FIGHTS with Shako Mamba in Munich, Emile Griffith in Monaco and Frankie Lucas in a nightclub made Alan Minter the fighter he was.
The trilogy with Kevin Finnegan, the nasty fights with Gratien Tonna, the blood-bath scraps with Vito Antuofermo and the Marvin Hagler night of a thousand bottles are the famous fights, but men like Mamba and other forgotten fighters need to be remembered.
Mamba is a glorious Seventies fighting traveller, popping up all over the globe and giving everybody and anybody a good few rounds. He won on the night that George Foreman lost to Muhammad Ali in Zaire; he was the only other winner on that night of wonders. Mamba was a crowd favourite in the Democratic Republic of Congo, then known as Zaire – it was one of the eight countries he travelled to for fights. I’m told by certified fibbers that his full fighting name was: Shako The Black Mamba Snake Mamba. It makes sense.
Minter beat him over eight rounds on an odd show in Munich just 30 days after Mamba’s win in the chief supporting contest to Ali and Foreman. Also in 1974 Mamba had won the Africa Union middleweight title in Togo and beaten Minter’s genuine nemesis Jan Magdziarz in Luxembourg. Mamba would finish his career losing over 10 rounds to Magdziarz in Belgium in 1978. These were exotic days, my friend.
Magdziarz, meanwhile, once fought Minter at Battersea Town Hall in the South West London divisional championships. It is close to impossible for me to explain how a boxer from Crawley, who had just won the Southern Counties title at Hove Town Hall, then had to beat a man from Hampshire in Battersea in the London championships. They met three times as pros – Minter never won any of their paid fights; Magdziarz won the first two on cuts. In the third fight nobody got paid because Harry Gibbs, the John Wayne of British referees, threw them both out, disqualified for not trying, and the fight was an eliminator first the British title. A year later Minter was the British champion.
Hold on, I’m not quite finished with the remarkable Jan.
In 2016 I discovered that he was the lead tenor in a popular south coast Barbershop Quartet and – I kid you not – he looked about 35 in his bow-tie promotional picture. I thought it was his son! Jan, incidentally, lost 10 of his 27 fights and was in so many bloody and brutal fights. He might just be one of the hardest men of British boxing from the Seventies – it is wise to only look at his boxing record through your fingers.
Anyway, back to the Minter story.
After Minter won the SW London divs title at middleweight he went to the Royal Albert Hall in March. He was stopped on cuts in the first round by Frankie Lucas of Sir Philip Game, the Croydon club that produced the McKenzie brothers and Frank Bruno. There was the first piece of boxing larceny (the second piece was Minter’s defeat in the semi-final) connected to the summer’s Olympic Games shortly after when Minter was selected and Lucas, having won the national title, was overlooked. There was some truly savage bad blood over the decision made by the men in blazers. It was a cruel year for justice; a teenage Kirkland Laing was also shafted. Minter, remember, went to Munich at light-middle, meaning national amateur champion Larry Paul was dropped without a hope. Larry, really, was the victim here; a man called Billy Knight went at middle instead of the volatile Lucas. But it was the Lucas row that hurt Big Al.
“Minter was never happy with what people were saying after he was selected and Lucas was not,” insists Ron Boddy, one of the finest boxing minds and historians in our fragmented business. There was talk of a fist fight between the pair at Crystal Palace National Sports Centre where the GB team met at weekends. This is probably true, by the way.
The solution in Minter’s mind reads like fantasy: Minter agreed to fight Lucas on a Sir Philip Game dinner show in Croydon at some point in May. Lucas was the new ABA champion and Minter was getting ready to fight at the Olympics. It is rumoured that Minter had negotiated an electric blanket and a few quid in readies for the crazy fight as his prize. I’m not joking, I have also seen a picture of Minter holding a table lamp prize after a club show victory. Here is the Boddy Man again: “Minter went totally out of his way to put an end to the chatter. He never had to have that fight.” Minter was brilliant on the night and won clearly.
So that’s Mamba, Magdziarz, Lucas and now it’s Emile Griffith, surely one of the finest boxers of the last 75 years. Sweet Emile, man of dignity and fighting excellence.
The fight with Griffith in Monte Carlo was sandwiched between two defeats: Minter was stopped by Ronnie Harris in a fight that Mickey Duff tried to stop taking place and then he was cut and stopped by Tonna in Italy. The Harris fight was made by Mike Barrett, one of Duff’s associates, when Duff was out of reach. “I would never have made it,” Duff insisted. The cameo by Griffith is wonderfully absurd.
It was Griffith’s 111th and last ever fight in a 20-year-career. He won world titles at welter and middle, even a fledgling light-middle belt and he was in some of the most memorable fights of the Sixties and early Seventies. Emile is a real hero. He met Minter in 1977, losing over 10 rounds, but they were rounds Minter would cherish. Griffith was nearly 40 when he walked away after the 30-minute education he gave to Minter.
They all helped make Minter, every member of the odd gang had a role to play.