On this day in 1961, one of boxing’s most famous and, ultimately, tragic trilogies kicked off in Miami, as Emile Griffith beat Benny “the Kid” Paret by Round 13 KO to capture the welterweight championship. The victory made Griffith the first world champion ever from the Virgin Islands.
Almost six months later, on September 30, Paret recaptured the title when he beat Griffith by split decision in Madison Square Garden. Paret is one of the great professional boxers ever from Cuba, and ultimately his courage and relentless warrior spirit contributed to his downfall.
Less than three months after his second battle against Griffith, Paret jumped up to middleweight, to challenge Gene Fullmer, one of the ruggedest 160-pound champs in history. Fullmer hammered Paret, and the gutsy welterweight kept coming forward. In the 10th and final round, Fullmer dropped Paret three times.
But just three-and-a-half months after that beating, Paret faced off with Griffith for a third time, in March 1962. Paret enraged Griffith at the weigh in by calling him a homophobic slur. Once again fighting in Madison Square Garden, the two engaged in a brutal, back-and-forth fight, with Griffith slowly building up a large lead.
In the fateful 12th round, Griffith trapped Paret in a corner and unloaded a barrage, striking Paret with dozens of unanswered blows. Paret was slumped unconscious against the ropes when the referee finally stopped the carnage. Paret went into a coma, was taken to the hospital and never regained consciousness.
Following Paret’s death, Griffith remained a top fighter, staying active until 1977. He would move up from welterweight to win the middleweight title, recording victories over such talents as Joey Archer, Dick Tiger and Nino Benvenuti. But Griffith would never again show the same desire to finish opponents, and relied much more on his incredible boxing skill to win on points. His KO percentage after facing Paret for the third time was miniscule, and in later life, he was very open about the guilt he felt over killing Paret.