Emile Griffith, a former boxing world champion, died Tuesday at an extended care facility in Hempstead, N.Y, at the age of 75. While multiple reports indicate that Griffith struggled with pugilistic dementia and required full-time care late in life, a Griffith historian told the New York Times that kidney failure also contributed to the former fighter’s death.
Griffith, who was the first fighter from the U.S. Virgin Islands ever to become a world champion, is perhaps best known for his notorious third fight with Benny Paret in 1962 for the welterweight world championship. Griffith was seeking to recapture the crown he had once taken from Paret and then lost back to him.
In the sixth round of the nationally televised fight at Madison Square Garden, Paret nearly knocked out Griffith with a multi-punch combination, but Griffith was saved by the bell. In round 12 Griffith knocked Paret unconscious, yet Paret stood, still propped up against the ropes, while Griffith struck him repeatedly over the next several seconds before referee Ruby Goldstein stopped the fight. Paret never regained consciousness, and he died 10 days later.
It was revealed decades later, in a 2005 Sports Illustrated article, that after the sixth round, Griffiths' 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!”
Over the years Griffith was dogged by rumors about his sexual orientation and even suffered a beating outside a Midtown gay bar in 1992. He later acknowledged an attraction to men. Sports Illustrated reported that Griffith may have been fueled by an anti-gay slur directed at him by Paret during the weigh-in.
Griffith won the welterweight title three times and the middleweight title twice and briefly held the newly created junior middleweight title. Despite being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990 for his many triumphs, Griffith’s 1962 bout with Paret will unfortunately forever overshadow anything else he accomplished inside the ring.
After winning back the title during his controversial third fight with Paret, 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.
Griffith would go on to lose twice during a thrilling three-fight series with Nino Benvenuti, his lone victory coming at Shea Stadium in 1967. He then lost two bouts against the great middleweight Carlos Monzon. Griffith would finally retire in 1977 after losing his last three fights, his record standing at 85-24-2 with 23 knockouts.
“Emile Griffith was a gifted athlete and a truly great boxer,” Hall of Fame Executive Director Edward Brophy said after his death. “Outside of the ring, he was as great a gentleman as he was a fighter. The Hall of Fame joins the boxing world in mourning his passing.”
Below, the end of the last Griffith-Paret fight with commentary
My name is Carey Vanderborg and I'm a journalist working in New York City. I love food, travel, craft beer, live music and writing about all of the above.