By Anthony Bosco
Boxing legend Emile Griffith, who began preparing for his glory days in the ring at the Gil Clancy Gym in Queens, died Tuesday. He was 77.
A onetime resident of southeast Queens, Griffith died at an extended care facility in Hempstead, L.I., of pugilistic dementia, the Associated Press reported.
Born in the U.S. Virgin Islands Feb. 3, 1938, he moved to New York at the age of 19 and trained under Hall of Fame boxing trainer Gil Clancy. Griffith went on to win six World Championships, but he was most remembered for his fatal beating of Benny “Kid” Paret in a nationally televised championship bout at Madison Square Garden.
Former TimesLedger Newspapers Sports Editor Anthony Bosco talked with Griffith at his Queens home about that match back in August 2001. Excerpts from his column about that meeting follows.
A few years ago I interviewed former champ Emile Griffith, a Hollis resident. I didn’t even have to ask him about his tragic bout — it just came out of his mouth like a confession, one he has been telling for going on 40 years.
“The accident,” as he referred to it, occurred in March 1962 when Griffith was trying to win back the welterweight championship from Benny “Kid” Paret. Griffith had won his first 147-pound title from Paret on April 1, 1961, by a knockout in the 13th round, exactly three years to the day that Griffith turned professional.
His first knockout win over Paret was unexpected because Griffith was never known as a big puncher. When he retired from the ring, with 85 wins, 24 losses, two draws and one no-contest, only 23 of his wins came via the knockout route.
His second win over Paret was even more shocking — and terrifying.
“I was never a big puncher, I was mostly a boxer,” Griffith said. “I don’t know what made me a puncher that night. That was a crazy fight.”
Perhaps egged on by negative statements Paret had hurled at him during the pre-fight buildup, Griffith was not only going into the ring at Madison Square Garden to win back his title, but also to exact a little revenge.
With Griffith on the attack, the fight was a good one. The title seemed well in Griffith’s hands going into the 12th, but when he managed to stun Paret, Griffith unleashed a vicious assault that left his opponent unconscious and upright in the corner.
Griffith continued firing until Paret’s muscled legs finally gave way to gravity.
The Champ had regained his title, but at a heavy cost. His opponent never regained consciousness and died a week later on April 3.
“You keep punching because that’s your job,” Griffith said. “I’ve seen the fight so many times. I’m trying to get used to it. The public is beginning to accept the fight. Now I can talk to people about it. It was just tough for a while.”
Following the tragic match, Griffith said he received death threats and couldn’t walk down his own block without having to look over his shoulder.
The pain was still evident on his face more than 30 years later.
“He was a damn good fighter, The Kid,” Griffith said.