NEW YORK (AFP) – Former welterweight champion Emile Griffith, best known for the brutal 1962 world title fight that claimed the life of bitter rival Benny Paret, died Tuesday. He was 75.
Griffith, who suffered from dementia, died at a care facility in New York, the International Boxing Hall of Fame confirmed in a statement.
“Emile Griffith was a gifted athlete and a truly great boxer,” Hall of Fame Executive Director Edward Brophy said. “Outside of the ring, he was as great a gentleman as he was a fighter. The Hall of Fame joins the boxing world in mourning his passing.”
Griffith’s infamous rivalry with the Cuban-born Paret ended in a fatal third meeting between the two boxers at Madison Square Garden on March 24, 1962 for the welterweight title.
According to a 2005 documentary, Paret had allegedly enraged Griffith prior to the bout by taunting him in Spanish with the deeply offensive homophobic slur “maricon” (faggot).
Griffith, who married dancer Mercedes Donastrog in 1971 but later admitted to being bisexual, claimed victory over Paret with a savage 12th-round assault.
An unconscious Paret was propped up on the ropes as Griffith rained blows on him for several seconds before he slumped to the canvas. Paret never regained consciousness and died in hospital 10 days later.
The savagery of the fight had lasting implications for boxing in the United States, leading ABC television to pull the plug on live broadcasts for years afterward.
Referee Ruby Goldstein, criticized for not intervening to stop Griffith’s furious late assault, never officiated again.
While Griffith would later go on to win several other titles before retiring in 1977, many boxing fans said he was never the same after the fateful bout with Paret.
In 1992, he was hospitalized for four months after being attacked as he left a gay bar in New York. The motive for the attack was never established.
Griffith was ambiguous about his sexuality throughout his life, and he told Sports Illustrated in 2005 he was bisexual.
“I like men and women both … I don’t know what I am. I love men and women the same, but if you ask me which is better… I like women,” he said.