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Remembering a True Champion: Benny “The Kid” Paret

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By Bill Tibbs


Bernardo Paret was born in 1937 in Santa Clara, Cuba. He was better known by his ring name Benny “The Kid” Paret and went on to capture the World Welterweight Championship in his 50-fight career. During his time in the ring, (the 1950s and early-1960s), the legendary 147-pounder faced some of boxing’s best.
 
Paret turned pro in his native Cuba in the spring of 1954 and went undefeated in his first 13 bouts into the fall of 1956. He lost in his 14th bout to 38-fight veteran Rolando Rodriguez. Paret would go 5-1 in his six bouts through 1957 including avenging his defeat to Rodriguez. Paret was busy in 1958, fighting 11 times going 8-2-1 against experienced competition. He also started to showcase his talent out of Cuba, fighting in New York regularly. He closed out the year beating undefeated Victor Zalazar in “The Big Apple” and would bat .500 in his first two trips to the plate in 1959, going 2-2 in his first four bouts, fighting exclusively in New York. In his 5th fight of the year, Paret would lose a split decision to future Mexican legend Gaspar Ortega in Madison Square Garden. He jumped 10 pounds north to the middleweight division for his next bout, battling undefeated future World Light Heavyweight titleholder Jose Torres to a 10-round draw in Puerto Rico. Paret would then pick up two more wins to close out 1959.

After a win in January to kick off 1960, Paret’s next bout in March saw him battle Louis Federico Thompson to a 12-round draw in a World Welterweight Title eliminator. In his next fight in May, Paret would beat welterweight titleholder Don Jordan over 15 rounds in Las Vegas, Nevada to become the new World Welterweight Champion. In the summer of 1960, Paret would pick up a win, stopping Garnet Hart in six rounds in July but lost to rising prospect Denny Moyer by split decision over 10 rounds in August. He closed out the year with a 15-round unanimous decision title defense against old foe Louis Federico Thompson. In his first fight of 1961, old nemesis Gaspar Ortega showed that two years and a world title later, he still had Paret’s number, again besting him over 10 rounds.
 
In April of 1961, Paret would travel to Miami Beach, Florida to defend his title against Emile Griffith in the first of three legendary bouts in their epic trilogy. In a grueling war, he would lose the title, getting stopped in the 13th round. Paret would regain the title five months later in a return match, beating Griffith via 15-round split decision at Madison Square Garden. Just three months later, Paret would move up to the middleweight division to tackle World Champion Gene Fullmer for his National Boxing Association (NBA) middleweight title. He was knocked out in the 10th round of their 15-round affair.
 
Paret returned to the welterweight limit for his rubbermatch with Griffith just three months later in March of 1962. The fight, slated for Madison Square Garden in New York and shown live on ABC television, generated huge excitement after their first two classic battles. The pre-fight hype was also frenzied and heated with Paret making disparaging remarks toward Griffith, accusing him of being a homosexual. Despite Paret having Griffith hurt in the sixth round, he wasn’t able to finish him and was, in turn, stopped in the 12th round, one in which he took a vicious beating in the end. Sadly, after the bout was stopped, Paret lapsed into a coma from which he never recovered. He died 10 days later.
 
The vicious manner in which Paret was knocked out, televised nationally, hurt the sport’s reputation and it would be years before boxing was seen again on network television. Longtime Hall of Fame Griffith trainer Gil Clancy always claimed that the pre-fight hype and the comments made toward Griffith by Paret, while good press copy, had nothing to do with the manner in which his fighter approached the bout. Paret probably shouldn’t have been in the ring so soon after being knocked out by Fullmer. And referee Ruby Goldstein, himself an accomplished pro fighter, clearly let the fight go on too long in its closing moments. However, speculation after the fact is just that. In an interview years later, Griffith spoke of his respect and admiration for Paret as a fighter and stressed how he “didn’t go in there to hurt no one” in the bout. Also, the Paret family always insisted “There was no hard feelings at all” toward Griffith. Sadly, but understandably, Griffith struggled with the bout’s sad outcome throughout his life.
 
Benny Paret should be remembered for what he accomplished in an exciting ring career, fighting some of the best welterweights and middleweights of his era. Benny “The Kid” Paret died 51 years ago this month, at the tender age of 25, on April 3, 1962 in 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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