Emile Griffith, a supremely skilled fighter from the US Virgin Islands, passed away at age 75, at a nursing home on Long Island.
A worker at the facility confirmed his passing to TSS.
The fighter held the welterweight and then the middleweight title and was inducted into the New York Hall of Fame, in 1990. But he will likely be best remembered for more sensational circumstances.
In the third meeting between Griffith and Benny “Kid” Paret, Griffith, incensed that Paret had belittled him as a “maricon” before the second bout and more so before the third, Griffith pounded Paret mercilessly in round 12. The ref looked on, frozen on March 24, 1962, as Griffith hamered Paret in a corner. The Cuban sagged, and never woke up. He died from brain injuries ten days later.
The incident stayed with Griffith.”I would have nightmares about Paret,” he'd say. “I would dream I met him on the street and I would say hello and he would put out his hand and I would take it and it would be cold and clammy.” Sleep could be an opening to nightmares, as he'd jolt awake, screaming in anguish.
People worked to ban boxing in the States after that, and the televised brutality kept the sport off TV for a good ten years afterwards. But though his killer instinct–and yes, that phrase took on a sick qulaity in context to Griffith post-Paret, it must be noted–deteriorated, his skills were still present. He beat Dick Tiger in 1966 to win the middleweight crown. He lost it to Nino Benvenuti in 1967, but regained the strap six months later from the Italian. He lost the belt to Benvenuti in 1969, in the third and final scrap between the rivals. He received more title shots, one against Jose Napoles and two more, against, Carlos Monzon, but lost those middleweight contests. Griffith came up short in a junior middleweight title challenge, against Eckhard Dagge, in 1976. In 1977, he lost to Alan Minter, and hung up the gloves.
It was no secret in boxing circles that Griffith, the five time world champion, enjoyed the romantic company of men, but the boxer danced around the issue for decades. He admitted to Sports Illustrated that he was indeed bisexual, in 2005–“I like men and women both”– but made many busybodies feel fooolish for their judgement by noting that it wasn't that important who he canoodled with. Each to his own, Griffith said.
The fighter leaves behind his adopted son, Luis, and a legacy as a man who serves as a reminder of the ultimate price any person can pay in that ring, and as a symbol of acceptance, who helped usher the pushback against homphobia another milimeter forward.
Follow Woods on Twitter.