It should stand as a watershed moment in British boxing. An opportunity to witness one of the greatest fighters ever to lace up the gloves. Indeed, Marvelous Marvin Hagler did box on these shores on this day in 1980. It was London, England that played host to the moment the greatest middleweight of them all finally won the world championship. But instead of a landmark occasion for the domestic fight game, Hagler’s coronation would be deemed "my low point of my many years at British ringsides" by iconic commentator Harry Carpenter.
Hagler was flown in to challenge the popular and brilliant Alan Minter. ‘Minty’ had won the undisputed middleweight championship by doing something Hagler couldn’t. Minter beat champion Vito Antuofermo, before retaining the belts in a rematch. Hagler had fought to a draw with the Italian in his own tilt at the titles.
This fact was a cause of bitterness between Hagler and Minter. The Marvelous One had looked to all sensible observers like the winner against Vito, before the judges allowed the champion to escape by the skin of his teeth. Hagler campaigned for a rematch but instead it was Minter who got the title shot. Hagler attended Minter’s coronation but refused to shake the new champion’s hand.
It was here that an uncomfortable racial element entered the troubled build-up to an eventual fight. It was asserted in some quarters that Hagler had once told British contender Kevin Finnegan, a former opponent, that “I don’t touch white flesh”. Hagler has always refuted this, instead saying that he made a habit of not shaking hands with future opponents.
Minter himself was guilty of stoking the fires further, telling a press conference “I don't want to lose my title to a black man.” Minter offered his own rebuttal, saying he had been misquoted and had said “that black man”, but either way it was ill-advised and a horrible comment.
The already-toxic preamble was ignited further by snide moves from both camps. Minter’s team insisted Hagler shave his beard, lest he use his stubble to his advantage in the clinch. Conversely, Marvin’s side cast aspersions over Minter’s cut man, alleging that illegal substances could be used to aid the oft-bleeding Scotsman.
On the night this vile build-up crystallised into a hostile and grave scene. Harry Carpenter would later describe it as “reeking, not so much of nationalism, but a decidedly rancid smell of racialism”. Some fans booed the US national anthem before the bell. Minter entered draped in the St George’s cross and the Union Jack, while Hagler’s wife Bertha was reportedly advised to keep her stars-and-stripes banner safely concealed from the baying mob.
Once the bell rang, Hagler did what Hagler did. ‘Marvelous’ indeed. Minter’s cut-prone face didn’t stand a chance as Hagler hacked and slashed with surgical precision. A more appreciative crowd would have pinched themselves. This one heaved and harangued with vitriol and ever-decreasing belief.
Minter seemed to bin any gameplan in round two. With his face lacerated and his grip on the title loosening, he tried to fight fire with fire. It is a strategy nobody succeeded with against Hagler. Even those that beat him did so with evasive action, like ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard would ably demonstrate seven years later. A firefight with Marvin Hagler only ends one way.
Minter did get his licks in, buzzing Hagler with a hard left. But Hagler swarmed him, overwhelming the brave champion and leaving his face a crimson mask. The referee had seen enough in the third, waving the fight off and awarding Hagler the TKO victory and the title. But the true war was only just beginning.
The aggrieved British fans pelted Hagler with bottles and cans. Instead of a coronation, Hagler was led away from the ring by police. Carpenter, bravely continuing broadcast duties, was struck by a bottle. One stupid individual tried to take his anger out on Antuofermo, who was working as a pundit for Italian television. The blow he received for his troubles was the most decisive knockout of the night.
Hagler swore off ever fighting in England again and was as good as his word. A cross-section of idiots denied this country a return visit from the greatest middleweight champion the world ever knew. Minter’s brilliant career was unfairly marred by the events of 27th September 1980 too. Leaving titleless was one thing. But to have been involved in one of the most horrific scenes in British boxing was a heavy weight to bear. What should have been a historic occasion proved memorable for all the wrong reasons.
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