Feature | Mar 20 2019

Vito Antuofermo – The bleeder who would be king

Vito Antuofermo explains to Rolando Vitale why he beat Marvin Hagler, how he ripped his lip off and lost his teeth in a rival’s glove, and how a brain scan turned his life upside down
Vito Antuofermo
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This feature was originally published in Boxing News magazine

WITH Vito Antuofermo the scars of battle were proof that he always came to fight. Implacably tough and imbued with a tremendous self-belief and stamina, the Italian-born New Yorker built a successful career. Notwithstanding his propensity to bleed, a clubbed foot, small physique and short arms for a middleweight, he prevailed to capture the undisputed world title from Hugo Corro in the summer of 1979. It was unfortunate for him that his eight-and-a-half month reign was sandwiched between two of the greatest 160 pounders of the modern era; Carlos Monzon and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Old school in attitude, the uncompromising Antuofermo refused to dodge potentially problematic rivals for lucrative voluntary defences. Instead he took on both the WBC and WBA appointed number one challengers consecutively.

He made his pro debut in 1971 and, right from the start was written off by the media as crude non-descript brawler. It was suggested that he change his surname because people couldn’t pronounce it. Antuofermo resisted, but each fight was a war where he was reduced to wading through his own blood a result of deep cuts and during his career required 100 stitches. The lacerations did not hold him back; as an inside fighter, Antuofermo did his best work close up. He possessed a great chin, deceptively fast hands, a good jab and solid punch to account for 21 knockouts and conquer the best middleweights around forcing his critics to eat humble pie.

Antuofermo made his mark by capturing the European light-middleweight title in 1976. He fought eight former and future world champions including Hall of Famer Emile Griffith and is fondly remembered as the boxer who fearlessly slugged it out with Hagler, earning a contentious draw. He occupied a top 10 position in the world rankings for seven consecutive years retiring in 1985 with a ledger of 50 wins, seven defeats and two draws. The spritely and muscular 66-year-old Antuofermo, who now lives in Bayonne, New Jersey, spoke exclusively to Boxing News about his career. 

What did you mean when you said that “fighting Marvin Hagler was the greatest moment of my life”?

Well, when I won the world title people made me feel like you really gotta fight Hagler to show I am the champion.  Winning the world title was a big moment for me but I still had one thing to accomplish in order to feel like a champion – That was Marvin Hagler.

Was there any bad blood between you and Hagler?

Not really. I was the champion and they were treating me like I was the challenger. He was 3/1 favourite to beat me and I got very mad about that. I didn’t like it. Somehow it worked in my favour because I was psychologically pumped up against Hagler. That’s one of the reasons I beat him.

You say there was no bad blood, but I read that Hagler taunted you.

He was going around with a fly swatter saying that “I’m going to swat “Vito the Mosquito.”
I did something too. At the time I was working for Coca Cola in New York. I bought a pair of boxing shoes. At the press conference I told Hagler “Marvin, will you please wear these shoes? When I knock you out tonight I want everybody to see. I want the TV to pick this up.” Underneath the shoes I wrote “Drink Coke and goodnight!” [laughs]

Do you feel you won the first Hagler fight?

I definitely thought I won the fight. If you look at the first half of the fight it was going back and forth. The last part of the fight, last six rounds I was coming on strong at the end of the round. I finished each round stronger.  I gotta say that fight was a draw. I thought I won the fight but I’ve also heard people say he won, others saying I won and I hear people say it was a draw. So a draw was the best thing.

Hagler felt that he had been cheated out of the win.

You can’t blame the guy. Like I said, I thought I got cheated too. Look, this fight was so different from the rest of the fights he had at that time. Remember he was knocking everybody out. I am the only guy he couldn’t knock out; me and Sugar Ray Leonard. So, he should really think about that as to why he couldn’t beat me. He knows he lost that fight.

What do you recall about the second Hagler fight?

The bad blood happened in the second fight in Boston. 30 seconds into the fight I got butted. He comes in with his head down. Maybe it was an accident, but I think he did it on purpose. I told him, “Marvin, you butted me, didn’t you?” He replied, “Too bad”. I got mad about that. He must have been mad at me from the first fight. He was coming in with his head down and the referee wasn’t warning him. He butted me twice. There was a lot of commotion and my manager and trainer figured it was best to stop the fight as I was getting cut up all over. They and not the referee stopped the fight. I haven’t told a lot of people, but that’s what he said to me, “too bad”. I hate to say anything bad about him because he’s a nice guy, but that’s what he said after the fight was stopped.

Have you ever asked him to explain his comment?

No, not really. We don’t really talk about that. If I do it, he might say something bad and it’s going to create friction. I don’t need that, not now. I’ve met Hagler three times since I retired. The last time was three years ago in Canastota, New York at the [International] Boxing Hall of Fame. We sat down with both wives and had dinner.

Who was the biggest puncher you faced?

Eugene “Cyclone” Hart of Philadelphia was the hardest puncher I ever fought. He knocked a lot of guys out. He destroyed Sugar Ray Seales and had Hagler in trouble. He hurt me in the third and fourth rounds but then
I ended up knocking him out. After we fought I knew that if I can take this guy’s punch nobody is going to be able to knock me out.

Vito Antuofermo

Who had the best chin out of the boxers you fought?

Bennie Briscoe had the best chin I have ever hit. I shook him a few times. He was another strong puncher. I fought a lot of punchers, something my manager didn’t care about. He knew I could take a punch, but sometimes taking punches all the time is no good either.

Who was the best defensive fighter you ever fought?

Hugo Corro. He looked like a schoolboy who never got hit. I never hit him with a solid shot. He [Corro] beat Rodrigo Valdes twice and Ronnie Harris too. I boxed him [Harris] in the gym and he made me look bad. And Hugo Corro made him [Harris] look bad – it just shows how good Corro was. You couldn’t hit the guy; if you look at the [Corro] fight it looks like I beat the s**t out of the guy but he had no marks on his face. He was not fast on his feet but he was smooth, and when he made a step he did the right move.

Overall who was the best fighter you faced?

Hagler knew all the tricks. He made it difficult to fight him because he was a southpaw and he was also tough. He could pick a punch, then he switched on you while you are fighting him southpaw style. All of a sudden he switched on you and he comes in at you with a right hand then he comes in with a left hook with a right hand and left jab. If you look at the fight he kept switching and that’s what got him out of trouble.

What do you recall about your two fights with Alan Minter?

He [Minter] was a great fighter but I felt they robbed me in the first fight in [Las] Vegas. He didn’t beat me, but they gave it to him. I’m an inside fighter and [referee] Carlos Padilla kept breaking us up. I used to throw punches on the inside but he kept breaking us up all the time. If other referees had done what Padilla done I would have probably lost every fight. I really didn’t want to come to England for the [rematch] fight.

They should have had Minter fight Hagler first and for me to fight the winner. In fact, I got cut in my last sparring session – I hoped my manager would cancel the fight. We arrived in England two or three days before the fight and my manager said it would be OK, but Minter opened up the cut right away. I bled in most of my fights and they were able to stop the bleeding. From the second round on I couldn’t see Minter’s punches coming. When they weren’t able to stop the bleeding the referee stopped it.

Any regrets?

The second Hagler fight. The first Minter fight was a robbery. I thought I won that fight easy. One of the judges was from England and another was from [Las] Vegas. I found out that the Vegas judge was a best friend of [UK promoter] Mickey Duff. They had it all one-sided for Minter. The second Minter fight shouldn’t have happened as I got cut in sparring.

What do you miss most about boxing?

I miss the limelight. I miss the action. Even now I look the same. I also miss the training. I wish I was 20-30 years younger [laughs].

Why did you take three years out of boxing before making a comeback?

When I lost to Hagler [in the rematch] my manager told me to retire. Anyways, I made a comeback as a junior-middleweight, knocking out four local guys. Then Don King offered me a title shot if I could beat Matthew Hilton [future IBF super-welterweight champ].

Did I tell you the story about the mouthpiece? I got caught with a right hand double uppercut. The first punch knocked the mouthpiece out of my mouth. And the second punch caught his knuckles into my upper lip and against the teeth and he split my upper lip open. They found two of my caps in his glove. They had to take a piece of my lip out because it was hanging off, and they had to put it in a bag of ice. The next day I went to my doctor and he had to re-attach that piece of my lip. That was last my fight. [October 1985]

You thought about making another comeback in 1993.

Yes. Randy Gordon [NYSAC commissioner], a friend of mine, told me they were not going to give me a licence because the cat-scan revealed something abnormal. Sure enough, Randy talked me out of making a comeback.
I swear to God, I was down to 154 pounds. I was in great shape. If I wanted to press the commissioner he would have given it to me. I took the news very hard. I kept saying to myself, “Am I going to be punch drunk for the rest of my life?” 30 years later I’m still living and I have no symptoms at all. I may forget things like everybody else, but I have no problems with my memory.

What did you do when you retired from boxing?

I ran a restaurant. At one time I owned and ran two Coca Cola delivery routes with my brother. I also did some acting. I played Joey Zasa’s [Joe Mantegna’s] main bodyguard in The Godfather III. I did some acting classes but I didn’t get too many parts [laughs]. I did a few commercials and had a few little parts including The Sopranos, but not enough to make a living out of it. I have been working as a longshoreman for the New York Shipping Company since 2000.

What was the biggest single memory you have of The Godfather III film?

I wound up hitting Andy Garcia [Vincent Corleone] on set. Remember when I grab Andy Garcia in The Godfather III, who I have a scuffle with? My hand slipped and I ended up making his nose bleed. He went down and I apologised. For the first two days Andy Garcia was not talking too much. He must have thought who the fuck is that?” He was not too friendly.

After I made his nose bleed he started opening up. He knew who I was.

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