Fifty years ago Emile Griffith and Benny Paret met in a Madison Square Garden boxing ring. Only one walked out alive.
The Griffith Paret boxing match, 24 March, 1962, is a sad chapter in the sport's history. Griffith, the former welterweight champion, was the challenger that Friday night. His handlers earned their keep by creating an alternate life for the young fighter.
"The myths and narratives created a clean biography: he was a hat designer, creative, and he loved blonde Scandinavian beauties. Two facts were straight, though," writes Dan Klores in yesterday's New York Times (31 March). Klores is also the director of 'Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story.'
Griffith was gay. He was a regular at the gay bars near Times Square. His sexuality was whispered about, but most accepted the neat script. Paret broke protocol at the weigh in. He leaned into Griffith's ear and whispered 'maricón, maricón' (a gay slur in Spanish).
Hours later, the two stepped in the ring. The fight was televised and by the twelfth round it was clear the match needed to be stopped. It's estimated the challenger struck Paret in the head a minimum of 24 times. He was no longer defending himself. Finally the referee stepped in. An ambulance was called and 10 days later, after being in a coma, Paret died.
There are no victories in this tragic tale. Paret's wife now lives in a studio apartment in Miami. The child she was carrying that fateful night is now serving time in prison.
As for Griffith, he might have boxed for too long. He suffers from dementia and resides in a nursing home.