Ten-Count for Emile Griffith

By Robert Ecksel on July 23, 2013
Ten-Count for Emile Griffith
Emile Griffith embodied class in a sport where classlessness sometimes seems the norm.

How we die matters less than how we live. Accomplishment is all well and good. It’s how the world, not known for its discernment, determines our relative worth. But if we self-mythologize, instead of striving for enlightenment, that matters more than which disease finally snatches us from existence.

Former welterweight, middleweight, and junior middleweight champion Emile Griffith, a gracious man of many accomplishments, passed away today after a long illness. He was 75.

Born on February 3, 1938 in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, Griffith never dreamed of being a boxer. “I was a baseball player,” Griffith told me in an interview. “I was a catcher. When I was in the Virgin Islands, I would fight when I had to fight. When they pick on me, you know, I had enough of it. But I never wanted to be a fighter, to tell you the truth.”

He moved with his grandmother to Harlem when he was a teenager. It was while was working as a delivery boy at a small hat factory in midtown Manhattan that his boss, Howie Albert, recognizing what a physical specimen Griffith was, asked if he had ever boxed.

“I told him no, I never boxed,” but that was about to change, and change in a big way.

Albert took Griffith was to a gym where an unknown trainer named Gil Clancy was plying his trade.

I asked Griffith what it was like when he first entered Clancy’s gym.

“When I started boxing and training, oh man, it was rough,” recalled Griffith. “They all wanted to fight me and everything else. But that thing was okay after that.”

Griffith turned pro on June 2, 1958, at the age of 20. It was a different world then. He had six fights in ‘58, nine in ‘59, and nine in 1960, including a big win over Luis Rodriguez at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

On April 1, 1961, Griffith KO’d Benny (Kid) Paret in Miami to win the welterweight title. “I got lucky,” Griffith said. After one defense of the crown against Gaspar Ortega and a stay busy fight against Yama Bahama, Griffith fought Paret a second time five months later and lost the split decision and his title.

Most people, including Griffith, thought he was robbed.

Griffith met Paret for the third time six months later at the Garden. It was a night that changed both fighter’s lives. In the 12th round Griffith caught Paret in the corner and landed 18 unanswered punches. When the referee Ruby Goldstein stepped in to stop the action, it was too late. Paret never regained consciousness.

“I would have quit,” Griffith said about the death of Paret, “but I didn’t know how to do anything but fight.”

So fight he did. But Griffith, a sensitive soul with the heart of a lion, changed the essence of his game. He never wanted to kill anybody ever again. “I didn’t have to knock no one out to win a fight. I could go the 15 rounds or 10 rounds or how many rounds it was. I could do it just by boxing.”

Griffith fought for many more years. He had six fights in 1963, including bouts with Holly Mims and Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, six fights in ’64, and seven fights in ‘65. On April 25, 1966, Emile Griffith decisioned Dick Tiger to win the middleweight title.

And naturally he kept fighting. Griffith fought Joey Archer, Nino Benvenuti, Jose Napoles, Carlos Monzon, Benny Briscoe, and Vito Antuofermo.

He had his last fight on July 30, 1977, against Alan Minter in Monte Carlo, and retired with a record of 85-24-2 (23 KOs).

Champion, gentleman, sexual pioneer, even the subject of an opera, Emile Griffith embodied class in a sport where classlessness sometimes seems the norm.


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  1. Dr. YouTube 06:13pm, 08/06/2013


  2. Marita 09:07pm, 08/01/2013

    I didn’t know Griffith was a boxer until 1990, He was at my home one day looking for my Brother Mario who was his best friend, Mario wasn’t home and after eating everything my mom put on his plate he asked me if I wanted to go on a ride to brooklyn. I ran to get my coat and off we went.
    Where to ??? The Gym he said. We walked in together holding hands and un old white man asked who I was, Griffith said this is my Girlfriend. I just smiled and so did the old man. To make a long story short, when they went into the office to talk I saw a picture of a younger Griffith. when he came out with the old man I asked him about the picture and he said lets talk in the car. He told me a long story. The Griffith I knew was not a boxer. I know a man that as a little girl in the 70’s was my brothers “BUDDY” and boy did we have fun when he was around. Griffith danced to every record my mother played. On June of 1980 my Brother Mario, Griffith and my other Brother, my sisters, my aunt all went DANCING and Griffith made my first time at a dance club remarkable.
    We “His Family from another Mother” called him Griffin, I don’t know why.
    All I know is that on May 25th 1996 The day of my sisters wedding show Griffith came to the party and we danced the night away. He didn’t come to the wedding. I waited for him. My sister Irene and I saw Griffith last with Luis at a seafood place in Long Island in 2010. My last picture with him we’re kissing on the lips, Just like old times I have many wonderful memories and pictures to remember my brothers “BUDDY” and yes Griffiths smile was always part of the person that made us all happy to see him. My “Mami” He always called her, cried to hear the news on TV of his passing. My “LOVE” becuase that’s all I know to do, Love you. You are now free, I know your mami was waiting for you with her open arms to greet you in the kingdom of God. We will always love and remember the great times we had. Love your Family on Broadway.

  3. Michael Hegan 10:07am, 07/28/2013

    Rest in Peace Champ.  Thank you .

  4. beaujack 08:13pm, 07/26/2013

    So sad to hear of Emile Griffith’s death. Another great fighter leaving us. I first saw Emile Griffith in the New York City Golden Gloves championship in 1957…A busy fighter with the widest set of shoulders this side of Max Baer….Also saw him fight a few times at MSG as a pro, but when I now think of Emile, I recall the night in March, 1962 at the Concord Hotel in Sullivan County where Griffith was training for his ill-fated 3rd bout with Benny Paret. At night I was at a cocktail party for the guests of the Concord, when who should walk in by himself ? Emile Griffith without Gil Clancy. A few of us surrounded emile and one guy posed this question to Griffith. “Emile will you beat Benny Paret Friday night “?. The angry Griffith responded, ” he call me a “maricon”, I keel him, I keel him “...Who knew how prescient his remark would turn out to be soon after…Seeing that fight on tv, it hit me so hard that night…Rest in peace Emile, you were a throwback to the oldtimers who fought EVERYONE and OFTEN…

  5. From Facebook 01:40pm, 07/25/2013

    Henry Hascup 3:24pm Jul 25
    I just got off the phone with Luis. He stated that he would like us to give our Eulogy and Bell ceremony next Saturday, either at the church or grave site. I told him to get back to me ASAP to see if it’s alright with the Minister or Priest.

    Here’s what he put out:

    Hello this is Luis Rodrigo Griffith, Emile Griffith’s son. I would like to inform you that my dad had passed away on July 23rd. At the nursing home and he did not suffer. I love him very much and I will miss him. God has him now.

  6. Ted 01:40pm, 07/25/2013

    Emile will be laid out on Friday, August 2nd at the Malverne Funeral Home Anthony J Walsh & Son, Inc., located at 330 Hempstead Avenue in Malverne, New York 11565 – Phone # 516-593-7230. There will be two viewing 3-5pm and 7-9pm.

    Church Mass will be held on Saturday morning, August 3rd @ 9:45 AM, at St. Thomas the Apostle Church 24 Westminster Road, West Hempstead, New York 11552 after the mass will be the burial at St. Michael’s Cemetery. 72-02 Astoria Boulevard • East Elmhurst, NY 11370


    WAKE: FRIDAY, AUGUST 2, 2013
    3-5 PM and 7-9 PM
    MALVERNE, NY 11565

    FUNERAL: Saturday, August 3, 2013
    9:45 AM
    Tel: 516-489-8585

    72-02 ASTORIA BLVD
    E. ELMHURST, NY 11370
    (718) 278-3240.

  7. nicolas 12:41pm, 07/25/2013

    Just a hint, it would be something that would have to be published before early August.

  8. nicolas 12:39pm, 07/25/2013

    First, I am sure many of you have gotten, an email saying that Robert Ecksel is stuck in the Philipines and needs 2,600.00. Sorry Robert, I submitted an article to you guys, but have heard nothing back, so no 2,600.00. All kidding a side, except that I did submit an article to Boxing.com, I was surprised that no mention of the vicious assault Emile Griffith did suffer, and really wonder if the sad dementia he suffered was more from that. Also, I was always kind of felt that Nino Benvenuti and his management never gave a rematch to Griffith, though they did have 3 fights. I always felt that was really wrong.

  9. Mike Casey 12:05am, 07/24/2013

    God bless, Emile.

  10. Leandro Gonzalez 10:34pm, 07/23/2013

    I grew up listening to my dad talking about the Griffith-Rodriguez fights. Napoles was very mindful of his talent and did not wanted to fight him right away after winning the title. Many felt he won the rematch with Monzon. I met him at Duran’s Induction into The World Boxing Hall of Fame in LA in 2006. A couple of years earlier, I was in NY and went to Gleason’s Gym where he hung out and missed seeing him. Emile Griffith was a true fighter and it was very touching to see him meet Paret’s son in Ring of Fire. God Bless his soul.

  11. Clarence George 05:33pm, 07/23/2013

    Ha!  Rest assured, Robert, that I do not refer to myself as a “sexual pioneer,” though, yes, I have been called such by any number of comely members of the gentler sex.

  12. Darrell 03:46pm, 07/23/2013

    For this relative youngster, Emile Griffith was a great name in boxing.

    Looks like you contemporaries of his earlier era will give a good account of this man as a personality & boxer….am looking forward to reading them all.

    Condolences to his nearest & dearest.

  13. Robert Ecksel 03:44pm, 07/23/2013

    Clarence—As long as you don’t refer to yourself as a “sexual pioneer,” I suppose I can live with the criticism.

  14. peter 12:01pm, 07/23/2013

    Emile Griffith’s death signals the end of a golden era in boxing—particularly in New York.  Emile was a remarkable man who always seemed to have a smile on his face. He was also a man who had the gift of putting a smle on your face. You always feft good after speaking with him. RIP.

  15. Clarence George 11:55am, 07/23/2013

    A nice epitaph honoring the outstanding Emile Griffith (though I could have done without the “sexual pioneer” bit).

    It’s funny, because I was just reading a Bernard Fernandez article on the International Boxing Hall of Fame (Griffith was among the initial class of 1990), in which the author writes that “Between now and the 2014 Induction Weekend, it seems likely those flags at the IBHOF will be at half-staff at some point.”  Yeah…today.

    A word on behalf of Ring 8, which did much for an ill and destitute Griffith in recent years.

  16. Pete The Sneak 11:46am, 07/23/2013

    Ted, so true about Emile’s humbleness. Had the extreme pleasure of meeting and chatting with Mr Griffith one time at what was the old MSG Felt Forum (now called the Theater) during one of their Thursday night fight series. The man was engaging and obliging to everyone. What struck me most during our brief meeting was his sense of humor and mostly how it seemed to me that he enjoyed our company almost as much as we cherished his. RIP Champ…Peace

  17. Ted 10:37am, 07/23/2013

    He was always very accessible and humble at boxing events and had time for everyone.

    Great trumpeter Terence Blanchard and playwright Michael Cristofer were working on an opera titled Champion (opera) based on Griffith’s story, which premiered at Opera Theatre of St. Louis on June 15, 2013.

  18. Paul Gallender 10:30am, 07/23/2013

    It’s a said day. We lost a great fighter. He was a friend of Sonny Liston and any friend of Sonny’s is a friend of mine. Sorry I never got a chance to meet and talk with him but I’m glad I know people who did. Good article, Robert.

  19. Ted 10:23am, 07/23/2013

    A man who always managed a smile despite many reasons perhaps not to smile. He was what dignity was all about.

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