SI Vault
Gilbert Rogin
September 25, 1967
Middleweight Champion Nino Benvenuti has his Beethoven, Challenger Emile Griffith his apples-peaches-pumpkin-pie mother. In a close matchup, the heavier Italian should win
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 25, 1967

Spiritually Set For A New Go

Middleweight Champion Nino Benvenuti has his Beethoven, Challenger Emile Griffith his apples-peaches-pumpkin-pie mother. In a close matchup, the heavier Italian should win

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

As Benvenuti implied, the principal reason he won in April was that Griffith was unable to reach him. Besides having an advantage in reach, Benvenuti would jab Griffith—or, as often, feint a jab—then spring back out of range. Now and then he would take a stand and catch Griffith coming in—frequently with the right uppercut. But Benvenuti not only beat Griffith outside, he beat him inside, which is where Griffith has won so many fights. Benvenuti did not let Griffith lean his head on his chest and bang away with both hands; he tied him up or, as they say, outstrengthed him. Since he could not reach Benvenuti with most of his jabs or get off inside, Griffith resorted to lunging right leads that occasionally got over Benvenuti's low left, most impressively midway in the fourth round, when Griffith knocked him down. Unaccountably, Griffith failed to follow up, throwing but eight worthless punches in the remaining half of the round and, as he fell behind, he got right-hand happy and, when these punches failed to land, futilely grappled over the last four or five rounds.

"I guess," Griffith says, "I just decided I was going to go the distance."

As he said recently while watching The Flintstones in his room at the Concord, where he is training, "It was my fourth lousiest fight." The Concord is in Kiamesha Lake, N.Y., in the Borscht Belt, which is actually heralded by billboards advertising borscht—regular and no-cal. The Concord is supposedly the biggest resort hotel in the world and all you hear there are superlatives. Three carloads of dishes are broken every year. The bar is so long that the people at the far end pay in Canadian money. The artist in residence claims that his pastels "when properly framed will last over 200 years." "It was my fault," Griffith went on. "I took him lightly. The gentleman beat me and may he reign until the 28th of the month. I went to pieces. I looked like an amateur. I was me and I wasn't me. Some things happen you can't explain. When I knocked the gentleman down I was backing up. I seldom back up for anyone. I was lunging. I didn't throw punches in the clinches. The gentleman got away with little moves, et cetera and whatnot. He made me look like a bum. I was so anxious to hit him. I admit it. A bum. The gentleman went home. They gave him a big celebration. That's why I've got to beat him. So New York will respect me.

"I'm a spoiled little monster. But I'm no goddam butterfly. I'm proud. Any little thing offends me, turns me on a little bit. But being proud makes me more disciplined in my work. I'm trying so doggone hard to do everything right, to be this perfect fighter Gil wants me to be. In my younger days I was a carefree guy. Then I used to lie in bed and say 'Heck, what am I doing?' I used to wish all kind of craziness would happen, that the fight would be postponed. But if I wasn't a fighter, what would I be? Head of the office at the hat factory making $150 a week? I'm glad Howie [ Howard Albert, a milliner who is Griffith's co-manager] looked at me that hot day and entered me in the Golden Gloves. And that I turned pro. No one likes to get hit, but if you're going to get hit in the schnauzer get a bit of moolah for it.

"I'm just thinking of myself. I don't give a hoot who digs me as long as my mother—my apples-peaches-pumpkin-pie Chubby Checker mother—digs me. I do everything for her. I need that title back. I'm going to get it back. I feel cheap without it. I'm glad the gentleman's over here in one piece. I'm glad he's given me a chance. That I call him a gentleman for. But he better not gouge me in the eyes anymore. It was so broad.

"I'm going to knock him out. I've got to start knocking people on their pants. People think I can't punch no more." He held up his hands, blotting out Fred Flintstone. "These little hands of mine carry so much power," he said musingly. "These little, skinny things."

"He's going to fight like Emile Griffith this time," Clancy promises. "He's going to throw combinations, keep him busy, move his hands all the time, not let him feint for two minutes every round. Benvenuti gave everything that night. It was a supereffort for him. For Emile it was one of his lesser efforts. This time Emile will make him do what he wants."

What Clancy has been telling Griffith during his sparring sessions is even more indicative of the kind of fight Clancy wants him to make:

"Your hands are free. I don't want you to relax in there. Push him off. Use your shoulder if you have to. Couple of hooks underneath. Forget the right hand. You're ducking punches that aren't being thrown. You're winding up before you punch. Just drop them in. There's no such thing as half a combination. You got to make him punch. Give him your head, but move it. Automatic combination. There's nothing to think about. How can you leave yourself hanging out there? The hook has got to come back automatic. Hooks follow right hands. Move your hands like a freight train. No one's holding them. Don't try to strength with him. Relax and move your hands. What happened? Don't hesitate. Once you make your move—do it."

Despite Griffith's protestations that Clancy and Syd Martin "are like sharks and hawks on me," his spiritual needs are not being neglected. Martin is Griffith's handler and asserts that in his youth he was a foremost backward runner. "I used to run backward in Yankee Stadium, Soldier Field," he says sonorously. "I'd challenge everybody, beat everyone. Bojangles was a leading exponent of backward running. The secret of the whole thing is to keep abreast of that curb and don't be afraid of taking a spill."

Continue Story
1 2 3