“I’m proud of what I’ve done,” said Alan Minter. “Of course I am. I was three times middleweight champion of Britain, three times champion of Europe and the undisputed middleweight champion of the world, which is something you don’t hear of too much these days. Put that lot together in my lifetime, and I’m very happy of what I achieved in the ring.”
Before stepping up to the professional ranks, Minter earned a very respectable reputation as an amateur boxer. “I got involved in boxing when I was about twelve and someone had mentioned there was a boxing club in Crawley [West Sussex, UK] where I lived at the time. I had no idea where it was, but I got a bus and went into the town, found it and joined Crawley Amateur Boxing.”
Minter won the senior middleweight ABAs (Amateur Boxing Association) title in 1971. But did he wish to fight in the 1972 Munich Olympics the year after? “Only if I was picked! Thankfully I was. I got a letter through the post saying I’d been chosen to go for trials. I was over the moon. You don’t get a letter like that coming through the post unless you’re any good. I guess I was better than I thought I was. The training was at Crystal Palace National Sports Centre in London, training with the GB Olympic squad, where I learned a lot from some very good fighters and former Olympic champions.”
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Minter progressed to the semifinals losing a highly debated 2-3 points decision against Germany’s Dieter Kottysch. “I’ve watched that fight again and again, and I have to say, Kottysch never won that fight. He was German, so I guess they had to have a winner!” Kottysch went on to claim gold.
While Minter walked away with a bronze medal, for many the games of 1972 left spine-chilling memories. The “Munich Massacre,” carried out by the Palestinian terrorist group “Black September,” claimed the lives of eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team, who were held hostage in the Olympic village, along with a German police officer. Minter cast his mind back to the events. “The [GB] squad used to go back to their rooms and then we’d meet on the balcony. We were told about a shooting, but nobody told us what exactly was happening, maybe because they didn’t want to worry us. We didn’t find out until we came back to England. Very, very sad. They [the Israeli team] were just athletes competing.”
About a month after the Olympics, Minter turned professional. “To be honest, it wasn’t my intention to turn pro, but I thought I was robbed. When I saw his [Dieter Kottysch] hand raised, I knew, no way I was going to stay as an amateur. I was turning pro, and that was it.”
With an impressive 125 wins in 145 amateur contests, Minter made his pro debut on October 31, 1972 at the age of twenty-one. However, it wasn’t the start for which he’d hoped. Nineteen fights in and the media had almost written him off as he boasted a record of fourteen wins, four losses and one no-contest. It was hardly the resume for a future world champion. Two of the defeats and the no-contest were against Jan Magdziarz. Minter explained the battles against the wily journeyman. “He was, very, very awkward. The first time I fought him, it was obvious he was awkward. Why they [Minter’s management] made me fight him another two times was ridiculous. Embarrassing, really.”
Minter was quick to point out one of his weaknesses in his early contests, which led to the majority of his bouts being halted on cuts. “It was my own fault. I was a southpaw and when you’re a southpaw, you let your opponent come to you. I was inexperienced and I kept going forward and then getting caught. That was the cause of the cuts most of the time. Silly, really, when I think back.”
Thankfully, after his last clash with Magdziarz, Minter set off on a thirteen-fight winning streak. On November 4, 1975, he took on Kevin Finnegan for the vacant British middleweight title. Finnegan had won the British and European titles the year before but had since lost them. “When we trained together at Crystal Palace for the Olympics, I used to spar with Kevin and his brother Chris [1968 middleweight Olympic gold medalist]. Kevin was orthodox and Chris was a southpaw, so it was handy to be involved with boxers at that level.”
Minter won a very close decision against the younger Finnegan (Kevin) and admitted that the Buckinghamshire-born boxer was far from an easy ride. “I had three fights with him, and they were the toughest fights I ever had. That’s forty-five hard rounds. Kevin used to spar with his brother, who was a southpaw, so when he fought me, he could handle my style. Thank God I managed to get the nod in each fight.”
Minter went on to defend his British crown twice before taking on the defending European middleweight champion Germano Valsecchi in his backyard of Milan. Minter recalled the reception he received on February 4, 1977. “I went over about two weeks before the fight, and the people were all right to me. Obviously, he got a bigger reception than I did! In terms of the fight—I knocked him out [in the fifth round] and that was it.”
Two months later, Minter lost to Ronnie Harris on cuts and then, three months later, fully healed, he took on ring legend Emile Griffith at the Stade Louis II in Monaco. “Fighting in Monaco didn’t affect me. When you box, no matter which arena you’re in, all you want to do is win. I’d trained hard, lived right, and whether it’s a big venue, small, packed stadium, empty—as a boxer, you train to win. That’s the only thing that went through my mind.
“As far as Emile goes—I knocked him down in the fifth and won on points over ten rounds. But let me tell you, he [Griffith] had so much class about him. Yes, he was an old man by that point, but he was a great fighter and a three-weight world champion. Just check out the type of fighters he fought—Carlos Monzon, Dick Tiger, Nino Benvenuti, you name it.”
On September 21, 1977, Minter was back in Italy and lost his European title against Frenchman Gratien Tonna, when the fight was stopped in the eighth round on cuts. Six weeks later he defended his British title against Finnegan in the third and final installment of their trilogy, before heading off to the US to knock out Sandy Torres in five rounds, on the Muhammad Ali versus Leon Spinks undercard at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, a show promoted by Bob Arum. Minter recalled his Stateside experience. “It was incredible. To be on the same bill as Ali was very special. Sensational. He was a man I idolized and still do to this very day. The great Muhammad Ali, a one-off. I’ve got a big black-and-white photo of me and Ali shaking hands together, which was taken just after the fight. That’s up on my wall.”
Minter’s next fight was also memorable, but sadly for all the wrong reasons. On July 19, 1978, he ventured back to Italy to take on Angelo Jacopucci for the vacant European middleweight title. Minter won by a twelfth-round knockout, but the Italian died a few days later from injuries sustained in the fight. The ringside doctor was later found guilty of manslaughter as there was a strong case that Jacopucci should have been retired much earlier in the contest. Minter recalled the fateful night. “I was gutted. You don’t go in the ring to kill someone. I didn’t find out until I got back to the UK, but I was absolutely gutted.”
On 16 March 1980, after five successive victories against top opposition had propelled him up the world rankings, Minter fought reigning middleweight champion Vito Antuofermo. “I was over the moon. It’s something you dream of from the moment you start training as a fighter. Winning the British and the European was incredible, but the ultimate at that point for me was fighting for, and trying to win, the undisputed middleweight championship of the world. When I got told I was the next in line [to challenge Antuofermo] that was unbelievable.”
Marvin Hagler had drawn against Antuofermo four months earlier, so the pressure to venture out to Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, and challenge the defending champion for his WBA and WBC world middleweight titles was immense. “I was at the back of the gym with the crowds when Antuofermo was doing one of his public training sessions. I knew, despite being confident, in the back of my mind, it would take something special to beat him.
“On the night of the fight, when we got in the ring, I just knew I could do it. He was tough, no doubt about it. He’d fought ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler and got a draw, kept the title, and now it was my turn to have a go. It was a split decision over fifteen rounds, but most felt I’d won it by a long stretch.” One of the judges had Minter winning it by twelve rounds, the other by three and the final judge gave it to Antuofermo by two rounds.
The rematch, three months later, on June 28, 1980, at the Empire Pool, Wembley, lasted only eight rounds. “I was boxing in my home country and didn’t want to let my people down. This was also the first time I was putting my world titles on the line, so there was that extra motivation to win. The crowd that night was unbelievable. When his corner retired him, that was incredible. The crowd went crazy. It also showed the first time wasn’t a fluke.”
On September 27, 1980, Hagler traveled across the pond to challenge for the world crown. The media were expecting Minter to box behind his skills, using his height and experience, but unfortunately, it didn’t pan out that way. “This is where I went wrong. As a southpaw, I should have let him come to me but, for that fight, Hagler decided to turn southpaw. He was actually an orthodox fighter and, if you see in the fight, he started orthodox and then halfway through the first round he turned to southpaw. I had no idea he could box southpaw, and that just threw me and got me into a toe-to-toe battle. When he caught me in the third round, I was badly cut, and that was it. Before I knew it, I’d lost the world title.”
The second the fight was stopped by the referee, mayhem broke out in the arena. “The problem was, the crowd thought he’d nutted me when I got cut, when it was probably a clash of heads or a punch. I don’t know. As the ref stopped the fight, the bottles came flying into the ring. Not one of them were aimed at me, they were all in his direction. I put the loss down to the fact that Hagler was a great fighter. That’s all I put it down to.”
Minter bears no grudges against Hagler. “I’ve seen him a few times in England since the fight, and he’s a lovely man. There’s no bad blood between us.”
Minter fought three more times after the loss to Hagler, with his last fight being a loss against Tony Sibson for the European title. He retired with a professional record of 39-9. Asked how he’d fare against the current crop of middleweights, Minter said, “I don’t know. I watch them on television, and there’s some good fighters, but I never judge myself on what I would have been like fighting any of them. All I know is that I fought whoever was put in front of me and became the undisputed champion of the world.”
After concluding a thirty-minute interview, Minter called back fifteen minutes later. “Sorry to bother you mate. I just wanted to tell you a quick story. I was looking in my garage a couple of weeks ago, and I came across this framed picture of me, which is three feet high and two feet wide. I’ve got the WBA belt on, the WBC around my waist, the Lonsdale over my shoulder and in my hand the European. On the side of it, it says, ‘To Alan, best wishes, in life and health, Marvelous Marvin Hagler.’ I’d totally forgotten about it, and now I’ve brought it back into the house and it’s on the wall where it belongs.”