Hagler is more sensitive, too, than he was given credit for. All week he had asked for news of Owen; he had heard on Friday night that the Welshman had been operated on a second time to relieve intracranial pressure and that his vital signs were "unstable." Hagler constantly questioned his sport as he worked out in a gym located over a pub in the area of South London known as Lavender Hill, which had been made famous by that Alec Guinness movie. "What's wrong?" Hagler wanted to know. "Are we training boxers wrong? Putting them in the ring prepared wrong?"
Hagler also spoke of the uniquely undivided—none of this WBA-WBC stuff—middleweight title he had come so close to winning from Antuofermo in Las Vegas, a deed Minter had accomplished with a split-decision victory last March. "I could almost taste the title that time," Hagler said. "Watch the tape and see how I won it. Easy. Know what I did? I softened Antuofermo up. Minter just beat what was left of him." Hagler might have had a right to be bitter about that decision which left him with an uncrowned-champion label. Before meeting Antuofermo, Hagler had lost only twice in 53 bouts, both on decisions, both early in '76, both reversed in rematches.
Minter's career has been far more patchy: 39 wins, five losses—all on cuts—and one no contest. In the last six years, though, Minter, a restaurateur in Crawley, some 30 miles south of London, had lost only twice and his fortunes had flourished after he won the title from Antuofermo and then demolished him in a June rematch at Wembley. Since then he had become a national hero in England. You can't take the subway in London without seeing him featured on a poster advertising sports clothes with the caption THE COOL TASTE OF MINT. Minter's purse for Saturday night was said to be $500,000—Hagler would get only a quarter of that—and a successful defense of his title would bring Minter such goodies as a $1 million contract for endorsements by Sasson, the leisure-wear company.
"Yeah, well," Minter said coldly of Hagler during one of his own training sessions, "he blew his big chance in Vegas, didn't 'e?" The champion's much-photographed blue eyes were cold, the expression that of a bank manager turning down a loan applicant. "I don't think the guy's all that genuine. He couldn't end Antuofermo. He's a gym fighter. He's unbelievable in the gym, but the moves he makes in the ring don't compare."
In London if one wants an unbiased opinion, one goes to the betting shops. By Saturday morning the bookies were giving 4-5 Minter and even money Hagler; one would need a very fine blade to slice that.
And on Saturday night at Wembley, the crowd began to chant Minter's name shortly after the start of the undercard. The spectators were hyped up enough as it was without the chauvinistic rabble-rousing that Promoters Harry (The Hoarse) Levene and Mickey Duff seemed to consider necessary for the occasion: the five Royal Marines in full ceremonial dress playing fanfares on silver bugles; the dramatic blacking out of the hall; the bathing of Minter in spotlights as he came out of his dressing room; the hugely oversized Union Jack and Banner of St. George of England that accompanied Minter to the ring; his attendants in Union Jack-patterned outfits.
It had a maddening effect on the crowd, maybe even some on Minter, but clearly none at all on Hagler, who simply turned into his corner and loosened up. Hagler, the pundits had declared, would carry the fight hard to Minter in the first five or six rounds, while the champion would hang in, box cautiously, contain Hagler, and then come forth in the second half of the fight when the American's alleged lack of staying power would let Minter go in for the kill.
It didn't happen at all like that. Minter had long ago learned not to crash in at the start, not to lose his temper the first time he was hit. That, at least, was what he and Bidwell kept saying. This was the new, ice-cool Mint, the planner, the strategist.
But Hagler had said in the Lavender Hill gym a couple of days before, "I see the way they've got Minter all hyped up. I wouldn't like that. My pace is medium pace."
And from the bell, a clever medium pace was all Hagler needed. In came Minter, wildly, throwing rights, only to encounter Hagler's left jab. Minter probably won that first round, but at the end of it his face was red and starting to swell. Ominously, there was a small cut alongside his left eye. Jackie McCoy, the cut man Bidwell had imported from Los Angeles, had to start work far sooner than expected.