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It was hard to tell what sort of shape Antuofermo was in, but there was no such uncertainty about Minter. In the gym Minter was eager and sharp, scorning protective headgear in some sparring rounds. And in the bar downstairs, a shrine to boxing, not Becket, the locals were confident under the smiling oil painting of Henry Cooper, the former heavyweight contender. For years Our 'Enery had been the idol of the Cockney fans, and they were a little sniffy at first about Minter, a boy from out of town. But they'd been won over by his performance in Vegas.
"There won't 'arf be a knees-up in 'ere when 'e wins on Saturday," somebody said. A Cockney "knees-up" being a lot of beer, a lot of dancing and singing of old-time songs.
There were an awful lot of Cockneys in Wembley Arena for the fight, a sellout, and the din was enormous.
From the start, Antuofermo—heavily mustached, unshaven for days, barrel-chested, a smaller Rocky Marciano—threw wild punches and charged in low. Which was absolutely no surprise. And Minter did not retreat. He stood up, crashing rights into a face that Antuofermo seemed uninterested in protecting. Then Minter would follow the jabs with left crosses. Authoritative and aggressive, Minter guided those jabs with cold eyes. In 51 fights Antuofermo had been stopped only twice, but just before the end of Round 1 one of Minter's combinations cut him over the nose, a little toward the right eyebrow. Already Antuofermo was in trouble.
For only a moment in the whole fight, at the end of the second round, did Minter lose his cool. Then he seemed to ignore the bell, going after Antuofermo so that his father-in-law and trainer, Doug Bidwell, had to drag him toward his corner. Now there was a split over Antuofermo's left brow, the crowd was chanting Minter's name, and the beginning of Round 3 would be his moment of temptation to mix it with Antuofermo.
But Minter avoided it. The third reverted to the pattern of Round 1, Antuofermo coming on like one of those doomed divisions on the Western Front in World War I. When, briefly, he managed to get Minter on the ropes, the champion slipped him expertly. Twice Minter coolly turned his back on Antuofermo, inviting the referee to intervene, which he did. One Antuofermo rush, almost at belly level, came close to pushing Minter through the ropes, but he twisted away, grinning a wolfs grin.
In the sixth, Minter opened up Antuofermo's right eye again, with a looping right. Not until the seventh did Antuofermo catch Minter—with a right chop and a left hook—but instantly the champion was counterpunching heavily, Antuofermo's face was again a bloody mess, and the referee was intervening, borrowing a towel to wipe the blood from his own face as the doctor examined Antuofermo.
And then the eighth: two more right jabs and a left from Minter were enough to prompt Carione to move into the ring to concede after the round ended. As Minter leaped high in the ring, this time with reason, they were still working on Antuofermo's face. Eighteen stitches would be needed to close him up, and gallantly, simply, he would say of Minter, "A great champion."
And a busy one, his manager reckoned. "He'll rest, but not for long," Bidwell said. Marvin Hagler would seem the logical choice for Minter's next defense, and down at the Thomas � Becket they'll no doubt arrange another knees-up for that.