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Saturday, August 13, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesBoxing Hall of Famer Emile Griffith Dies at 75

Boxing Hall of Famer Emile Griffith Dies at 75

News of Emile Griffith’s death spread quickly across the sports world Monday, with everyone from network giant ESPN to the territory’s own professional boxers taking the time to pay tribute to the international Hall of Fame boxer and his outstanding career.

Griffith was the first boxer from the U.S. Virgin Islands to become a world champion and has been described by his coaches and colleagues as a "prodigy" known better for his elegance and speed in the ring than his punching power. During a professional career that nearly spanned two decades – Griffith turned pro in 1958 and retired in 1977 – he won the world welterweight title three times, the middleweight title twice and briefly held the junior middleweight title, which was created in the 1960s.

Griffith was “discovered” while working at a hat factory in New York and was sent to Gil Clancy, who became his longtime trainer and developed Griffith into a Golden Gloves winner, according to various biographies.

Griffith was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

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Despite the record, however, Griffith was best known for his 1962 bout against Benny Paret – who died 10 days after Griffith served him a series of blows in the ring at Madison Square Garden. The title fight was the third meeting between Griffith and Paret, and also stirred controversy after Paret leveled an anti-gay slur at Griffith, who later openly referred to himself as "straight, gay and bisexual."

The fight further propelled Griffith into the international media spotlight and became the foundation for the 2005 documentary "Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story."

"I was never the same fighter after that," Griffith famously said in a national news interview that was included Monday in ESPN’s coverage of the boxer’s death. “After that fight, I did enough to win,” he continued. “I would use my jab all the time. I never wanted to hurt the other guy."

"I would have quit,” he acknowledged, “but I didn’t know how to do anything else but fight."

Griffith’s determination and his perseverance in the face of open discrimination and adversity inspired and won him the love of countless fans in the years preceding his death. His struggles with his sexuality and society’s expectations have even been recently played out in the jazz opera "Champion," written and composed by renowned musician Terence Blanchard.

"A gifted athlete, Emile Griffith became the first fighter from the U.S. Virgin Islands to be crowned world champion and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990, which is the last time that I saw him,” said Delegate Donna M. Christensen in a statement released Monday.

“In addition to his speed and talent in the ring, Emile was also a fun, humorous, warm and kind-hearted person,” Christensen said. “He also exhibited courage and grace throughout his life and leaves at a time when his life and legacy are memorialized on stage and on screen.”

And here in the territory, where Griffith was born in 1938, the fighter has been described by many as an icon – one who helped to win recognition for the Virgin Islands and pave the way for many other professionals to come.

"Emile helped to lay the foundation for V.I. fighters, including Julian Jackson, Livingston Bramble, Sugar Ray Seales, Samuel Rogers, and John and Julius Jackson," 340 Boxing officials said in a statement Monday. “In the years to come, many other young Virgin Islanders will be inspired by his story and will pay tribute to his memory and accomplishments as they strive to achieve their own personal success.”

In the statement, Julian Jackson – the famous three-time boxing champ turned coach for the V.I. Amateur Boxing Federation and the 340 Boxing team – also described Griffith’s death as a "tremendous loss for the sport of boxing."

"For the people that knew him, he has been an ambassador for us in boxing, and I have followed in his footsteps, and now my sons are following in his footsteps," Jackson said.

"To lose an icon for the Virgin Islands, our heart goes out to his family and everyone that is close to him, and all the boxing fans out in the Virgin Islands and around the world will miss him. We will see him in the new generation of fighters coming from the Virgin Islands.”

Griffith retired in 1977 after losing his last three fights, his record standing at 85-24-2 with 23 knockouts. At the time of his death, he was living in an extended care facility in Hempsted, N.Y. The cause of death, according to the news blogs, was kidney failure and complications from pugilistic dementia.

According to the New York Times, Griffith’s survivors include three brothers, Franklin, Tony and Guillermo; four sisters, Eleanor, Joyce, Karen and Gloria; and his longtime companion and caretaker, Luis Griffith, who has been described as Emile Griffith’s adopted son.

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News of Emile Griffith's death spread quickly across the sports world Monday, with everyone from network giant ESPN to the territory's own professional boxers taking the time to pay tribute to the international Hall of Fame boxer and his outstanding career.

Griffith was the first boxer from the U.S. Virgin Islands to become a world champion and has been described by his coaches and colleagues as a "prodigy" known better for his elegance and speed in the ring than his punching power. During a professional career that nearly spanned two decades – Griffith turned pro in 1958 and retired in 1977 – he won the world welterweight title three times, the middleweight title twice and briefly held the junior middleweight title, which was created in the 1960s.

Griffith was “discovered” while working at a hat factory in New York and was sent to Gil Clancy, who became his longtime trainer and developed Griffith into a Golden Gloves winner, according to various biographies.

Griffith was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Despite the record, however, Griffith was best known for his 1962 bout against Benny Paret – who died 10 days after Griffith served him a series of blows in the ring at Madison Square Garden. The title fight was the third meeting between Griffith and Paret, and also stirred controversy after Paret leveled an anti-gay slur at Griffith, who later openly referred to himself as "straight, gay and bisexual."

The fight further propelled Griffith into the international media spotlight and became the foundation for the 2005 documentary "Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story."

"I was never the same fighter after that," Griffith famously said in a national news interview that was included Monday in ESPN's coverage of the boxer's death. “After that fight, I did enough to win,” he continued. “I would use my jab all the time. I never wanted to hurt the other guy."

"I would have quit,” he acknowledged, “but I didn't know how to do anything else but fight."

Griffith's determination and his perseverance in the face of open discrimination and adversity inspired and won him the love of countless fans in the years preceding his death. His struggles with his sexuality and society's expectations have even been recently played out in the jazz opera "Champion," written and composed by renowned musician Terence Blanchard.

"A gifted athlete, Emile Griffith became the first fighter from the U.S. Virgin Islands to be crowned world champion and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990, which is the last time that I saw him,” said Delegate Donna M. Christensen in a statement released Monday.

“In addition to his speed and talent in the ring, Emile was also a fun, humorous, warm and kind-hearted person,” Christensen said. “He also exhibited courage and grace throughout his life and leaves at a time when his life and legacy are memorialized on stage and on screen.”

And here in the territory, where Griffith was born in 1938, the fighter has been described by many as an icon – one who helped to win recognition for the Virgin Islands and pave the way for many other professionals to come.

"Emile helped to lay the foundation for V.I. fighters, including Julian Jackson, Livingston Bramble, Sugar Ray Seales, Samuel Rogers, and John and Julius Jackson," 340 Boxing officials said in a statement Monday. “In the years to come, many other young Virgin Islanders will be inspired by his story and will pay tribute to his memory and accomplishments as they strive to achieve their own personal success.”

In the statement, Julian Jackson – the famous three-time boxing champ turned coach for the V.I. Amateur Boxing Federation and the 340 Boxing team – also described Griffith's death as a "tremendous loss for the sport of boxing."

"For the people that knew him, he has been an ambassador for us in boxing, and I have followed in his footsteps, and now my sons are following in his footsteps," Jackson said.

"To lose an icon for the Virgin Islands, our heart goes out to his family and everyone that is close to him, and all the boxing fans out in the Virgin Islands and around the world will miss him. We will see him in the new generation of fighters coming from the Virgin Islands.”

Griffith retired in 1977 after losing his last three fights, his record standing at 85-24-2 with 23 knockouts. At the time of his death, he was living in an extended care facility in Hempsted, N.Y. The cause of death, according to the news blogs, was kidney failure and complications from pugilistic dementia.

According to the New York Times, Griffith's survivors include three brothers, Franklin, Tony and Guillermo; four sisters, Eleanor, Joyce, Karen and Gloria; and his longtime companion and caretaker, Luis Griffith, who has been described as Emile Griffith’s adopted son.