Adventures in the Fight Racket #29

Today's Adventure:

Original Caption:

New York -- Dr. John E. Crisp, one of the three chief surgical residents of New York's Roosevelt Hospital, points to a skull x-ray of welterweight boxing champion Benny 'Kid' Paret, who underwent brain surgery as a result of injuries sustained during his title bout with Emile Griffith on March 24 (1962)


MichaelRyerson said...

Yeah, and Benny 'the kid' Paret died from his skull fracture about a week later. Reportedly, he'd questioned Griffith's sexual orientation and it turned out to be a poorly thought-out strategy. 'Sweet science' indeed.

Tommy O'C said...

It wasn't the first time Paret cast aspersions on Griffith's sexuality. There was a grudge between them long before that fatal fight.

Griffith had taken Paret's welterweight crown via 13th round KO in April 1961. Paret reclaimed the title the following September in a split decision.

Paret followed that victory by taking on hard-hitting Gene Fullmer, who knocked out Paret in the 10th round of a scheduled 15 round World Middleweight title bout. It was the second KO suffered by Paret in three consecutive fights. The step up in weight class and vicious head shots that he took from the larger Fullmer should have been enough to make Paret call it a career.

But only three months later, Paret again put his Welter title on the line in a rubber match against Griffith.

Seen on the popular Friday Night Fights, it was the first televised ring death on American TV (although Paret would be in a coma for ten days).

In a tragic irony, referee Ruby Goldstein had long been criticized for stopping fights too soon and depriving the underdog the chance to rally back to victory. In the final Griffith-Paret fight, Goldstein was criticized (not unjustly) for a late stoppage.

Paret was a tough fighter who unfortunately took too many head shots and had too many brutal fights under his belt. In the marvelous documentary, Ring of Fire, the story is vividly told through vintage footage and interviews with Pete Hamill, Bill Gallo, Jack Newfield, Jimmy Breslin, Jose Torres, and others.

MichaelRyerson said...

Yeah, and Paret had a history of 'playing hurt' late in a fight and some say the New York Boxing Commission should never have sanctioned the fight with Paret's recent knockouts (I agree with them) and from here to Benvenuti Griffith was never quite the same fighter (personal observation).

Tommy O'C said...

Paret did have a reputation for “playing possum” and had been taking a beating in the 10th round before rallying back. (He almost pulled off a huge upset at the end of the sixth, but Griffith was saved by the bell.) That may have been why referee Goldstein hesitated so long in the infamous 12th round.

But Griffith was freely hitting Paret with shots that he was throwing from behind his back. We’re talking something like 21 unanswered, walloping shots to Paret’s head, as he sagged on the ropes, giving a dead-on impersonation of someone lapsing into permanent unconsciousness. No one watching that footage can reasonably use Paret’s reputation for “playing hurt” as an explanation for Goldstein’s inaction, although the referee tried during the subsequent inquiry by calling Paret “a tough fellow.”

Criticisms of any boxing commission are a little like being shocked that there’s gambling going on at Rick’s. Truth is, Paret was cleared to fight by the medical standards of the time (and would be today, in some jurisdictions). There were far more calls for the outright abolition of boxing.

An AP headline said it all: “Outlaw Boxing, Say Scribes, Legislators.” Newspapers and legislators in New York State, across the country, and in Europe decried the barbarity and demanded that boxing be banned. (The only real consequence was that the Big Three networks would not show another boxing match until the early Seventies.) These were the true repercussions of the fight.

Besides Goldstein, the blame more rightly belongs to Paret’s vulture of a manager, Manuel Alfaro. Jack Newfield, Pete Hamill, and Ferdie Pacheco, among others, have said that the savage pummeling Paret suffered from Fullmer seemed a “career ender.” But Alfaro wanted one more big payday out of his “fading” fighter. After Paret’s death, he complained about having to “get another boy” to replace the late boxer.

As for Griffith not being the same “from here to Benvenuti,” it’s said that the number of knockouts Griffith scored decreased and that he was, understandably, haunted by the memory of Paret. But, like other greats (e.g., Robinson, Leonard), Griffith saw his best days as a welterweight before moving up to the middleweights. That’s a change that was undoubtedly inevitable, regardless. But let’s look at his record.

Immediately after the Paret fight, Griffith went on a streak of six straight victories and won the newly created Junior Middleweight Championship (the second of three world titles Griffith would hold) before losing a unanimous decision to the great Luis Rodriguez. Griffith avenged that loss with a split decision over Rodriguez in his next fight, then chalked up two more wins before losing by TKO to Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, a fight he did not train for properly. Griffith then won five of his next six fights (one being a "no contest" due to riotous fans) and was named “Fighter of the Year” by Ring Magazine for 1964. This was more than two years after the March 1962 Paret tragedy.

Griffith then won 9 of his next 11 fights, including the first of two defeats of the great Dick Tiger for the Middleweight crown, his third world title. Griffith then successfully defended the title in two consecutive wins over “master stylist” Joey Archer, before losing a unanimous decision to Benvenuti. In the rematch, Griffith recaptured the middleweight title but again lost it by decision to Benvenuti in the rubber match.

Griffith continued fighting and winning. He lost only twice, one being a defeat by Hall of Famer Jose Napoles, until he lost two “absolutely gallant” efforts against the great Carlos Monzon. But by then, Griffith had been fighting professionally for over 13 years and was past his prime.

So, no matter how much psychic distress he undoubtedly endured, Giffith was far from washed up after the Paret fight.

Neil said...

I think this is one of the most amazing and sad sports stories ever. I wrote a song about Benny and his match against Griffith. If anyone wants to hear my take on it, send me an email and I'll mp3 it to you.