Emile Griffith

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Emile Alphonse Griffith (born February 3, 1938) is a former boxer who was the first fighter from the U.S. Virgin Islands ever to become a world champion. He is perhaps best known for his controversial third fight with Benny Paret in 1962 for the welterweight world championship. Griffith later won the world middleweight title and claimed an early version of the junior middleweight world championship, a claim that has not been universally recognized although some consider Griffith a three-division champion fighter.

Amateur

Emile Griffith World Champion from St. Thomas Virgin Islands

Griffith as a youth never dreamed of becoming a boxer and was discovered by accident. As a teen he was working at a hat factory on a steamy day when his boss the factory owner agreed to Griffith’s request to work shirtless. When the owner, a former amateur boxer, noticed his frame he took Griffith to trainer Gil Clancy‘s gym.[1]

Griffith won the 1958 New York Golden Gloves 147 lb Open Championship. Griffith defeated Osvaldo Marcano of the Police Athletic Leagues Lynch Center in the finals to win the Championship. In 1957 Griffith advanced to the finals of the 147 lb Sub-Novice division and was defeated by Charles Wormley of the Salem Crescent Athletic Club. Griffith trained at the West 28th Street Parks Department Gym in New York City.

Professional

Griffith turned professional in 1958 and fought frequently in New York City.

Griffith captured the Welterweight title from Cuban Benny “The Kid” Paret by knocking him out in the 13th round on April 1, 1961. Six months later Griffith lost the title to Paret in a narrow split decision. Griffith regained the title from Paret on March 24, 1962 in the controversial bout detailed below.[2]

Griffith waged a classic three-fight series with Luis Rodriguez, losing the first and winning the other two. He defeated middleweight contender Holly Mims but was knocked out in one round by Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. Three years later, on February 3, 1966, he faced middleweight champion Dick Tiger and won a ten-round decision and the middleweight title. He also lost, regained and then lost the middleweight crown in three classic fights with Nino Benvenuti.

But many boxing fans believed he was never quite the same fighter after Paret’s death. From the Paret bout to his retirement in 1977, Griffith fought 80 bouts but only scored twelve knockouts. He later admitted to being gentler with his opponents and relying on his superior boxing skills, because he was terrified of killing someone else in the ring. Like so many other fighters, Griffith fought well past his prime. He won only nine of his last twenty three fights.

Other boxers he fought in his career were the world champions American Denny Moyer, Cuban Luis Rodríguez, Argentinian Carlos Monzón, Nigerian Dick Tiger, Cuban José Nápoles and in his last title try, German Eckhard Dagge. After 18 years as a professional boxer, Griffith retired with a record of 85 wins (25 by knockout), 24 losses and 2 draws.

Benny Paret

Griffith and Paret’s third fight, which was nationally televised by ABC, occurred on March 24, 1962 at Madison Square Garden. In the sixth round Paret nearly knocked out Griffith with a multi punch combination but Griffith was saved by the bell.[2] After the round his trainer Gil Clancy got into his face and told him “when you go inside I want you to keep punching until Paret holds you or the referee breaks you! But you keep punching until he does that!”.[1] In round twelve Griffith knocked Paret unconscious yet Paret stood, still propped up against the ropes while Griffith struck Paret repeatedly over the next several seconds before referee Ruby Goldstein stopped the fight. Paret never regained consciousness, and he died ten days later.

Sports Illustrated reported in its April 18, 2005, edition that Griffith’s rage may have been fueled by an anti-gay slur directed at him by Paret during the weigh-in. Paret called his opponent a maricón, the Spanish equivalent of “faggot“;[1] Griffith nearly went after him on the spot and had to be restrained. The media at the time either ignored the slur or used euphemisms such as “anti-man”. The 2005 article pointed out that it would have been career suicide for an athlete or any other celebrity during the 1960s to admit that he was gay.

While Paret was lying on the floor being attended to Griffith told a television interviewer “I’m very proud to be the welterweight champion again…and I hope Paret is feeling very good.” When the seriousness of the situation become known Griffith went to the hospital where Paret was being treated and unsuccessfully attempted for several hours to gain entry to Paret’s room. Following that he ran through the streets while being insulted by passers-by. He would later receive hate mail from Paret’s supporters who were convinced Griffith purposely killed Paret.[1]

This incident, and the widespread publicity and criticism of boxing which accompanied it, became the basis of the 2005 documentary Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story. New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller created a seven man commission to investigate the incident and the sport.[1] ABC, which televised the fatal bout, ended its boxing broadcasts and other U.S. networks followed; the sport would not return to free television until the 1970s. Goldstein, the referee for this fight, would never again referee a fight.[citation needed]

Griffith reportedly still feels guilt over Paret’s death, and has suffered nightmares about Paret for forty years.[1] In the last scene of Ring of Fire, Griffith was introduced to Benny Paret’s son. The son embraced the elderly fighter and told him he was forgiven. However, Paret’s widow Lucy could not bring herself to meet him and died in 2004.

Trainer

He has trained other boxers including Wilfred Benítez and Juan Laporte, of Puerto Rico. Both have won world championships. Griffith, Monzon, Benvenuti, Rodriguez, Tiger, Nápoles and Benítez are members of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. From 1979-1980 he worked in Denmark as coach of the Danish olympic amateur boxing team.

Personal life

In 1971 Griffith married Mercedes (Sadie) who was a member of the dance troupe Prince Rupert and the Slave Girls at the time two months after meeting her. Griffith adopted Donastorg’s daughter.[1]

After retiring from boxing, Griffith worked as a corrections officer at the Secaucus Juvenile Dentention Facility. Emile, received he job at the facility in N.J. as a guard. His old friend an ex-senator from N. J. Chris Jackman offered the job to Emile, after retiring from boxing where he lived on N.J. Blvd East over looking N.Y. city.   There in the facility is where he met Luis four months after his incarceration a total of 6 months in his imprisonment.  Emile and Luis bonded very close until Louis was discharged from there. He said please let you mother know my intention. ” Then after the news Emile asked me to be his adopted son.  I said hell yeah. after that it was history between us” says Luis.

In 1992, Griffith was viciously beaten and almost killed on a New York City street, after leaving a gay bar.

Griffith was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying “I like men and women both. But I don’t like that word: homosexual, gay or faggot. I don’t know what I am. I love men and women the same, but if you ask me which is better … I like women.” [1]

Today, Griffith requires full time care and suffers from pugilistic dementia. Luis cares for his father in the nursing home  Nassau Extended Care in Hempstead. Emille had visitors like Joe Frazier, Cassius Clay Jr.  Juan LaPorte, James(Bonecrusher)Smith.  Vito Antifermo, and many other in the boxing community, as well as Luis and his family.

3 thoughts on “Emile Griffith

  1. it has been stated in this article and other media outlets that boxing was taken off tv-after the 3rd Paret vs Griffith fite-until the 1970s.not true.LIVE boxing was taken off the air for 5 years.you could still see a fite on “delayed tape” which very often was 24hours later.when Muhammed Ali was stripped of th’heavyweight title,ABC ran a series of 8 fites-th’1st of which was a draw that had to be fought again-to crown a successor.these fites were shown LIVE