adding to the feelings of nationalistic pride brewing at Wembley. After the fight, American promoter Bob Arum would call for a ban of the national anthems, suggesting that the feelings these stirred within some led to some of the issues on display at Wembley. Henry Cooper's call for a ban of booze may have been closer to the mark.
Amongst all the fuss of the build-up, and the chaos of the aftermath, the actual fight itself almost feels like a sideshow. But in the short space of time in which the fight took place, it is possible to appreciate just how good Hagler was on the night, and comprehend why he dominated the division for years to come. Minter had his moments, yet it was clear for all to see on the highlights (no live coverage back in 1980), that Hagler was a cut above the champion, if you pardon the pun.
With a little over a minute gone in the fight, Minter was already cut, the unerring accuracy and power of Hagler's jabs causing problems. The challenger, who had weighed in half a pound over the 160 limit (he lost the excess within half an hour), strode confidently around the ring, landing combinations on Minter which forced the cut under his eye.
Prior to the fight, the Minter plan had been to bide his time and stretch the fight out in an attempt to test a perceived lack of stamina in Hagler. But in the second round, this strategy appeared to have been abandoned, as an enthusiastic Minter, perhaps driven on by the partisan home support, became embroiled in some furious exchanges with the American. Going toe to toe with Hagler was never the wisest of moves, and although Minter did shake his opponent with a fine left hook, his tactics were foolish in the extreme. "I fought the wrong fight," Minter would openly admit after the event, both he and his manager Doug Bidwell revealing that the punch which rattled Hagler was the point at which Minter senses left him.
Hagler was undeterred by his brief moment of concern, his consistently good work opening up a cut below Minter's right eye, with more blood dripping from the champion's nose at the end of the second round. The third and final round provided more of the same. Hagler was simply suffocating a blood-splattered Minter, another wound appearing above the right eye of the Englishman, one punch from Hagler knocking Minter's gum shield clean from his mouth. "He can't keep the man away," screamed Harry Carpenter, as Minter tried manfully to wipe the blood from his face and repel the dominant Hagler.
The end was nigh. Panamanian referee Carlos Berrocal stepped in, taking Minter to his corner to examine the damage. It was all over. Berrocal, in agreement with Bidwell, called an end to proceedings, Minter's cuts so severe that there was simply no way for the fight to continue (Minter would receive 15 stitches later that evening). Hagler sunk to his knees, his arms aloft in celebration at finally achieving his ambition. And then all hell broke loose.
The natives were not amused. Disappointment at seeing their boy battered, combined with an unjustified rage towards Berrocal for stopping the fight, led to an explosion in anger within Wembley Arena. Beer bottles and cans rained down on the ring, Hagler's celebrations cut short as his corner surrounded him in order to protect the new champion. With the help of the police, Hagler and his corner were bundled to safety, but for the VIPs (including Telly Savalas) and commentators ringside, there was little or no hiding place.
"And there is chaos here, absolute chaos. I'm smothered in beer and so are all my colleagues around me," said an understandably shaky Carpenter, who amongst the mayhem was struck on the head by a bottle. Some hid under the ring apron, others lifted upturned chairs over their heads as a temporary shelter, as missiles continued to fly towards them. According to many reports, there was plenty of ammo at the disposal of dissatisfied spectators, with eye witnesses later revealing that numerous crates of lager were being carried around by fans. The means, motive and opportunity certainly existed for the sorry episode which unfolded.
Promoter Micky Duff was as embarrassed as most Brits were on the night, apologising profusely to Hagler, and not holding back on his opinion of the perpetrators: "There were 10,000 there and there were a maximum of 15 to 20 people involved. They were animals".
One of the herd got more than he bargained for, however. Attacking Antuofermo who was taking part in an interview on Italian television, the fan soon discovered he had picked on the wrong man: "He punched me on the shoulder and I straightened him out on the floor with just one punch. What else could I do?"
After being deprived of holding the belts in the ring, having bottles and cans hurled in his direction, and discovering the front window of the car he was travelling in had been smashed, it was hardly surprising that Hagler vowed never to fight again in England. But Marvelous Marvin Hagler would go on to sweep aside all
before him in the middleweight division for another seven years, until the debatable defeat in his final fight against Sugar Ray Leonard. To think, it all began at Wembley Arena, on an evening which British boxing would rather forget.
For Minter, there was no disgrace in losing to such a great champion. Indeed, his performance was brave, yet to put it simply, he was up against a better man. A little over a year later, he fought for the last time, his three round loss to Tony Sibson signalling the end for Britain's former world champion. His career
reached the heights, the victory over Antuofermo the obvious peak. It's just a pity that the evening of September 27 1980 provided a sad low for both Minter and British boxing in general.