Emile Griffith, boxer who won fight which killed Bennie Paret, dies aged 75 (2024)

Emile Griffith, an elegant world champion whose career was overshadowed by the fatal beating he gave Bennie Paret in a 1962 title bout that darkened all of boxing, died on Tuesday. He was 75. He died at an extended care facility in Hempstead, New York, the International Boxing Hall of Fame said.

Griffith, who struggled with pugilistic dementia and required full-time care late in life, was the first boxer from the US Virgin Islands to become a world champion. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.

"Emile was a gifted athlete and truly a great boxer," said the Hall of Fame director, Ed Brophy. "Outside the ring he was as great a gentleman as he was a fighter. He always had time for boxing fans when visiting the hall on an annual basis and was one of the most popular boxers to return year after year."

Griffith often attended fights in New York, especially at Madison Square Garden, where he headlined 23 times. He was also a frequent visitor to many boxing clubs around New York City. He would slowly rise from his seat, often with assistance, and smile while waving when he was acknowledged.

The outpouring of love that he received late in life stood in stark contrast to the way he was received after 24 March 1962, when he fought Bennie "The Kid" Paret before a national television audience at the Garden. Griffith knocked out his bitter rival in the 12th round, to regain the welterweight title. Paret went into a coma and died from his injuries 10 days later. In 2005, Sports Illustrated reported that Griffith's performance in the fight may have been fueled by an anti-gay slur directed at him by Paret during the weigh-in. Over the years, Griffith described himself at various times as straight, gay and bisexual.

"People spit at me in the street. We stayed in a hotel. Every time there was a knock on the door, I would run into the next room. I was so scared," Griffith told the Associated Press in 1993, recalling the days after Paret's death. The shocking outcome left a cloud over the sport for many years and remains notorious to this day. NBC stopped airing boxing broadcasts and the then governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, created a commission to investigate the bout and the sport in general. The referee that night, Ruby Goldstein, never worked another fight.

The fight became the basis for a 2005 documentary, Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story. One of the final scenes shows Griffith embracing Paret's son.

"I was never the same fighter after that. After that fight, I did enough to win. I would use my jab all the time. I never wanted to hurt the other guy," Griffith said. "I would have quit, but I didn't know how to do anything else but fight."

And fight he could. Known for his overwhelming speed and slick style – and certainly not for his punching power – Griffith was a prodigy from the moment he stepped in Hall of Fame trainer Gil Clancy's gym in Queens. Griffith had been working in a hat factory when, as the story goes, he took off his shirt on a hot day and the factory owner realized how strong he was.

Under the eye of Clancy, Griffith blossomed into a New York Golden Gloves champion and eventually turned professional. He easily defeated the likes of Florentino Fernandez and Luis Rodriguez in an era when it was common to fight every couple of weeks, quickly earning a welterweight title shot against Paret in 1961. Griffith won the championship with a 13th-round knockout at the Garden before losing the belt to Paret in a rematch five months later.

After winning back the title during his fateful third fight with Paret – many believe Paret never should have been allowed in the ring, after a brutal loss to Gene Fullmer three months earlier – Griffith would eventually move up to middleweight. He knocked down Dick Tiger for the first time in his career and claimed the title with a narrow but unanimous decision.

Emile Griffith, boxer who won fight which killed Bennie Paret, dies aged 75 (1)

Griffith went on to lose twice in a thrilling trilogy against Nino Benvenuti, his lone victory coming at Shea Stadium in 1967, and to lose two bouts against the great middleweight Carlos Monzon. Griffith retired in 1977 after losing his last three fights, his record standing at 85-24-2 with 23 knockouts. He went on to train several champions, including Wilfred Benitez and Juan Laporte, among the most popular boxers in Puerto Rican history. His humor and generosity buoyed those close to him as his health deteriorated. He would still make the pilgrimage to Canastota, New York, for Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, regaling fans young and old with tales, even though the details often became hazy, the result of the many blows he sustained during his career.

There was no immediate word on survivors or funeral arrangements.

Emile Griffith, boxer who won fight which killed Bennie Paret, dies aged 75 (2024)


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