Tragedy in the ring: The Emile Griffith-Benny Paret fight
The boxing match between Emile Griffith and Benny “Kid” Paret on March 24, 1962, is remembered as one of the most brutal and tragic events in boxing history. It was a fight that had significant implications for the sport and for the two fighters involved.
Griffith was born in the Virgin Islands in 1938 and began his boxing career in 1958. He was a skilled and talented fighter, known for his quickness and footwork. Griffith, who came under the tutelage of the legendary Gil Clancy, had won the welterweight championship twice before facing Paret in 1962.
Paret was born in Cuba in 1937 and also held the welterweight championship. He was known for his power and had a reputation as a tough and rugged fighter. While holding the welterweight crown, he had moved up to middleweight to challenge NBA champion Gene Fullmer, but was stopped. That bout was brought up quite a bit in the aftermath of his fight with Griffith.
It was the third bout between the two. Griffith had won the first encounter in April of 1961 on a 13th-round TKO, taking Paret’s 147-pound crown. But Paret came back on September 30 of that same year to score a 15-round split decision and win back his belt.
The rubber match between Griffith and Paret was highly anticipated, with both fighters at the top of their game. The bout was scheduled for fifteen rounds and was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. ABC was televising it as part of its “Fight of the Week” series.
At the weigh-in, Paret made a homosexual slur toward Griffith; something that was both highly insensitive and offensive. Whether this had any impact over what subsequently happened is a subject of considerable debate.
The first few rounds of the fight were relatively even, with both fighters exchanging blows and showing each other respect. However, in the sixth round, Paret unleashed a combination of punches that appeared to have Griffith ready to go, only to be saved by the bell.
It was a lively fight, but for a while, there was a lull in the action in the twelfth round, moving Don Dunphy, who was providing the blow-by-blow commentary for ABC, to call it the “tamest round of the fight.”
Suddenly, Griffith unleashed a barrage of punches on Paret, landing several hard shots to his head. Paret, apparently in an effort to defend himself, ducked his head through the ropes. But Griffith kept landing. Replays demonstrated that he landed no less than 29 unanswered punches, and a lot of thought was later given to how much of that was payback for the remarks Paret had made at the weigh-in.
Referee Ruby Goldstein would later say that he thought Paret was just exhibiting a defensive move by ducking through the ropes, and that for at least some of Griffith’s barrage, he had his hands up. But the situation was much different than that.
Paret was actually still standing when Goldstein stopped the fight, then he slumped to the canvas, unconscious. He was taken to the hospital, where he died ten days later from a brain hemorrhage.
The death of Paret had a profound impact on the sport of boxing and its perception by the public. The networks became less interested in televising fights, and not long afterward, ABC put an end to its “Fight of the Week” series. Then the possible causes behind Paret’s demise were dissected, and these included the physical beating he took in the Fullmer fight. The New York commission came under fire for allowing Paret to fight so soon after that middleweight bout. Goldstein’s judgment was also questioned; he refereed only one more fight after that. And the governor of the Empire State launched an inquiry.
Many people called for the sport to be banned, arguing that it was too dangerous and that it resulted in the death of too many fighters. And it can be argued that it contributed to a slow overall decline in the popularity of the sport.
For Emile Griffith, the fight had a lasting impact on his life as well. He was deeply affected by the death of Paret and struggled with feelings of guilt and remorse for many years. He continued to fight for several more years, but his career was never the same after the tragedy.
When it came down to it, the fight between Emile Griffith and Benny “Kid” Paret may well have been a turning point in the history of boxing. It was a tragic and brutal event that had far-reaching implications for the sport and for the two fighters involved. The death of Paret led to greater attention being placed on the safety of fighters, and it remains a reminder of the dangers and consequences of this sport.