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Emile Alphonse Griffith (born February 3, 1938) is a former boxer who was the first fighter from the U.S.marker Virgin Islandsmarker ever to become a world champion. He is best known for a controversial 1962 welterweight title fight in which Benny Paret died ten days after being knocked out by Griffith. In addition to the Welterweight title Griffith was a Middleweight champion. While Griffith is recognized in some boxing books as being a three division world champion, his claim to the Junior Middleweight title was not generally recognized.



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.

Griffith won the 1958 New York Golden Gloves 147lb 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 147lb 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.


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

Griffith captured the Welterweight title from 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.

He later defeated Dick Tiger for the Middleweight title. He also lost, regained and then lost the middleweight title 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 Denny Moyer, Luis Rodriguez, Carlos Monzon, Dick Tiger, Jose Napoles and in his last title try, 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.

Controversial Third fight with Benny Paret

The bout which was nationally televised by NBC occurred on March 24, 1962 at Madison Square Gardenmarker. In the sixth round Paret nearly knocked out Griffith with a multi punch combination but Griffith was saved by the bell. 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!". 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 reportedly called his opponent a maricón, the Spanish equivalent of "faggot"; 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 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 passersby. He would later receive hate mail from Paret’s supporters who were convinced Griffith purposely killed Paret.

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. NBC, 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.

Griffith reportedly still feels guilt over the Paret's death, and has suffered nightmares about Paret for forty years. 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.


He has trained other boxers including Wilfredo Benitez and Juan Laporte, of Puerto Rico. Both have won world championships. Griffith, Monzon, Benvenuti, Rodriguez, Tiger, Napoles and Benitez are members of the International Boxing Hall Of Famemarker.

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.

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." He was also quoted in a Newsday blog as saying, "I keep thinking how strange it is ... I kill a man and most people understand and forgive me. However, I love a man, and to so many people this is an unforgivable sin; this makes me an evil person. So, even though I never went to jail, I have been in prison almost all my life."

Today, Griffith requires full time care and suffers from pugilistic dementia. Griffith currently lives in an apartment in Hempstead, New York. He is a frequent visitor of the Winters Brothers Boxing Club on Post Avenue in Westbury, New York.


Named Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year for 1964.

Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Famemarker in its initial year (1990) and the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

See also


External links

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