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 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
Griffith won the 1958 New York
147lb Open Championship. Griffith defeated
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
Griffith captured the Welterweight
title from Benny "The Kid" Paret
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
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
, Luis Rodriguez
, Carlos Monzon
, 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
Controversial Third fight with Benny Paret
which was nationally televised by NBC 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. After the round his trainer Gil
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.
reported in its April 18, 2005, edition that Griffith's rage may
have been fueled by an anti-gay
directed at him by Paret during the weigh-in. Paret reportedly
called his opponent a maricón
, the Spanish equivalent of
"; 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
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
. Both have won world championships. Griffith, Monzon,
Benvenuti, Rodriguez, Tiger, Napoles and Benitez are members of the
Boxing Hall Of Fame.
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
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
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
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
into the International Boxing Hall of
Fame in its initial year (1990) and the World Boxing Hall of