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Griffith was born in St Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands. One of eight children abandoned by their father, he was raised by relatives while his mother found work in New York, sending for him when he was 12. He was employed in a garment factory whose owner, a former boxer, gave him permission to work shirtless in the heat.

Griffith came to the United States as a teenager and was encouraged to become a boxer by his employer, the owner of a hat factory. In 1958, after winning the New York Daily News and Intercity Golden Gloves amateur welterweight (147-pound) titles, he began his professional career. In his first 24 bouts as a professional, Griffith lost only twice, at which point he was given his first chance at a title bout. Griffith, who would hold the welterweight professional championship three times, first won it from Benny (“Kid”) Paret in a 13-round knockout on April 1, 1961; he lost it to Paret in a rematch by a 15-round decision on September 30, 1961; and he regained it by a knockout of Paret on March 24, 1962. This last fight resulted in tragedy when in the 12th round Griffith backed Paret into a corner and continued to punch him as he slumped against the ropes until the referee finally stepped in to stop the fight. Paret lapsed into a coma and died 10 days later. Griffith, who insisted that the brutality was not associated with remarks Paret had made prior to the bout about his sexuality, was shaken by the death and was never as aggressive in the ring. Despite this, Griffith successfully defended his world welterweight title twice in 1962 before surrendering it to Luis Rodríguez by a 15-round decision on March 21, 1963. On the rematch Griffith recaptured the title once more by a 15-round decision over Rodríguez on June 8, 1963.

By 1958, Griffith was the Golden Gloves champion at welterweight, and he turned professional. In 1961, he beat Paret on a 13th-round knockout to win the welterweight crown. Six months later he lost the rematch by a disputed split decision, setting up the fatal decider.

Paret floored Griffith for an eight-count in round six before Griffith took control. In the 12th, he landed a number of telling punches before a right staggered the Cuban, who retreated into the corner. Referee Ruby Goldstein stood directly behind Griffith, inexplicably slow to stop the beating. Paret was known for his ability to take a punch and Griffith was not a big puncher, but Paret was clearly out long before Goldstein stepped in.

Griffith always denied he intended deliberate punishment, and watching his concern as he moved to Paret immediately after his hand was raised in victory, it is easy to believe he was telling the truth. But the fight haunted him – and the whispers about his sexuality trailed him – for the rest of his life.

The governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, ordered an investigation, which cleared both Griffith and Goldstein of blame. Goldstein never refereed another fight, and the ABC network dropped primetime boxing for the next 20 years. Griffith, haunted by nightmares, claimed he was never again as aggressive a fighter. He lost the title to another Cuban, Luis Manuel Rodríguez, but regained it in June 1963 and held it until 1966, when he vacated it after beating Dick Tiger for the middleweight crown. He had lost three fights to middleweights, including Hurricane Carter, along the way, preparing to move up.

He lost, regained and lost the middleweight crown again in a memorable series of fights with the Italian Nino Benvenuti in 1967-68. Benvenuti thought so much of Griffith that he later flew him to Italy to be godfather to his son. After losing title fights at welter to José Nápoles and twice at middleweight to Carlos Monzón, he slid into a long string of meaningless paydays. His final bout was a loss in Monaco to Britain's Alan Minter in July 1977.

In 1971, Griffith married Mercedes Donastorg, a dancer he had met in St Thomas. The lavish ceremony was held at the Concord hotel in the Catskills, where he trained, with Joe Frazier as best man. The marriage lasted less than two years, though he adopted Donastorg's daughter, Christine. After retiring, Griffith briefly coached the Danish Olympic team, then worked as a corrections officer at a juvenile facility in New Jersey, where he met Luis Rodrigo, who became his companion, publicly called an adopted son. The relationship cost him his job, so Griffith began bartending in Jersey City while training fighters, most notably Wilfred Benítez.

His sexuality remained an open question until a night in 1992, when he fought back after being attacked by a gang as he left Hombre, a gay bar near New York's port authority terminal. The savage beating he received left him close to death from kidney failure, and the trauma to his head would exacerbate the damage he had received while boxing. Yet even as gay sportsmen began to come out, Griffith seemed trapped in boxing's macho world.

On April 25, 1966, Griffith won the world middleweight (160-pound) title by outpointing champion Dick Tiger in 15 rounds. His attempt to retain both championships (contrary to U.S. boxing rules) was disallowed, and he relinquished the welterweight title. On April 17, 1967, he was defeated by Nino Benvenuti on points in a 15-round middleweight title match. On September 29 of that year, he won the middleweight championship for the second time by outscoring Benvenuti in 15 rounds, but he lost it again to Benvenuti by a 15-round decision on March 4, 1968. Griffith retired from the ring in 1977, with 85 wins (23 knockouts), 24 losses, and 2 draws. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Griffith often attended fights in New York, especially at Madison Square Garden, where he headlined 23 times. He was also a frequent visitor to the many boxing clubs around New York City. He would slowly rise from his seat, often with assistance, and smile while waving when he was acknowledged.

Sports Illustrated reported in 2005 that Griffith may have been fueled by an anti-gay slur directed at him by Paret during the weigh-in. Over the years, Griffith described himself at various times as straight, gay and bisexual.

"People spit at me in the street," Griffith told The Associated Press in 1993, recalling the days after Paret's death. "We stayed in a hotel. Every time there was a knock on the door, I would run into the next room. I was so scared.".

"He was a tremendous boxer and person," Ross said. "It is almost a blessing that he passed away because he has been in a vegetative state the last couple years. To know him was a privilege. He transcended being a boxer, or being gay or straight. He lived life with the fullest joy. He passed that on to everyone he knew, and not many have that as a legacy.

"I was never the same fighter after that. After that fight, I did enough to win. I would use my jab all the time. I never wanted to hurt the other guy," Griffith said. "I would have quit, but I didn't know how to do anything else but fight.".

Known for his overwhelming speed and slick style -- certainly not his punching power -- Griffith was a prodigy from the moment he stepped in Hall of Fame trainer Gil Clancy's gym in Queens. Griffith had been working in a hat factory when, as the story goes, he took off his shirt on a hot day and the factory owner realized how strong he was.

Under the eye of Clancy, Griffith blossomed into a New York Golden Gloves champion and eventually turned professional. He easily defeated the likes of Florentino Fernandez and Luis Rodriguez during an era when it was common to fight every couple of weeks, quickly earning a welterweight title shot against Paret in 1961.

Griffith would go on to lose twice during a thrilling trilogy with Nino Benvenuti, his lone victory coming at Shea Stadium in 1967, and lost two bouts against the great middleweight Carlos Monzon. Griffith would finally retire in 1977 after losing his last three fights, his record standing at 85-24-2 with 23 knockouts.

Griffith's humor and generosity buoyed those close to him as his health deteriorated in later years. He would still make the pilgrimage to Canastota, N.Y., for the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, regaling fans young and old with tales, even though the details often became hazy, the result of the many blows he sustained during his career.


Emile Griffith (American boxer). (2014). Retrieved on April 27, 2014, from

Emile Griffith, Hall of Famer from 1960s, dies at 75. (2014). Retrieved on April 27, 2014, from

Michael Carlson. (2014). Emile Griffith obituary | Sport | Retrieved on April 27, 2014, from


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