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Remembering a True Champion: Emile Griffith

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By Bill Tibbs


Born in the Virgin Islands and raised in New York, Emile Alphonse Griffith would go on to have one of the game’s truly legendary careers at and around the welterweight division. He could fight the best in history at his weight and certainly did during his era. Guided by legendary trainer Gil Clancy, Griffith entered the ring 112 times, (culminating in an incredible career record of 85-24-2 with 23 stoppages and one no-contest) before retiring and his résumé boasts a virtual who’s who of legendary fighters, - many multiple times - including Don Fullmer, Joey Archer, Dick Tiger, Nino Benvenuti, Denny Moyer, Ralph Dupas, Rubin Carter, Jose Napoles, Carlos Monzon, Tony Mundine, Bennie Briscoe, Vito Antuofermo and Alan Minter to name but a few. While somewhat understandable, it has always been unfortunate for Griffith that such a truly amazing career, clearly distinguishing him as one of the all-time greats, has often been defined in the media by the fact he was a homosexual and the tragic outcome of his third fight with rival Benny Paret.


Griffith turned pro in the summer of 1958. Before he had 20 bouts under his belt, he had faced the likes of future Mexican legend Gaspar Ortega and perennial contender Denny Moyer. In his 25th fight, (24-1 going in), in the spring of 1961, he beat (future trilogy opponent) Benny “Kid” Paret to win The Ring and World Welterweight Championship in Miami, Florida. He retained the title two months later again beating Ortega at the famed Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. Just two fights later in the fall of 1961, he lost his titles in his second fight with Paret on a 15-round split decision at Madison Square Garden in New York. The first two fights, split at 1-1, warranted a rematch.
 
The pre-fight build up saw Paret making personal, derogatory comments towards Griffith, which only intensified the atmosphere for the final bout of the trilogy. The two combatants met at a sold-out Madison Square Garden in New York on March 24, 1962. Griffith regained The Ring and World Welterweight Titles by viciously knocking out Paret in the 13th round. Sadly, Paret never recovered and died 10 days later.
 
While Griffith went on to have a prolific and exciting career after the bout, many boxing insiders claim he was never the same in (or out of) the ring as the tragic outcome of the bout haunted him for the rest of his life.
 
Through the rest of 1962, Griffith would pick up five more wins including two title defenses against Ralph Dupas and Jorge Fernandez. Griffith would lose his The Ring,World Boxing Association (WBA) and World Boxing Council (WBC), welterweight titles in March of 1963 to Luis Manuel Rodriguez via 15-round unanimous decision. However, he would win them back in the rematch three months later in a 15-round split decision. He would go 2-1 through the rest of 1963, only losing to Rubin Carter via first round TKO. From February of 1964 through December of 1965, he would fight 13 times including six defences of his The Ring,WBA and WBC World Welterweight Titles. From February of 1966 to October of 1968, Griffith would fight 11 times, going 8-3. During this time, he would step up and win The Ring,WBA and WBC World Middleweight Titles. He would defend them three times and also lose them, regain them and lose them again in a trilogy of bouts with Italian legend Nino Benvenuti.
 
Griffith would fight five times in 1969, dropping back down to the welterweight division in October. He went 4-1, only losing his last bout of the year against Jose Napoles for The Ring,WBA and WBC World Welterweight Titles. From January of 1970 through December of 1971, Emile would fight 12 times. His only loss during this time was when he stepped up one division north to again battle for the World Middleweight Titles, losing in 14 rounds to division legend Carlos Monzon. From 1972-74, he would fight 15 times, going 9-5-1. Griffith faced the likes of European champion Jean-Claude Bouttier, Australian legend Tony Mundine, Carlos Monzon (again for the WBA and WBC middleweight titles), Philadelphia tough guy “Bad” Bennie Briscoe and future middleweight king Vito Antuofermo.
 
From the spring of 1975 through the summer of 1977, Emile would fight 13 more times, going 5-7-1. He would receive a title shot in the fall of 1976 when he travelled to Berlin to face Eckhard Dagge for the WBC world light middleweight title. In the final time Griffith would fight for a world title, he would lose a majority decision over 15 rounds. Griffith closed out his career with a loss to British future world champion Alan Minter in July of 1977. He left the ring having faced the absolute best in the welterweight, light middleweight and middleweight divisions.
 
After retiring from boxing, Griffith worked as a corrections officer at a juvenile detention facility. He also trained fighters in the New York area.
 
Emile Griffith, a true boxing legend, named The Ring magazine’s “Fighter of the Year” in 1964 and inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, died July 23, 2013 at a personal care home in Hempstead, New York. Gone but never forgotten.
 
Rest in Peace, champ!
 
Questions and comments can be sent to Bill Tibbs at hwtibbs@shaw.ca.
 
 

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