Emile Griffith: A Sensational Fighter Destined To Be Best Remembered For A Tragic Ring Encounter

By James Slater - 07/23/2023 - Comments

Ten years ago today, one of the absolutely finest – and, through no real fault of his own, controversial – boxers passed away. Emile Griffith was a master boxer who could seemingly do it all: punch, take a punch, go 15 rounds with apparent ease, box, slug, fight on the inside, fight on the outside. Yet he was destined to be best remembered for one tragic and fatal ring encounter.

Griffith of the US Virgin Islands would become a five-time world champion, and it’s no exaggeration to say, firmly, that if Griffith were around today, he would be sitting atop the pound-for-pound charts for quite some time.

A shy, softly-spoken man, Griffith was a far cry from the average fighter. Yet Griffith was a natural talent. An extremely hard-working and dedicated talent. Working in a hat factory in his teen years, the young Griffith was spotted by the owner, a former fighter who noticed Emile’s impressive physique, and he took him to see renowned trainer of the day, the great Gil Clancy.

Griffith won the NY Golden Gloves at 147 pounds, and in 1958, he went pro. Fighting frequently in New York, Griffith went 22-2 (the loss to Randy Sandy going unavenged, the loss to Denny Moyer following a win over Moyer) – before challenging career-rival Benny “Kid” Paret. Cuba’s Paret would engage in three intensely contested fights with Griffith, the final fight proving fatal.

Paret, who had heard Griffith was gay (this was hugely unacceptable back then, such were the times), did all he could to get under his rival’s skin, using homosexual taunts, Paret calling Griffith a “maricon.” This was ahead of the third and final fight, the two having gone 1-1 prior. Griffith took the world welterweight title from Paret, then lost it back to him, and then regained it. But the two-time victory came at a vast cost – for Paret.

The tension was ugly going into the rubber match, with Paret touching Griffith on the ass and taunting him. Griffith wanted to go at Paret right there at the weigh-in, with only the sage Clancy preventing him from doing so.

The fight was savage, with Griffith unleashing all his anger and frustration on Paret. During the televised fight, Griffith pounded a helpless Paret with a relentless barrage in the 12th round, this as Paret was stuck on the ropes in a corner. Paret, who had somehow stayed on his feet during the barrage, slowly slid to the mat after ref Ruby Goldstein finally stopped it. Carried from the ring, Paret never regained consciousness, and he died ten days later.

Griffith was never the same person.

Griffith fought on after the March 1962 fight, with him winning over 50 more fights. Griffith would lose and regain the welterweight title again, and he would also win the world title at light-middleweight and at middleweight. Griffith would fight such luminaries as Luis Rodriguez, Rubin Carter, Dick Tiger, Joey Archer, Nino Benvenuti, Gypsy Joe Harris, Jose Napoles, Carlos Monzon, Bennie Briscoe, Vito Antuofermo, and Alan Minter.


Talk about a career. A great career. A more than great career. One that was, unfairly, destined to be defined by one tragically brutal fight.

Griffith would, as the old timers say, ‘clean up’ if he were fighting today. He died ten years ago today, and Emile’s final ring record reads an amazing 85-24-2(23).

Some fight experts list Griffith in the Top 10 greatest P4P of all time.

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