27.04.05 - By Ted Luzzi: Wednesday night April 20th the USA network carried the movie "Ring of fire. The Emile Griffith story" Since the success of Clint Eastwoods "Million dollar Baby” boxing movies are back in vogue. The story of Emile Griffith is a very interesting one. Emile Griffith was a fighter that achieved the highest honors in his weight class winning the welterweight championship three times. Griffith then became one of that rare class of fighter that has skill enough to win the title at a higher weight. He won the middleweight title twice. He fought a total of 24 world title fights, and at one time had a 15-1 record in title fights. Emile Griffith fought at a time when there was only one world champion and competition was tough. His 339 rounds in world title fights are more than any other fighter in history. He also knew tragedy.. He mortally wounded World Champion Benny Paret while winning the world welter title from him. Griffith was never the same after Parets death. Griffiths friend Keith Stechman arranged a phone interview with Griffith for me on Monday. I talked to Emile and found he was the friendly very likeable man everyone says he is.. After we talked it was suggested that I call his biographers Ron Ross house Wednesday right after the documentary was finished and get the impressions from some the people watching the show with Emile. Here are the interviews first on Monday the later on Wednesday night.
TL: Fate dealt you a staggering blow with the Paret tragedy. How much as a fighter did you ever get over it?
EG: I was reminded of it all the time by everybody. I never really was as good as a fighter as before. I never got over it even now.
TL: We know your worst moment as a fighter what was your happiest?
Winning the welterweight title. My dream was true.
TL: You started your amateur career at age 15. 24 years later when you quit boxing you still had the same trainer and manager. This is very unusual what kept you together with Howie Albert and Gil Clancy?
EG: They were very nice men and looked after me.
TL: Would you tell other new fighters to do the same as you did with Albert and Clancy?
EG: I would tell them to do your job. Work hard and do what your trainer says.
TL: The few times you lost fights you seemed to be able to win the rematches. Why was that?
EG: Griffith starts laughing. If I lost I was determined to get them back and beat them. Losing made me more determined.
TL: Why do you think you stayed at the top so long in boxing so long? 24 world title fights?
EG: I did what my trainer said. When your trainer says to do something, do it.
TL: Who were the toughest and best guys you ever fought.
EG: The best was Dick Tiger. The toughest Casper Ortega.
TL: You stepped into the ring with two of the most talented welterweight champions of all time in Luis Rodriquez and Jose Napoles. Who would you rate as better?
EG: Rodriquez was a classier fighter. He had a better Jab.
TL: You have seen the documentary at a preview last week did you like it?
EG: It was very good, I have no complaints.
TL: Anything you would like to say to your fans?
EG: It’s nice to be remembered
Wednesday night seven of Griffith’s good buddies took him out to dinner and then went on to the house of Ron Ross to watch the show. Some of them had already seen the documentary at a preview at a Movie house the week before. I called from California to New York and continued the interview.
TL: Did boxing on the card the night that Sugar Ramos beat Davy Moore and Moore died soon after bring back memories.
EG: I just stayed by myself and did not want to see anyone. I sent a note to Ramos telling him I knew how he felt but that it was not his fault.
TL: Is it true that you backed into the ring the next time you fought at the garden so that you did not see the corner where Paret died?
EG; Yes I did not want to think about Benny.
TL: Your mom was your number one fan. Did you enjoy all her yelling and waving her arms for you at ringside.
EG: Just try and stop her!
TL: Did you really design her hats she wore to the fights.
EG: No very rarely. Mom was fun at the fight I liked having her there with me always.
TL: You had a signed contract to fight for the middleweight title with Dick Tiger. Irish Joey Archer however was the number one contender. Archer made a big fuss saying that he should get the title shot and it was unfair that you did. It was reported that you were upset and offered to tear up your contract and fight Archer with the winner getting the shot. Is that story true?
EG: Nobody says I get something unfairly. I do my job. I would have fought him. (Note: After Griffith won the middle title he defended his title twice against Archer winning both times.
Near the end of your career you got a shot at the title with Carlos Monzon in his hometown. Many people thought you won the fight and your trainer Gil Clancy was hopping mad when Monzon got the decision. Did you think you won that one?
EG: Yes I thought I won but I was surprised that Clancy got so mad.
TL: What was the best thing about boxing for you?
EG: What my fists could do for my family. Love of family.
Next I talked to Ron Ross. Later in the year the biography of Emile Griffith by Ron Ross is expected to appear, and the rights to produce a feature film for movie houses have already been sold. Ron Ross has written about boxing before. The book about the rough and ready colorful brawler Al"bummy” Davis" was written by Ron. In the film “Ring of fire" Ron was in interview frequently.
TL: How did you like the film Ron?
RR: I was very pleased. I particularly appreciated the film clips.
Keith Stechman was next:
TL: How did you like the film Keith?
KS: I did like it. I would rate it high.
The guys that saw the show with Griffith Wednesday are lucky guys. Emile Griffith is fun to be around. . He has some short term memory loss but still retains his jaunty charm. Emile Griffith always knew how to handle his status as champion. Griffith was as noted for his grin and friendly words to everybody as he was noted for his champion quality athletic ability. Nowadays Griffith goes with Keith Stechman twice a week to the Starret City boxing club in Brookland. He still helps train fighters. Keith has known Griffith for years and says he is "honored" to be his friend. Ron Ross describes Griffith as almost a member of his family and that his kids see him that way. The current issue of Sports Illustrated uses the word” Beloved". Such words are used to describe someone very special. Over the years those Griffith has helped are too many to mention. I can understand why people like him so much after talking to him. Griffith’s niceness and basic decency just come through.
The last time I interacted with people associated with a champion fighter was at a title match I attended in Las Vegas. The people I met reinforced the negative image some people have of the sport. Emile Griffith however is one of boxings good guys. His friends reflect who he is. Griffith is clearly most identified as a boxer. I wonder however if he is not much more a "champ" because of who he is as a man.