Emile Griffith was one of the toughest guys in one of the toughest sports on Earth, a kind man who wasn't so kind in the ring. He was one of the best fighters in an era loaded with elite fighters and, despite his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, was never given the credit he was due.
Rather, Griffith, who died Tuesday in New York at 75, will sadly best be remembered for killing rival Benny Paret in the ring during a nationally televised welterweight title fight at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Griffith and Paret had split their first two bouts, when they met on March 24, 1962 in a rubber match for Paret's belt.
Before the fight, Paret taunted Griffith, using a Spanish word that is slang for homosexual. That apparently enraged Griffith.
In his Sports Illustrated account of the fight, Gilbert Rogin wrote:
As before, Paret called Griffith 'maricon,' gutter Spanish for homosexual. It is the most vulgar epithet in that violent idiom and is particularly galling to Griffith, who has a piping voice, wears extravagantly tight clothes, has designed women's hats and is, ordinarily, a charming, affectionate kid. Griffith told Benny to "shut up." Paret laid a gratuitous, slighting hand on Emile's back. "Keep your hands off me, Paret," snarled Griffith. The fires Paret had lit in Griffith were banked as he entered the ring Saturday night, but they were not banked very deep.