Former boxing great Emile Griffith passed away in his sleep on July 23 at the age of 75. Sadly, Griffith was known for beating Bennie Paret back in 1962 and his opponent died from injuries suffered during the fight. However, he also made history as the first pro boxer born in the U.S. Virgin Islands to win a world championship. Griffith was suffering himself later in life with pugilistic dementia and he needed fulltime care. He was deservedly inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
Griffith headlined at Madison Square Garden in New York a remarkable 23 times and often showed up later in life around the city to take in boxing matches. The fatal bout with Paret took place at Madison Square Garden in March of 1962 and was broadcast live across America on television. Griffith knocked Paret out in the 12th round and regained his welterweight title with the win. However, Paret fell into a coma and died 10 days later from his injuries. This weighed heavily on Griffith’s mind and he retired from boxing for a period.
In addition, Griffith was also known for his sexual orientation as he admitted he was bisexual. This wasn’t a good mix back in the 1960s and many people blamed him for Paret’s death. The NBC network was shocked at the result of Paret’s injuries and pulled the plug for awhile on live boxing events. Nelson Rockefeller, who was the governor of New York at the time, even went as far as to launch a commission to look into the bout as well as the sport of boxing. While Griffith eventually returned to the ring, Ruby Goldstein, who was in charge of the bout against Paret, never entered the ring again.
The bout became the subject of a documentary movie in 2005 called “Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story. When he returned to the ring following the Paret bout, Griffith admitted that he was never the same and just fought hard enough to win. He said he would have retired for good as he never wanted to hurt anybody in boxing, but he didn’t have any other skills. However, as the years went by the public realized Paret’s death wasn’t Griffith’s fault and he became one of the most beloved and respected boxers in history.
He was known for his slick skills and hand speed and learned his craft from trainer Gil Clancy, also a hall of famer. The young boxer won the Golden Gloves title in New York and then turned pro in 1958. He received his first shot at a world title against Paret in the welterweight division in 1961. Griffith stopped the champion in the 13th round in New York, but lost the title back to him in a rematch just five months later. He regained the title in the tragic bout with Paret and then moved up in weight to the middleweight division.
Griffith beat middleweight champion Dick Tiger by a close unanimous decision in 1966 and would go on to lose a pair of fights to both Nino Benvenuti and middleweight champion Carlos Monzon. When he retired at the age of 39 in 1977 after three straight losses, Griffith had a career record of 85-24-2 along with 23 Kos. Sixteen of his losses came after he reached the age of 30. In total, he won five world championships He went on to become a boxing trainer and worked with several world champions such as Juan Laporte and Wilfredo Benitez of Puerto Rico.