It is now over 40 years since undisputed middleweight champion of the world Vito Antuofermo made the second defence of his titles against British contender Alan Minter at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. For those of us old enough to remember, this fight took place at a time when British fighters had very limited success when travelling across the Atlantic to challenge for world honours. John H Stracey had managed the feat in 1976 when he dethroned legendary welterweight ruler Jose Napoles in a Mexican Bullring. Minter was believed to have about as much chance as Stracey was given in the build-up to his challenge, Antuofermo after all was coming off a draw with Marvin Hagler.
Born in Palo del Colle, Puglia, Italy in 1953, Antuofermo moved with his family to New York at 17 years of age. He won the New York Golden Gloves welterweight Championship in 1970 before turning pro against Ivelaw Eastman in Queens, New York on 30th November 1971.
An 18 fight unbeaten run (1 draw) ended in July 1973 when the 20-year-old Vito was stopped in five rounds on a cut by future two-time world welterweight title challenger Harold Weston.
Antuofermo then won his next 19 outings, fighting in the USA and Europe. In January 1976, Vito travelled to Germany and won the European super-welterweight title from Eckhard Dagge, Dagge would go on to become WBC world champion just two fights later.
After a successful defence against Jean-Claude Warusfel in Milan, Italy, Antuofermo suffered back-to-back defeats to Frank Wissenbach in Germany (8 rounds pts) and Maurice Hope in Rome, Italy (15th round Tko), a loss that saw him lose the EBU belt to future world titleholder Hope.
Back in New York and moving up to middleweight, Vito rebuilt himself with 8 solid wins which included victories over 1970s middleweight stalwarts Eugene ‘Cyclone’ Hart and ‘Bad Benny’ Briscoe leading to a challenge against unified world champion Hugo Pastor Corro of Argentina in Monte Carlo on 30th June 1979.
Vito won a hotly disputed split decision to become champion of the world and fulfil a childhood ambition.
Caesars Palace, Las Vegas was to become home to Antuofermo’s title defences. First came the formidable challenge of Marvin Hagler, the Boston southpaw with a 51-2-1 record. Both losses (Bobby Watts 10 rounds MD), (Willie Monroe 10 rounds UD) took place in Philadelphia where Watts and Monroe hailed from and the draw to Sugar Ray Seales, the 1972 Olympic Games gold medallist was controversial so, to many insiders, Hagler was an undefeated fighter.
Hagler was favourite and once again, the split decision draw handed to Antuofermo was strongly disputed. This of course only drove Hagler on in his quest for acclamation as the world’s best middleweight. However, the man to be known in the future as ‘Marvellous’ would need to wait a little longer while the champion defended the titles against British hero Alan ‘Boom Boom’ Minter.
Minter had won a Bronze medal at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games but, it soon became apparent as a professional that much like Antuofermo, the Crawley man was susceptible to cuts around the eyes. After 11 wins in his first seven months in the paid ranks, Minter lost on an 8th round stoppage due to a cut right eyebrow against Don McMillan in a fight he was winning easily. This was the beginning of a period in which Minter would lose 3 of his next 6 bouts due to cuts around the eyes.
After returning to the win column on 5 occasions, Minter won the vacant British middleweight title in the first of three meetings he would have with Kevin Finnegan. Finnegan was the brother of Chris who won Gold at the 1969 Olympic Games and as a professional challenged world champion Bob foster for his title in the Ring Magazine fight of the year for 1972.
Kevin would go on to twice hold the European middleweight title and then travel to Boston, Massachusetts in 1978 for two fights with Marvin Hagler. Kevin was hard work for any 160lb fighter on the planet. When I spoke to Minter many years after he retired, he said only that “Finnegan was the toughest man I ever met.”
Seven further wins followed including British title defences against Billy Knight and Finnegan as well as victories over former world title challenger Tony Licata and world-ranked Sugar Ray Seales, wins that secured Minter a top-ten world ranking. Added to this, Minter travelled to Milan, Italy where he ripped away the European title in five rounds from champion Germano Valsecchi.
Cuts came back to haunt Minter yet again when he was stopped in 8 rounds to underrated contender Ronnie Harris who five fights later would challenge Hugo Corro for this world titles in Argentina’s Luna Park.
Minter returned to winning ways three months later with a 10 round points win over former three-weight world titleholder Emile Griffiths in Monte Carlo but, Frenchman Gratien Tonna relieved him of the European title when he stopped Minter, you guessed it, on cuts in 8 rounds in Milan.
Kevin Finnegan was Minter’s route back to winning ways and the two met for the third time on 8th November 1977 at Wembley in another torrid 15 rounder. The British champion then made his first appearance in an American ring when he faced Sandy Torres on the Muhammad Ali vs Leon Spinks I undercard in Las Vegas, winning by knockout in 5 rounds. The chance to regain the vacant European belt arose and Minter travelled to Bellaria, Italy to face Angelo Jacopucci who he knocked out in the 12th round. Sadly, the Italian died of injuries sustained in the fight.
Revenge is sweet as they say and, Minter must have enjoyed forcing former foe Gratien Tonna to retire after 6 rounds at Wembley in defence of his European crown in November 1978. Another four wins in 1979 and the following March Minter faced Antuofermo with the undisputed world title on the line.
This is a fight that I must have watched on at least a dozen or more occasions over the years and I still cannot make Vito a winner. That is not in any way meant to demean his part in a tough, gruelling 15 round bout that showed why boxing fans loved the man. He was the epitome of a boxing tough guy, soaking up whatever was thrown at him just for the chance to land a few of his own. For me, the champion was simply outboxed and at times outpunched by a superior boxer. The tactics Minter used were perfect for this fight. The southpaw jab just couldn’t miss in the first 7 rounds and the short backhand shots as Vito closed the gap were accurate to a fault.
Vito learnt in the first half of the fight that he couldn’t land too many clean punches as he closed the gap so, as he collided with his challenger, he threw hooks to the head, some to the back of the head in fact but, that was where he started to close the gap.
Minter knew that he could never win a decision if he ran from Antuofermo. Las Vegas judges didn’t give points for running back in those days. The aggressor was always going to be awarded rounds even if he didn’t land as many punches. Minter met Vito in the centre of the ring and stepped around him as he advanced, peppering him with that fast southpaw jab.
Having watched the fight yet again just before writing this article, I still have Minter winning 9 rounds to 5 with 1 even. British judge at ringside Roland Dakin was heavily criticised for his 149-137 scorecard at the time and while I gave Vito more rounds I can understand how Dakin could come to that conclusion.
The win made Minter a national hero in Britain even though he was to have a short reign as champion, falling to the great Marvin Hagler in his first defence on a night that British boxing wishes never happened due to the thuggish behaviour of certain elements in the crowd.
It is sometimes strange that when pundits discuss the best wins by British boxers overseas in world title fights they somehow overlook this fight. Minter was masterful on this night, he had the answers to everything that the teak-tough champion threw at him. It was a great performance by Vito Antuofermo, one that he should still be proud off because he had little or no success in the early going but stuck to the task at hand and made a fight of it.
Sadly, we lost Alan Minter to cancer in September 2020.
The former undisputed middleweight champion of the world from Crawley in Sussex told me once that “If I had met Marvin Hagler ten times, I would have lost to him ten times” and that for me summed the man up. He knew his shortcomings and was able to praise those that came before and after him if they deserved it.
Rest in peace Champ!