Young Griffo: Boxer, Boozer and Beggar

By Daniel Attias on July 27, 2017
Young Griffo: Boxer, Boozer and Beggar
For all his God-given talents, Young Griffo just never took the whole thing too seriously.

“It will be said that what Shakespeare was to literature, what Napoleon was to military science, Griffo was to boxing.” Not bad for a drunk…

Cockroaches scatter as the landlord opens the door of the dilapidated room in New York City. The sun shines through, illuminating the numerous stains on the rough, crude flooring, the painted walls display a detestable shade of nicotine yellow. The portly drunk who occupied these meager lodgings has passed and if you didn’t know any better you would imagine his life had amounted to little. That couldn’t be further from the truth though.

You see, this man may have been a drunk but at more than one time in his life he was labeled a wizard, such were the feats of his chosen profession. The man was born Albert Griffiths but to most he was known as “Young Griffo.” His profession was prize fighting but it was drinking he liked best.

“C’mon lads, who here thinks they can knock me off this here handkerchief?” Griffo bellows in a crowded bar. There were many who had seen this feat performed before and they knew the outcome but there was always one, usually a man of heavyweight proportions, who felt he could make some easy money knocking this little drunk off his hanky. Much to the challenger’s surprise, he would find a man of startlingly quick reflexes and those that took up Griffo’s challenge were often left red-faced and short of money.

You see fighting was as easy as drinking for Griffo. He learned his trade in Sydney but made his mark on the sport of boxing during his time in the United States of America. America was kind to Griffo, it was his own endeavors that cost him. Prone to laziness, he achieved so much with so little effort, it begs the question, just how good could he have been had he trained?

Despite such musings, Griffo, in shape or not, was a marvel of the prize ring. Nat Fleischer, the original editor of The Ring Magazine, once wrote: “It will be said that what Shakespeare was to literature, what Napoleon was to military science, Griffo was to boxing.” Not bad for a drunk.

Many of the world’s finest pugilists have had an affinity for drink but Griffo was unique in the fact that he often combined his two loves. Take Chicago for example.

The sound of music spills from the doors of McGurn’s saloon, the voices floating out like smoke on the wind. There’s one that seems to hover above the rest though, it’s thick cockney accent seemingly out of place in a bar in Chicago, Illinois. The owner of the voice has been singing for hours now, all the while filling himself to the brim with whiskey. The fact that he is to take place in a prize fight that night doesn’t seem to bother him at all.

Later that evening, the crowd at Tattersalls is on edge. The preliminaries are all done and men begin to shift in their seats as the news gets passed around that the star of the evening is absent. “They say he’s drop dead drunk at McGurn’s,” one man says. Another patron nearby angrily replies, “I’ve paid good money tonight and drunk or not I want to see a fight, he better be here soon or we’ll riot!” The turbulent scene teems on the brink of violence and not the sort that most expect.

Finally, the announcer tells the crowd that the rumors are true. “Gentleman, I have some bad news. Young Griffo, who is to meet Young Scotty tonight, is not here. It has been confirmed that he is drunk at McGurn’s, but fear not, we have men on their way to retrieve him right now and we will have ourselves a fight tonight.” The crowd roars its approval.

Griffo arrives at Tattersalls, his legs are shaky and his words are slurred but his seconds proceed to lace up his gloves and he enters the ring to cheers from a crowd who have heard much about this fistic wonder. All is seemingly forgiven now that he has stepped between the ropes.

The first round is not what those on hand would consider to be a display of sublimity but as Nat Fleischer wrote in his biography on Griffo, he sat down in his corner and smiled as he remarked to the newspaper men on hand: “So this is the lad you think ken beat me. Strike me ruddy, but the blighter can’t see me. Why, ‘ees a bloomin’ idiot. Is he yer best? I’ll clear me balmy ‘ead in the next round and then by golly, I’ll knock ‘is bloomin’ ‘ead off. I’ll show you Yanks ‘ow to do it.”

Young Scotty never had a chance. Griffo reigned down all manner of blows on him, his work was swift and precise and in return for such work, Scotty found that his fists were almost allergic to Griffo; he found nothing but air.

Griffo was held in such high esteem for his talents that legendary heavyweight James J. Corbett was quoted as saying: “I spent years of study and application at the art and have been credited with some skill, but I could never equal the skill of Young Griffo.” Corbett was thought of as one of the pioneers of ‘scientific fighting’ and his opinion was often held in high regard but for all his God-given talents, Griffo just never took the whole thing too seriously.

Even when faced with some of boxing’s most fearsome opponents, Griffo figured he could beat them on skill alone, and many times he did. More often than not though, he was content to fight a draw and drink away his earnings. His second bout with Joe Gans was one such fight.

Cigarette smoke fills the Olympic Club in Athens, Pennsylvania. The crowd on hand are anxious for the action to start, men speak in hushed tones as they wait for their first glimpse of these two legendary fighters. Dressed in royal blue colored tights and sporting an impressive physique, Joe Gans enters the ring first. Moments later, Young Griffo, dressed in slightly less ostentatious white trunks steps through the ropes. Many in the crowd voice their disapproval at his physical state. “Look at how fat he is,” says one man, “surely he hasn’t trained for this fight,” says another. Many expect Gans to make light work of Griffo.

Gans goes on the attack from the opening bell but to his dismay, Griffo, despite his poor condition, is up to the task. Gans attacks to the body often but he lands with very little. When he attacks to the head of Griffo, the Australian deflects the blows and lands some clean counters of his own. The fight goes the distance, and as per the prior arrangement, there is to be no verdict when both men are left standing at the end of 15 rounds. A draw it is.

Some years after the fight, Gans gave an interview with The Washington Post regarding the fight, and Griffo’s actions that night.

“I’ll never forget my experience in the ring with that Kid Griffo. We met in the ring at the Olympic Club at Athens, Pa., and it was agreed that we were to divide the purse, win or lose. I trained for three weeks for the bout, and when I got a flash at Griffo in his corner I noticed that a fold of fat wobbled over his belt. He was in fit condition for a sanitarium instead of a prize ring, and I told Herford (Al Herford, Joe Gans’ manager) that I would make short work of the Australian phenom, as they called him. We were to go fifteen rounds, and I thought I could do Griff in about three punches at the wind. I had an idea that he would keep away from me, but that’s where he fooled me. You would naturally think that a man in his condition would steer away from a punch, but he crowded me from the first tap of the gong.

“He clearly outboxed me, but every time he tapped me I smiled at him. ‘See here, old chap,’ he said, ‘I’m out for a draw, and don’t get awfully rude with me because I ‘av a bloomink pain in me stomach and if you slam me once in the body it will be all off. So don’t get rude, and be a gentleman.’ I tried my prettiest to bore a stomach punch into him, but I only caught him on the glove at every trial, and then I switched my tactics and tried for his jaw, but he was inside of me at every punch, and when I led he stepped inside and showered a rain of taps with both hands. He had me tired once, I will admit, and it looked to me as if everyone in the crowd was throwing boxing gloves at me. It’s a pity that a boxer of his talent never took care of himself, as he was the greatest defensive boxer that ever lived, and the most peculiar feature of his defense was that he was up and at the opponent all the time, fighting close on the inside of the guard. They talk about Fitzsimmons as a fighting machine, but as a mechanical boxer Fitz never classed with Griffo.”

Griffo shared the ring with many greats, men such as George Dixon, Joe Gans, Jack McAuliffe and Kid Lavigne, to name but a few, and the little Australian dealt with them all in the same apathetic manner. He cared little for the challenges he faced and fought as such. He wowed the crowds with his skillful, scientific ring craft and will forever be remembered as one of boxing’s greatest defensive talents but he never did put much effort into winning his fights. It was merely a means to an end for him.

Sadly, his end would come with much less fanfare. Drinking slowly caught up with Griffo and his once impenetrable defense slowly dwindled away. He was stopped four times in his career and all four were in his final years in the ring. After boxing, things got worse and Griffo’s end was a sad one indeed.

Young Griffo sits alone on 42nd Street in New York City. His clothes are tattered and worn, their dirty tar color an off-putting sight to most who pass by. His body looks decidedly bloated and his breath reeks of despair, the kind that comes from a bottle. He spends his days begging for money. Gone are the bright lights and big crowds and his once lightning fast reflexes have all but gone. All that’s left is the booze, and a question of what might have been. Young Griffo was just 56 years old when he passed.

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  1. Charlie Gard 01:27pm, 07/30/2017

    BOOZER=Chronic Organic Brain Syndrome=BEGGAR!

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