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Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 22:49 GMT 23:49 UK
Brutal blow for boxing
Continuing his look at boxing duels that dominated a decade, BBC Sport Online's Alex Trickett revisits the 1960s and Emile Griffith versus Benny Paret.

If the 1950s was a time of American innocence, the 1960s was its rude awakening.

Civil unrest peaked as opinion divided over the treatment of the black population.

President Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were all assassinated.

And the rebellious hippie movement sprang to life led by a post-war, baby-boom youth that had grown up and was demanding change.

Boxing faced great turbulence as well.

Emile Griffith
Griffith launched a lethal flurry of punches

Muhammad Ali, the sport's biggest draw and heavyweight champion, was banned for three years for refusing to enter the draft for the USA's war in Vietnam.

He became one of the most prominent political figures in the world.

Meanwhile, the spectre of ring death appeared again.

Boxing's public had always known the risks associated with their beloved fight game.

Every 15-round thriller or prolonged toe-to-toe exchange brought with it the real possibility that a fighter would be maimed or even killed.

But, as top bouts found big audiences on radio and television, high-profile tragedy had yet to strike.

That all changed on 24 March 1962, when Emile Griffith and Benny "Kid" Paret fought for the third time, in New York City's Madison Square Garden.


They say how come a sweet little boy like you who designs hats can turn tiger and hurt a man's brain - I didn't want to hurt him
Emile Griffith
As Paret lay in coma

It was to be the final showdown in a bitter welterweight rivalry.

Virgin Islander Griffith had outlasted his Cuban opponent in Miami Beach in April 1961, only for Paret to strike back five months later with a surprise points win.

Already stretched tempers frayed before the rubber match, when Paret accused his rival of being homosexual.

He almost added humiliation to insult in the fight, when his fierce flurry dropped the 7-2 favourite to the canvas in the sixth round.

But the bell intervened, giving Griffith a chance to unscramble his senses and shift the momentum.

By the twelfth, he was firmly on top, driving Paret back on to the ropes with a sharp right.

Then, as referee Ruby Goldstein looked on seemingly transfixed, Griffith unloaded with deep, uncontrollable fury.

Propped up in one corner, there was no reprieve for Paret, who took too many unanswered punches - many to the head - before Goldstein stepped in.

Bob Dylan in 1962
Dylan: Sixties icon questioned boxing death
The 25-year-old never recovered.

Paret fell into a coma and died several days later, reopening a far-reaching debate on the validity of his sometimes brutal sport.

Even the biggest boxing fans - some of them on hand to watch the tragedy unfold - had to question what they had paid to see.

Wrote Norman Mailer, a ring-side fan and acclaimed author: "And Paret? Paret died on his feet."

"As he took those 18 punches something happened to everyone who was in psychic range of the event. Some part of his death reached out to us.

"As he went down, the sound of Griffith's punches echoed in the mind like a heavy axe in the distance chopping into a wet log."

Paret's death cast fresh doubts over boxing's safety measures and the role of its referees.


Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?
'Not us,' says the angry crowd,
whose screams filled the arena loud.
'It's just too bad he died that night
But we just like to see a fight'
Bob Dylan

And the following year, featherweight Davey Moore's death from injuries suffered in a bout with Ultiminio "Sugar" Ramos, led to television networks blacklisting the sport for a while.

If the public felt chilled by broadcasted images of death, the memory of his active role certainly haunted Griffith.

The Virgin Islander, who maintained that he had not meant to hurt Paret, retired in 1977 aged 39.

He tussled with many more champions in an impressive 112-fight career, but admitted to fighting within self-imposed limits, never daring to hit anyone as hard as he had hit Benny "Kid" Paret.

See also:

09 Sep 01 |  Boxing
Middleweights making history
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