Alan Hubbard

Of the 150 or so boxers who have taken part in the principal pandemic punch-ups conducted behind closed doors over the last couple of months I have noticed only one, 25-year-old middleweight Denzel Bentley from Battersea in south London, has taken the knee as a symbolic gesture towards the Black Lives Matter movement. Yet there has been no Lewis Hamilton-like complaints from him just because nobody followed suit.

Instead he rose and immediately set about earning a creditable draw last weekend with opponent Mark Heffron in a final eliminator for the British title which carries on the prestige of a Lonsdale belt. I thought he nicked the bout and now these perfectly-matched combatants must do it all over again before a winner is found.

The unbeaten Bentley is black and Heffron white. Not that anyone really noticed because boxing is rightly proud of its racism-free colourblindness. And has been for years.

So it was a perverse irony that shortly after the end of the fight the American master of ceremonies Thomas Treiber should call for silence at the sparsely-populated BT studio rigged at London’s York Hall, as well as from the watching viewers at home, while the traditional count of 10 was tolled by the ringside timekeeper to honour the passing that weekend of a rather more illustrious British middleweight, Alan Minter, the former Olympian who had died of cancer at the age of 69.

This was perversely ironic because exactly 40 years ago next week Minter was involved in one of the most infamous recorded episodes of racism in British boxing. The southpaw from Crawley in Sussex made a much out-of-character, off-the-cuff remark, publicly declaring that he would not "lose my title to a black man."

Marvelous Marvin Hagler stopped Alan Minter in three rounds following the latter's infamous remark ©Getty Images
Marvelous Marvin Hagler stopped Alan Minter in three rounds following the latter's infamous remark ©Getty Images

Minter, then 29, having successfully defended his unified world middleweight title against the Italian-American Vito Antuofermo whom he had previously defeated in Las Vegas, was about to face mandatory challenger Marvin Hagler, the shaven-headed black guy from Boston, Massachusetts. When Hagler heard the remark made on the eve of the contest, to say he was furious was an understatement.

The consequence was that he was in a particularly venomous mood when he encountered Minter at Wembley on 27 September 1980, quickly inflicting some severe and very bloody facial injuries in spiteful assaults before the bout was halted midway through the third round.

The resultant ringside riot involving Minter fans, Hagler’s entourage and security personnel, with spectators struck by chairs, fists and bottles remains one of the most inglorious episodes our in boxing history.

It is a pity, though perhaps inevitable, that the incident should be the highlight of many of the obituaries on Minter as he was a quality fighter and actually a pretty decent bloke. I was at Wembley on that terrifying night when members of the National Front had infiltrated the arena to support Minter - snarling, spitting and lashing out indiscriminately around us.

Some thugs were also banging on Hagler’s dressing room door later and one yelled at his terrified wife Bertha: "I hope your husband dies of cancer."

There was an evil in the air that I had not experienced at any boxing event before, and thankfully there has been none like it since. Minter himself seemed somewhat perplexed and baffled by it all. It was a different age then and there was little doubt he had not realised the gravity of the offence he had caused. And in conversations afterwards, though he had apologised, he could not really explain why he had said it. He maintained, however, that he had been told to say something like that after Hagler refused to shake his hand at an earlier meeting, to boost the hype for the fight and attract more television viewers. But he would not say who had instructed him to do so. I have never believed that he was a racist.

Minter was lucky to get away then with a stiff reprimand from the British Boxing Board of Control. Had he - or any fighter - made a similar remark today, especially during the present anti-racist climate, a lengthy ban and heavy fine would follow. Indeed the fight may have had to be called off because of the inevitable demos by far-right and extreme-left agitators.

I was also present in Las Vegas when Minter won the world title on a curious split decision six months earlier. He already held British, European and Commonwealth titles.

There was huge embarrassment when the British judge, publican Roland Dakin, astonishingly awarded 10 of the 15 rounds to Minter, leading to an inquiry and an immediate rematch at Wembley which Minter won fairly comfortably in eight rounds.

Funnily enough, you might say there was some sort of pugilistic justice in the Las Vegas scoring as eight years earlier at Munich 1972 Minter had been cheated out of a possible gold medal when, as an amateur, he lost in the Olympic semi-final to the West German Dieter Kottysch. It was a scandalous decision and many believe, including Britain's former national coach Kevin Hickey, who was in his corner alongside the late David James, that it had been planned the night before when the infamously corrupt referees and judges panel decided that West Germany needed a home townwinner as the Games came to a close.

Hickey points out that it was essentially down to the referee warning Minter about the sonorous "boom boom" noise he made as he threw his punches. He was repeatedly told to stop it and given warnings which destroyed his punching rhythm. Minter was left with the bronze and it was certainly no surprise when Kottysch went on to win the light-middleweight gold.

Minter won a bronze medal at the Munich 1972 Olympics ©Getty Images
Minter won a bronze medal at the Munich 1972 Olympics ©Getty Images

Rather than the unfortunate Hagler affair most of us would rather remember Minter for his ring accomplishments. He would have been the first to admit he was not the greatest middleweight who ever lived and would not be rated among the 160-pound super league which embraced the likes of Sugar Ray Robinson, Carlos Monzón, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Nor, I suspect would he have got the better of fellow Brits who held the title such as Ted "Kid" Lewis, Randolph Turpin and Terry Downes.

But the one-time plasterer had a great fighting heart and became a world-class performer when the former British featherweight champion Bobby Neill took over as his coaching mentor and turned him from a stiff-armed slugger into a stylist.

He quit boxing at 30 after being stopped by Tony Sibson but unfortunately, like many bored retirees, developed a drink problem which took its toll on his health and personal life and no doubt contributed to his recent death from cancer of the oesophagus.

However I shall also remember him as a star of Britain’s golden age of boxing. What you saw was what you got with "Boom Boom" Minter and Alan certainly gave his all.