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Onward but downward
Tex Maule
December 09, 1974
Five times a champion and still formidable at 36, Emile Griffith slips a rung against a young foe
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December 09, 1974

Onward But Downward

Five times a champion and still formidable at 36, Emile Griffith slips a rung against a young foe

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In the ring, in the 12th round, Griffith trapped Paret on the ropes and battered him unmercifully. Paret, his arms hanging over the ropes, could not protect himself, and Goldstein, for some confused moments, did not stop the fight. When at last he stepped between the fighters, Paret slumped to the canvas, bleeding from the ears. One ringside viewer said, "They better call an ambulance." Another, more astute, said, "No, they better call a hearse."

Paret died, and with him died whatever small touch of viciousness might have animated Griffith. Now he tries not to think of what he calls "the accident," but the memory ravaged him for a long time.

"I would have nightmares about Paret," he says. "I would dream I met him on the street and I would say hello and he would put out his hand and I would take it and it would be cold and clammy." Griffith would wake up screaming.

After his loss to Antuofermo, someone asked Griffith why he had not followed up an early advantage. A minute into the first round he had hit the younger man with a solid right hand and opened a cut over his eye. Griffith considered his answer. "I guess I do not have the killer instinct," he said softly.

Before this fight, sitting in the tiny cubicle that is reserved for him in a grimy little gymnasium on 28th Street in New York, Griffith reflected on his long and remarkable career.

"I think I have got more mature," he said. "I used to swing wild when I was a young man—bing, bing, bing! Now I can do bing-bing-bing when I have to, but I place my punches more carefully. In all the fights I have had, I have tried to learn something from each opponent so that when I go into the next ring, I am more wise than I was."

He has no regrets, though much of the more than $2 million he has earned in the ring was spent on a large family and on friends, waifs and acquaintances who have sponged on him for years. "I wanted to be a baseball player," he says. "I was a very good catcher, you know. That of course was in baseball, you know. I am not a catcher in boxing. I am a hitter."

Griffith is a vain man, like most fighters. His mother made him have his picture taken before he started boxing so that she could later show him the damage done to him by being hit in the face. "That was when I was 15 or 16," he says, smiling and showing an unbroken row of very white teeth, "but I do not look so very different now, do I? And she would not sign my contract when Mr. Albert went into partnership with Mr. Gil Clahncy so I could fight as a professional. For six months she kept the contract in her hahn and would not sign it for fear I would be hurt. But finally I said to her, I said, 'Mommy, if you do not sign the contract I will sign it myself when I grow old enough,' and then she signed it, you know."

Griffith won the welterweight championship after only three years in the ring, and he was one of the best fighters in the world for a long time. His only defect as a boxer was a certain lack of attention to the job at hand. Time and again, even in his big matches, he would establish dominance over his opponent, then seem to lose interest.

"Mr. Clahncy is a mean mahn," he says. "But I think I needed a mean mahn. He used to hit me in the face during a fight to get my attention and I did naht like that, but it made me fight better." Griffith still fights coolly, displaying a competence that seems more than adequate—but a detachment that remains a handicap.

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