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"If you don't hit the other party," says Griffith, "they'll hit you."
This most likely is a rationalization Griffith has created to explain the fight. The unnerving fact is that Griffith was out to teach Paret a lesson, and meant to beat him badly. Up from the sugarcane fields of Puerto Rico, Paret's sense of machismo (a word that approximates "masculinity" in Spanish) had been outraged after Griffith knocked him out in their first fight. At the weigh-in for their second fight Paret called Emile maricon, a Spanish slang word for homosexual. Griffith, who because of his gentle voice, his mannerisms and his flamboyant taste in clothes has always had to contend with innuendoes concerning himself, would have fought Paret right there beside the scales if Clancy had not held him back. Paret won that night, and then Griffith had six months in which to stew over the loss of his title and the insult.
A few days before their third fight Griffith himself brought up the slanderous whispers. "People tell my manager they see me with the wrong people," he said. "If I am stopped on the street and a person asks me a question, I answer him. I am polite. That does not mean I am with him. People say that I wear my pants too tight. How do they want me to wear my pants?"
The next time Griffith saw Paret was at the weigh-in. Paret called him maricon again, and again Clancy had to keep Griffith from starting a prefight fight. In the ring before the bout, one of Paret's handlers kept smirking and mouthing the word over and over again. "Why are you saying that?" a Griffith handler asked.
"I'm just trying to get my man ready," he was told.
Paret was ready enough. He knocked down Griffith in the sixth, but Griffith came back in the 12th, caught Paret on the ropes and did not stop punching until, with Paret senseless and still suspended with his head on the middle brace, Referee Ruby Goldstein stepped between the fighters.
Afterward in the dressing room, Griffith sobbed, "I wanted to kill him. I hated him so much for what he said."
Griffith has forgotten those words now, but he can no more forget that terrible day than he can give up leopard-cloth bedspreads, pink phones and gold bracelets. "You know where I got the idea for the bracelets?" he asked not long ago. "I saw one once on Benny's hand. It looked so nice there."
He nodded his head as though he hoped to shake away the recollection. "People have changed in their attitude toward me," said Griffith, who, after Sugar Ray Robinson and Carmen Basilio, is only the third welterweight champion ever to win the middleweight title. "They accept me now, and the way I dress and the way I walk and the way I talk. I'm not going to change."