Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Fight That Changed Boxing

Weekly fights had been a staple of television since the 1940’s. They were seen on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports on NBC until 1960. When NBC canceled the show ABC picked it up, showing fights on Saturday night under the name Fight of the Week.

For many people it was a weekly ritual to watch the fights. Many bars drew in a good business as people came in to watch. Many good bouts were to be seen. The one on Saturday, March 24, 1962 promised to be a good one.

On the bill that night were the current welterweight champion Benny Paret. His challenger that night for the crown was Emile Griffith. The two certainly knew each other. Paret had been the champion when Griffith took the crown from him on April 1, 1961. Back in the days when boxers did not rest on their laurels, Paret won the title back on September 30 of the same year. Less than six months later the two went head to head again.

There was a great deal of animosity between the two. Paret went out of his was to antagonize Griffith. There was a rumor that Griffith was gay, or at least bisexual. Paret made the most of this. Griffith said that if Paret said anything at the weigh-in, Griffith would punch him right there.

Griffith’s manager did his best to talk him out of doing that. His reasoning was that Griffith would be disqualified and lose the bout without being paid a penny. Paret took the opportunity to lay into Griffith, calling him a maricón.  Paret did not just say that Grifith was gay; Paret used the Spanish word for faggot. Griffith followed his manager’s advice and did not respond.

The fight would be different. Paret almost knocked out Griffith in the sixth round, but Griffith was saved by the bell. Griffith would come back later.

And did he come back.

The fight was scheduled for fifteen rounds. The twelth round started slow, with Don Dunphy, the television announcer, saying that the round seemed to be “the tamest round of the entire fight,” when Griffith backed Paret into the corner and started to punch away. After a short time Paret stopped punching and started to slump over. Griffith seemed to hold Paret up with one hand while continuing to batter his opponent with the other. The beating continued for another five seconds before the referee, Ruby Goldstein, stopped the fight. When Griffith backed away, Paret slid down the ropes to the canvass, in a coma from which he would never awaken.

Benny Paret died on April 3, 1962.

There was much blame to go around. Of course Griffith was placed under heavy scrutiny. The referee was also criticized for taking so long before calling the fight; in fact Goldstein, having had a long career and being highly respected, could not find work again as a referee. The New York State Boxing Commission was also criticized for approving Paret for such a fight, the fourth title fight in less than two years.

The Fight of the Week lasted until September 1964, ending 18 years of weekly-televised boxing on American prime time network television. By that time the American TV audience had had its fill of television boxing.

They had seen more than they ever wanted to see on March 24, 1962.


  1. Matt, very thoughtful post. If manufactured outrage is a thing, it is useful to remember that so is genuine mass revulsion.

    Rome lost its appetite for blood sport after it became Christianized (and too poor to afford the spectacle). OTOH, it sure sounds like this fight was a fiasco even by Roman standards (death in a not-to-the-death combat, as 99% of them were, was every bit the professional f**k up that it is in modern boxing. Mutatis mutandis, of course.

    1. I enjoy watching boxing from time to time. There is a skill and finesse in it. There was no finesse in this fight, at least this round.

      Griffith's punching bag probably did not get the beating that Paret did.

  2. Here is a link to the video of the end of the fight. EXTREME WARNING: this is horrifying to watch.

    <a href=">You Tube.</a>

    The referee should have called the fight WAY before he did. He stood there while a defenseless man was beaten to death.

    I enjoy watching boxing, and MMA too. This fight wasn't sport was slaughter. The referee was so derelict in his duty that it's a wonder he wasn't charged with negligent homicide or some such.

    Good post Matt. I'd forgotten about this important piece of boxing history. When you mentioned that Paret called Griffith a maricón it jogged my memory. Fullmer also beat Paret half to death in '61, 3 months before the Griffith fight.

    1. That was why the NY Boxing Commission took some heat for this fight. Four fights in less than two years, three in less than a year.

      The two previous fights with Griffith were almost as brutal as was the fight with Fuller.

    2. Lady Red -- I have seen that clip. How they let Munson go back in the ring with rubber legs like that is beyond me. His body was begging for the fight to be stopped.

      And the doctor was looking at his cellphone?