“An emotional journey of a scarred fighter, a grief stricken widow and the harsh politics of the sweet science.”
The story of the six time world champion Emile Griffith, which is an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival will premiere on the USA Network on April 20th without any interruption, is a compelling one if not anything else. A young man who came from the Virgin Islands in search of a better life in the United States and in the process of creating greatness by realizing the ‘American Dream’, he finds himself in controversy, wrapped in the harsh political driven agendas that wanted to cease boxing. Directors and producers Dan Klores and Ron Berger let the story unfold before the viewers’ eyes by allowing the participants involved to tell their side of the situation along with the historical footage of the day to paint the picture. The brutal beating in the ring witnessed by the crowd on hand and television viewers around the world and then the highly publicized death ten days later of Benny Paret shocked the world and mortified the nation enough for a ban to be called on the sport by many creditable figures such as Howard Cosell, many politicians, and all the way to the Vatican, they all wanted massive investigations and a permanent ban on boxing.
The story of Emile Alphonse Griffith begins in the fall of 1938 in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, where Emile was one of eight children. Living in poverty the young lad dreamed of a better life and in the early 1950’s moved to the Big Apple in search of the ‘American Dream’. After working as a delivery boy Emile’s boss became well aware of the teenagers athletic ability so he introduced Griffith to the sport by hooking Emile up with a boxing trainer. Emile was a prodigy, learning quickly and honing his skills through hard work, the young Emile worked his way through the amateur ranks winning the New York Golden Gloves Title. In 1958 Emile took his skills to the pro circuit and with trainer Gil Clancy in his corner he quickly began to make his mark on the sport. Emile won six straight victories his rookie year and continued on to a 13-0 sophomore season until losing his first fight against journeyman Randy Sandy in a ten round split decision. In 1961 Griffith (22-2) challenged the Cuban boxer Benny ‘The Kid’ Paret (35-9-3) for his World Welterweight Title, and in the ‘unlucky’ thirteenth round Emile dethroned the champion and strapped on the belt via knockout, but the forever connection with the two had just begun.
After two successful defenses Griffith and Paret faced one another again but this time Benny ‘The Kid’ would avenge his loss and get his title back with a split decision win. Paret fought once more before stepping in with Griffith who had won three bouts taking a beating from Gene Fullmer before being stopped in the tenth round by knockout. Less than three months later Paret and Griffith were in the square ring again but little did they know they would take part in a life ending, life altering experience for all involved.
During the weigh in of the tragic rubber match Benny Paret stood beside Emile Griffith and whispered in Spanish “maricon”, which translates as “faggot” and which promoted the challenger to lunge at his opponent with the shocked onlookers unaware of the verbal taunt. So the championship bout was set. In front of the Madison Square Garden fans and the popular boxing series ‘Friday Night Fights’ the two squared off for a third and final time. They battled it out and in the sixth Griffith tasted the canvas, but the most brutal round was about to come. In the twelfth round Griffith caught Paret in the corner and began an onslaught of punishment that left the champion defenseless, and after twenty-three unanswered blows the limp Paret slipped down the ropes into a coma and this so called ‘brutality’ was witnessed by all. Ten days later after never regaining consciousness the twenty-three year old Benny Paret died with his loving wife endlessly by his side.
In an uproar there were statewide legislation hearings and the district attorney of New York Frank Hogan threatened to criminally investigate the referee Ruby Goldstein who came under much ridicule after the life-ending bout. The networks pulled boxing off the air for many years after this incident but life went on, Griffith continued fighting but was never the same, after one more fight referee Ruby Goldstein retired and the widow Lucy Paret never remarried.
Griffith went on to win more titles including the World Lightweight title, WBA & WBC welterweight and middleweight titles, but for the ones who knew him personally they said he was never the same fighter, he was scarred and afraid to get his opposition in the corner and go for a knockout. After nineteen years as a professional Griffith ended his career in 1977 with a total record of 85-24-2 (23), he went on to train some fighters and to this day is haunted by the memory of that fateful night of 1961.
There is so much more to this story than what I wrote about, but it is best told by the individuals involved, which the documentary completely covers. ‘Ring of Fire’ dives into the surroundings of the life ending incident and the aftermath due to Paret’s death and Griffith’s life now. It is entertaining, informing and heartbreaking all rolled up into one and this writer here gives ‘Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story’ two thumbs up. It’s a story that both boxing enthusiasts and average fans can get into, and I highly recommend that people tune in for this event.
Ring of Fire MOVIE 2 minute Preview: Video Link RingofFire
Hole in the Fence Films
In association with
SHOOT THE MOON PRODUCTIONS, INC
RING OF FIRE
The Emile Griffith Story
USA Network Premieres Ring of Fire
Commercial Free on April 20th
9 PM ET/PT
Directed and Produced by:
Dan Klores & Ron Berger
For more info on Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith story or other USA programs visit: http://www.usanetwork.com/
Ring of Fire MOVIE 2 minute Preview: Video Link RingofFire
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