It was a cool spring evening on the 16th March 1980, when the WBA & WBC middleweight titles were contested in the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, Nevada, between the champion Vito Antuofermo (45-3-2 19KOs) and the challenger from Great Britain Alan Minter (36-6, 22KOs). As expected, the defending champion was the bookmakers favourite going into the contest, but what was to happen on this night would shock boxing fans and pundits alike. Vito Antuofermo's early career success came in the super welterweight division where he won the European title beating Jean-Claude Warusfel in 1976, before going on to lose the title to Maurice Hope later that year. With weight being the issue for the Hope fight, the decision to move up to middleweight was unquestionably the right move and one that would be impactful to Antuofermo's legacy. After eight straight victories, Antuofermo was presented with a shot at the WBC and WBA world middleweight titles against Hugo Pastor Corro, who had held the titles since 1978, defeating Rodrigo Valdes in Italy. The 1979 bout with Corro was a bruising affair with both men opting to slug it out in the second half of their fifteen round battle. Antuofermo would come out victorious with a split decision, and thus begin his reign as middleweight king.
The journey for Vito Antuofermo was a tough one. His next opponent was the undefeated Marvin Hagler, who had waited so desperately for his shot at a world title, with the chance finally coming on the 30th November 1979. This was the preceding bout to a welterweight contest which captivated the entire audience, as Sugar Ray Leonard picked up his first world title, stopping Wilfred Benitez in a thrilling encounter. In what was a hotly contested matchup – on this particular night – both Antuofermo and Hagler gave their all, with the 4-1 underdog Antuofermo walking away with his titles after a split decision draw was announced.
Promoter Bob Arum in the immediate aftermath of the result stated that there would not be an immediate rematch, as the then WBC president Jose Suliman declared that Antuofermo would instead be fighting Crawley’s Alan Minter next.
Alan Minter's road to Vegas was a little different. As a professional, he opted to take the "traditional" route of winning domestic and European titles before graduating on to a world title. In 1975, Minter tasted his first success at middleweight by beating Kevin Finnegan on points to capture the coveted "Lord Lonsdale" belt. Following this victory, Minter would go on to beat the 1972 Olympic gold medal winner Sugar Ray Seales, before winning his first European title against Germano Valsecchi on the road in the champion's native country of Italy. Later that year Minter would face off against a true boxing legend in Emile Griffith, who then held a record of 85-23-2 with twenty of those wins coming by way of knockout. Whilst Minter picked up the victory on points, he later graciously admitted that Griffith had seen better days, and so was on his way out. Minter would say, post boxing career, that “To fight and be in the ring with one of the greatest middleweights the world has ever seen and to beat him on points, it was an education."
1977 turned out to be a rollercoaster of a year for Minter. After the dispatching of Griffith, he would then go on to lose his European title in Italy against Gratien Tonna, before subsequently winning the British title outright and defending it successfully against the man he ripped the title away from Kevin Finnegan. Remarkably the following year Minter would go on to recapture the European title from Angelo Jacopucci, on the champions home turf once again, signifying to everybody that Minter was not afraid to step into the metaphorical lion's den. After this, a successful defence of the title against Gratien Tonna followed, and then Minter went on a successful run of four victories which put him in line for a shot at the world champion, Vito Antuofermo. The stage was set for Alan Minter's big chance; he was the underdog travelling to America to fight the champion, who seemingly had a slightly easier night's work in store, given the perceived challenge that Minter would present him with. The championship bout between Vito Antuofermo and Alan Minter was that of a contrast in styles, a stereotypical European boxer with the classic upright stance using jabs to keep the champion at bay against the Italian-born mauler who lowered his head and rushed in, frequently driving Minter to the ropes. The two fighters, both known as heavy bleeders, suffered cuts over their eyes but the bout was remarkably free of blood. Antuofermo put the southpaw Minter down in the 14th round with a right to the body, but Minter scrambled quickly to his feet. Minter was given an eight-count although he claimed that he had been pushed. Minter, aided by a lopsided score by a British judge, took the title from Antuofermo by a split decision in a fifteen round war of attrition that left Alan Minter successfully stepping into the lion's den and walking away from Las Vegas as the victor, and the first British man to go to the States and win a world title since Ted Kid Lewis in 1917, a feat that many a fighter would struggle to achieve.
Many felt that Antuofermo had done enough to defend the title and it was the British judge Roland Dakin's scorecard that would create the most controversy with Nevada State Official Roy Tennison saying: "He was blind. He was a prejudicial judge. You can quote me on that too." In the aftermath of this historic victory, Alan Minter would return to Great Britain to defend the title in an immediate rematch against Antuofermo, but this time no scorecards were needed as Minter dominated proceedings, picking up an eighth-round TKO victory and solidifying his place in boxing history. For both men, this was twenty-three rounds of sheer brutality culminating in a successful trip into the lion's den for one of Great Britain's great middleweight champions.