During my research for a recent article, listing the Top 10 middleweights of all time, I came to Emile Griffith . As you know, if you have boxing acumen, Griffith was one of the best welterweights and middleweights in history.
You also probably know about his tragic third and final fight with Benny "Kid" Paret . Of course Peret was knocked out in the final bout and never regained consciousness. It allowed me time to reflect upon deaths of terrific boxers who have ended their career and life much too soon.
The first one to remark on is the Griffith vs. Paret trilogy. On April Fool's Day 1961, the two met for Griffith's welterweight title in Miami Beach, Fla. The "Kid" brought a 34-10-3 record into the ring against Griffith's 22-2.
Paret had fought some excellent fighters prior to meeting Griffith, including to ten-round decision losses to future champion Luis Rodriguez . He had also lost a split decision to perennial contender Denny Moyer.
Griffith knocked Paret out in the 13th round successfully defending his crown. It was such a good fight that a rematch was certain.
On Sept. 30 of the same year, the two met again, this time at Madison Square Garden. Paret took Griffith's title home that night, winning a very controversial split decision.
On Dec. 9, 1961, Paret fought Gene Fullmer for the middleweight title. Fullmer dropped Paret three times in the 10th round and won by knockout. Fullmer later said it was one of the toughest fights he had ever been in.
In March of '62 the met for the rubber match in the Garden on Friday Night Fights on television. I watched the fight and it was a very entertaining fight.
At the weigh-in Paret called Griffith the Spanish translated word for "faggot" and Griffith was ready to fight on the spot. Griffith's sexuality had been in question for some time and it was a delicate situation for him.
During the fight, Paret had Griffith down at the end of the sixth round, and Griffith was saved by the bell. In the 12th round, Griffith had Paret against the ropes and unleashed 18 unanswered punches before the referee called an end to the fight.
Paret lapsed into a coma and never regained consciousness. He died 10 days later at age 25 leaving behind a wife and a son.
Norman Mailer who was at ringside that night said,"As he took those eighteen punches something happened to everyone who was in psychic range of the event. Some part of his death reached out to us. One felt it hover in the air. He was still standing in the ropes, trapped as he had been before, he gave some little half-smile of regret, as if he were saying, “I didn’t know I was going to die just yet,” and then, his head leaning back but still erect, his death came to breathe about him. He began to pass away"(The Death of Benny Paret).
Referee Ruby Goldstein came under fire for allowing the fight to go a little farther than it should. Goldstein felt justified in what he had done saying that Paret could take a good punch, and would often "play possum" enticing the fighter into an assault. Griffith was also not the best "finisher" in the world either.
Griffith felt very sad after the fight and said that he prayed that Paret was okay.
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