The New York State Athletic Commission would like to extend its condolences to the family, friends, and fans of former welterweight and middleweight champion Emile Griffith, who passed away on July 23, 2013 at the age of 75 at a personal care facility in Hempstead, New York.
Griffith, whose life and career were profiled in the 2005 documentary “Ring of Fire: the Emile Griffith Story,” was the first fighter ever from the U.S. Virgin Islands to become a world champion. But it was New York, where he fought an astonishing 40 times, where he made his home and where he eventually made his name in the ring as one of the all-time greats.
His first title victory came as a welterweight on April 1, 1961 via a 13th round KO of Benny “The Kid” Paret, whom he’d face two more times in his career, and where he attained an unfortunate notoriety in the controversial third bout of their trilogy. In one of the more tragic occurrences in modern sports history, Paret succumbed to injuries sustained in the final seconds of round 12 at the hands of Griffith. His death occurred 10 days after their fight on March 24, 1962.
But to the New York State Athletic Commission and those who knew him well, that is not what he will be remembered for, as his legacy extends far beyond that bout, both inside and outside the ring. He was a gentle and humble man with a great spirit of generosity who was always quick with that great smile of his and lit up every room he walked into, making everyone comfortable in his very presence.
Perhaps the best mark of the man is signified by his concern and compassion for Paret following that fateful bout. That was just the kind of person he was (immediately after the third Paret bout he stated “I pray to God – I say from my heart – he’s all right.”) to everyone who had the good fortune to know or meet him.
That is how we will remember him. As one of the greatest fighters to ever lace up the gloves and truly a New York boxing legend. He is surely missed. Griffith retired from competition in 1977, amassing a career record of 85 wins, 24 losses, 2 draws, and 1 no contest.