British boxing great and former world middleweight champion Alan Minter followed in the footsteps of Randolph Turpin and Terry Downes and said just several weeks ago, “I’m so proud of my boxing career.”
The former world middleweight champion had departed from the public eye in more recent years as he bravely fought cancer before succumbing to cancer on Wednesday, aged 69.
The southpaw fought out of Crawley and was a decorated amateur, an unpaid career that culminated in him earning a bronze at the Munich Olympics of 1972.
He said until his dying day it should have been gold.
During those Munich Games, he initially made his way through Guyana’s Reginald Ford saying: “Now I’ve got rid of the cobwebs”.
Later that week he was being heralded as “the big hit of the British team” when Boxing News called his win over Russia’s Valery Tregubov “one of Britain’s greatest Olympic victories.”
It was close and Tregubov stormed from the ring in disgust.
Minter then beat Algeria’s Loucif Hanmani. Notably, the referee warned Minter for making noises when he punched. The official claimed that ‘grunting’ was an intimidation tactic.
“I’ve always sort of breathed hard when I’ve punched,” Alan explained. “That’s why my supporters call me ‘Boom Boom’. The warning staggered me.”
That win snared at least a bronze for Minter but he was heartbroken when West Germany’s Dieter Kottysch ended his Olympic dream in a “punishing, thrilling, all southpaw battle.”
Ringsiders said Minter struggled to hold back tears as he made the lonely walk back to his changing room. “I’m choked,” he admitted. “I had my heart set on gold.”
He won 11 on the bounce as a pro, including a victory over Pat Dwyer, but ran into Glasgow’s Don McMillan less than a year on from the Olympics. Minter decked the Scot three times and was well ahead on points but was stopped on cuts in the eighth and final round. Observers said Minter had won all seven rounds before the blood came. He said heads had clashed. McMillan claimed a punch. “Minter was coasting home when the dramatic end came,” surmised Boxing News.
Alan was back in the ring and winning three months later. He beat Octavio Romero and Ernie Burns in short order but again surrendered a lead to cuts in losing to Southampton’s Jan Magdziarz in three. Worse followed two months later when exactly the same thing happened. Magdziarz was down in round two and round three before a right hand opened up Minter’s eyelid.
He was looking into plastic surgery, now, following his third cut eye stoppage in 16 fights.
Two fights later he was stopped by a cut on his left eye by journeyman Ricky Ortiz and then bizarrely both he and Magdziarz were thrown out, disqualified for ‘not giving of their best’ in a third fight.
It was a British title eliminator but some thought they just knew each other two well. It was their third meeting in the pros and they’d boxed three times in the amateurs. Understandably after what had gone before, Minter wasn’t keen to take risks. Others said Magdziarz froze on the night. Regardless, it was so bad that referee Harry Gibbs was applauded for his decisive action.
Minter was back in Munich next time out and impressed dominating Zaire’s Shako Mamba over eight at the Olympic Hall.
“We were delighted with the way Alan boxed,” said his manager and father-in-law Doug Bidwell. “Most important, he came through without any cuts and that was a great relief. I had hoped for a distance fight, to see how Alan reacted after his recent disappointments and I was very pleased that he got it.”
Four more wins and he fought Kevin Finnegan for the British middleweight title that Bunny Sterling had vacated. The two were already familiar with one another as sparring partners and Kevin had plenty of experience against lefties as he would often spar with his brilliant brother, Chris. It was a hard fight and could have gone either way but some said Minter’s pace and fitness earned him the narrowest of verdicts.
They played it back less than a year later. Again it was close. Again Minter edged it. He was hanging on in the last round of another hard fight but he heard the final bell to go 2-0 up.
“A third fight will be worth a fortune,” said matchmaker Mickey Duff. “I thought the fight was a draw. They must meet again. I’d love to promote the fight.”
“That was Finnegan at his very best,” said Minter. “Sometimes I felt I was fighting for my life. I knew it was close.”
Finnegan thought he deserved the win. “I was the guv’nor and he knows it,” said the dejected loser. “I thought I won the first fight. I know I won this one.”
After the cuts and disappointments, Minter hit a purple patch.
A couple of months later he beat New Orleans contender Tony Licata, posting a workmanlike display that had Licata’s manager Lou Viscusi gushing with praise. “Minter boxed beautifully tonight, though,” he said. “He hits pretty good and he’s got that turned out style. There aren’t too many in the middleweight division who’d beat him.”
Before the year was out there was time for another win over another quality American, he beat the US Olympic gold medallist at light-middleweight Sugar Ray Seales in five rounds. The first three rounds hadn’t gone to plan. Minter was cut and a lump had started to form on his forehead. Then Minter turned it around, dropping Seales and forcing referee Roland Dakin to intervene.
Seales was incensed at the stoppage.
“That was the first time I’ve ever been knocked down, let alone stopped,” he charged.
“The left hand I got him with was so fast I didn’t even realise I’d tagged him with it,” said Minter, who went to hospital to have the swelling lanced and drained.
By the time he won the European title for the first time, stopping Germano Valsecchi in five rounds in Milan, turning the Italian’s lights out for three minutes in front of 10,000 fans. Boxing News wrote, “There now seems little doubt that Alan Minter has arrived in top world class.”
Valsecchi agreed, saying Minter “is a fighter with a will of iron. He is relentless.”
Ringside, the brilliant former middleweight champion Nino Benvenuti added: “Minter could make problems for [Carlos] Monzon. He has the right kind of qualities.”
Duff reckoned Minter needed another two or three fights, then he’d be ready for the Argentine great. “And when he does fight Monzon, he’ll beat him,” predicted Duff.
Then the wheels came off. Minter was brave but again cut up and beaten, this time by avoided Ohio southpaw Ronnie Harris, with the Englishman left bleeding from his mouth and below both eyes.
There had been talk of Minter boxing ‘Bad’ Bennie Briscoe in a world title eliminator but those grand plans were now firmly on the backburner.
“He was the slipperiest fighter I’ve met,” Minter explained of Harris. “Every time I hit him with a good punch he’d duck low or grab me. His punches were aggravating rather than hard. I thought I was in front. I was choked when the fight was stopped.”
After healing up, he defeated a balding and aged Emile Griffith in Monaco and Minter would always say he caught the wonderful former champion on the down side. It was Griffith’s 112th fight.
Then it was back to the drawing board when cuts saw him lose his European title to Gratien Tonna in Italy. Minter and his team thought they were ahead and didn’t believe it should have been stopped. “It’s one of the least serious cuts Alan has suffered,” said Bidwell.
A ringside doctor apparently agreed with them. It was a difficult one for Minter to swallow and put into perspective by one of his relatives who travelled to Milan to watch. “He woke up this morning champion of half the world,” he said. “Now he’s not even British champion.”
Minter then edged passed his old foe Finnegan one final time, another 15-round war, and his team looked towards a world title fight with Rodrigo Valdes.
Then came Minter’s appearance on the Muhammad Ali-Leon Spinks I bill, he opened the show and impressed (but was cut again) taking out Puerto Rican Sandy Torres in five.
Minter’s career rolled on in tragic circumstances when Angelo Jacopucci died two days after their fight, suffering a brain haemorrhage. Minter (again cut), posed for pictures in the ring afterwards with his fallen foe – whom he’d stopped in the 12th – and Jacopucci even stayed in the ring to acknowledge his fans.
He was saying goodbye.
Minter avenged the Tonna loss in November of 1978, with the Brit boxing superbly and Tonna surrendering after the sixth round. “I knew I was getting to him but I didn’t think he’d swallow like that,” said Minter. “He’d been trying to nut me and I thought he’d have another go at that. But he did take plenty. He was in a state at the end.”
A year on, following a win over American ‘Demolition’ Doug Demmings, he got his world title crack.
Alan was back in Las Vegas and headlining this time, against Vito Antufermo in February 1980.
Hall of Fame boxing writer Harry Mullan wrote, “The world middleweight title belongs at last to Britain’s Alan Minter – and the disappointment and heartbreak he has endured over the long years of waiting make this triumph all the sweeter.”
Around 1,000 fans had travelled from England to see him win, and while the split decision verdict raised eyebrows, they went home happy. “Antufermo had plenty of heart – the harder I hit him the stronger he’d come back. But I won it clear enough,” said a euphoric new champion.
“Minter was easy for me,” snapped Antufermo. “The decision was an insult.”
He wanted it again and Minter obliged in June 1980.
Minter’s southpaw left cut Vito to pieces in the return and it was “a relief when his corner pulled him out,” said one report.
“MINTER REALLY IS KING NOW,’’ was the Boxing News headline, answering those who disputed his first win over Antufermo.
He then defended his title against Marvin Hagler, losing in three rounds for a fight remembered for all of the wrong reasons with what happened both before and after the contest.
Beforehand, Minter said he wouldn’t lose to a black man.
Hagler said: “I wanted to tear up Alan Minter because I didn’t like his attitude. Minter felt as though he was better than anybody else. Basically that’s how most English people act. I had to bring Minter down to earth. I had to make him feel reality.”
After Minter was stopped in round three, with blood leaking from every crevasse in his face, his fans rioted. They pelted the ring with cans and bottles. Hagler had to make good his escape and was denied his deserved presentation of the title. It all left a sour taste.
By the end, Minter needed 15 stitches to close four cuts.
“What made this affair even more revolting was that Marvin Hagler, the shaven-skulled southpaw from Brockton, had won his title on merit and without a hint of controversy or illegal tactics,” wrote Mullan.
“It was a shameful, degrading spectacle. If this is the price we have to pay for having world champions, then forget the titles. The price is too high.”
“This was a disgrace,” agreed Hagler’s promoter Bob Arum. “Your fans aren’t even civilised and we will have to consider whether to allow another American boxer to come to Britain.”
“The violence didn’t really bother me,” Hagler chimed in. “Your cops looked after me.”
Despite the furore, Minter and Hagler were cordial with one another as the years wore on and would go to functions together.
For many, that was the night that Minter is most remembered for and that’s a great shame.
There were just three more fights for the Crawley man, a win over Ernie Singletary and losses on a split decision to Mustafa Hamsho in June 1981 and, lastly, a stoppage defeat to Tony Sibson in September 1981.
Minter thought he’d beaten Hamsho, manager Bidwell thought they were robbed. Just about everyone thought it was close.
But Minter could do nothing to stop the young and ambitious Sibson. That was to the delight of Sibson’s stablemate, Kevin Finnegan, who leapt into the ring and was the first to celebrate with him.
“Sibson hit me with a blinder of a punch,” conceded Minter, who said he was considering retirement even before the bout. “I think it would have knocked out any fighter in the world.”
And that was that.
Through his retirement from the ring, Minter could be found at ex-boxers’ meetings and he was often at awards dinners hosted by the Boxing Writers and the British Boxing Board of Control.
Minter spoke to Boxing News editor Matt Christie just a few short weeks ago, a last trip down a long, winding lane of memories.
The violent end to Sibson told him everything he needed to know. He was 30-years-old and had a 39-9 (23) record.
“I knew it was all over even though I was still a young man,” he said. “It made it easier to retire and I never missed it. I certainly don’t miss it today, it’s a hard, hard sport.”
Minter was a hard, hard man. British, European and unified world champion, he’d suffered his share of setbacks but never bailed on his dream. He deserved to say he was “proud of his career”. He’d earned it in blood.