Not even the BBC, the masters of high drama in England, could have come up with a better final scene. It wouldn't have dared. The whole event lacked understatement and reserve, two national treasures, and that would never do. But on Sunday in, of all places, Las Vegas, the famed British sangfroid disappeared.
First there was the closing melee in the 15th round, with the world middleweight champion, Vito Antuofermo, and English challenger Alan Minter slugging it out. And then the bell ringing and the handlers scrambling into the ring and hoisting their fighters on their shoulders. Each thinking he had won, the fighters held their hands aloft, making the traditional "V" for victory sign. Then came the announcer's voice, almost drowned out by the noisy crowd, proclaiming that Minter, by a split decision, was the new undisputed middleweight champion of the world. And there was Minter, momentarily overwhelmed, dropping to his knees and bursting into tears. As a final touch, at least 1.000 Englishmen stood in the Sports Pavilion at Caesars Palace—5,200 miles from the pubs of London and Liverpool—some singing "Alan Meen-tah, Alan Meen-tah, we'll support you evermore. ..." Others were waving Union Jacks and chanting the name of their light-foot lad from Crawley, in Sussex—"Meen-tah! Meen-tah! Meen-tah!"
Alan Minter thus became only the third Englishman ever to hold the middleweight crown ( Randy Turpin beat Sugar Ray Robinson for the title in 1951 and Terry Downes stopped Paul Pender in the ninth round in 1961).
Minter and his cornermen used two code terms to remind themselves of their strategy for beating Antuofermo—"CB" for clever boxing and "CA" for controlled aggression. And that, in broadest terms, is what Minter used to defeat Antuofermo, who was making the second defense of his title. Through guile and grit and using his skills as a boxer to decisive effect, the 28-year-old southpaw took charge early, kept the champion off balance, controlled most of the fight and recaptured the initiative when it seemed that Antuofermo had seized it from him in the middle rounds.
Although the thousand-odd Englishmen were in an uproar when the decision was announced, Antuofermo was stunned and silent—"What can I say?"—and many others were at least mildly surprised and arguing into the wee hours over who the real winner was and why. The official scoring was no help. In fact, it only fueled the dispute. The three judges, presumably observing the same fight, came to conclusions so sharply divergent that they might as well have judged it sitting under the ring, listening to footsteps.
Antuofermo, 28, is a survivor, an infighting body puncher who pressures and pursues an opponent, and he is not a man whose work can be easily judged. He won the title last June 30 on a split decision, beating Hugo Corro in Monte Carlo, and in the first defense of his title in Las Vegas last November, he just gained a draw against Marvin Hagler, a decision widely and hotly disputed.
So the fight on Sunday had familiar echoes, though Antuofermo was beaten this time. For most of the early rounds, throwing a left off his right jab, Minter kept Antuofermo at bay. The champion charged and bulled, trying to get inside, where he does his best work, but there the attacks would end. Repeatedly the two men wound up in a lurching embrace, with Referee Carlos Padilla, who had no vote in the decision under Nevada rules, stepping in to break them.
"The referee wouldn't let me fight," Antuofermo complained. "Any time I got on top of him, the referee grabbed me. With Hagler I was able to fight on top because the referee let me fight."
"I had to break them," Padilla said. "There should be no holding, no clinching, only hitting. What they were doing was not infighting. Infighting is not holding." With his inside attack weakened, and Minter sticking with the jab and popping hard lefts, Antuofermo had trouble getting off effective combinations.
Both men bleed easily and freely, but this was not the bloodbath many had expected. And neither man was ever in serious trouble. Antuofermo dropped Minter—the only knockdown in the fight, in the 14th round—with one of his infrequent left-right combinations, but it appeared as much a slip as a decking, and the embarrassed Minter was quickly on his feet, unhurt.