Interview - Montell “Ice” Griffin Took the “0” From Roy Jones, Jr. at 35-0! Interview by Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (Feb 23, 2011) Doghouse Boxing - Tweet
Montell “Ice” Griffin seemed to always be the smaller of the two fighters in the ring. “In 1992 I beat a guy who was 6’5” to my 5’7” and they called me David the giant killer,” said Griffin. He would bring a 28-2 record into the 1992 Olympics in representing his country.
Leading up to his trip to Barcelona, Spain, Griffin would train in his father’s gym in Chicago. A gym he took over from Johnny Coulon, the trainer of Hall of Fame fighter Eddie Perkins. In that gym would be a boxer named Muhammad Ali that Griffin would study the moves of “the greatest”. Unfortunately for Griffin, his father Clarence would pass away with a heart attack in 1983 working the corner of one of his amateur boxers. Griffin was supposed to fight on that show but had the flu.
Griffin was the 1992 U.S. Amateur light heavyweight champion. “I lost to Jeremy Williams for the second time in the Olympic trials. I had to come back to beat him twice (back to back days) in the Box-offs to make the team,” said Griffin. Williams was 6:02 having well over 100 fights. Griffin would take their fourth match easily by 33-8 to make the team.
In the first round of the Olympics Griffin defeated France Mabiletsa (Botswana) and in the second round Yo-Da Ko (South Korea). “In the quarter finals they took the decision from me against Torsten May (Germany),” said Griffin. May eventually won the Gold medal.
Upon turning professional Griffin would have John Caluwaerth as his manager until 2002. “I had sparred with James Toney for a week and even stayed at his house. He planned to manage me but never did,” said Griffin. His trainer would be the legendary Eddie Futch and Thel Torrence as his assistant. Goosen Tudor would serve as his promoter.
Griffin would win his first 5 fights, 4 by stoppage before defeating Ka Dy King, 5-0, at the Beverly Willshire Hotel, in Beverly Hills, CA. “He didn’t want to fight me,” said Griffin. In his next fight he traveled to Dublin, Ireland, along with Wayne McCullough whom Futch trained. He would take a 6 round decision.
In September of 1994 Griffin took on knockout artist Ray “Lethal” Lathon, 14-0 (13), at the Inglewood’s Great Western Forum. He would take a 12 round decision. Lathon was down in the second and Griffin in the fourth. Lathon would never lose again until 2000 when he lost his life ending up 23-1 (21).
“In November Skipper Kemp and I went into the dressing room of James Toney prior to his fight with Roy Jones, Jr., not realizing I would be fighting Toney 3 months later,” said Griffin. Both Jones 26-0 and Toney 44-0-2 were unbeaten and Jones would take the decision.
This set up the first meeting with James “Lights Out” Toney, 44-1-2, for the IBF Inter-Continental title, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, in February of 1995. This is the same Toney that passed on managing him. Griffin would win a 12 round majority decision. Except for some swelling around his left eye Griffin was unmarked and won by scores of 116-112, 115-113 and 114-114. Griffin won the last 3 rounds on all score cards. For some reason Griffin would not immediately capitalize on that win.
In Griffin’s next 4 fights of which 3 were in the UK, he stopped all of his opponents. He would defeat Matthew Charleston, 23-6, for the NABF title at Madison Square Garden, in July of 1996, with a eleventh round stoppage. The second fight with Toney would happen in December of 1996, some 22 months after their first encounter. Toney had won 9 straight and Griffin 10 straight since that time. This would set the stage with the winner fighting Roy Jones, Jr., for his WBC light heavyweight title. At stake in this one would be the WBU title in Reno, NV.
In the second round a counter left hook by Griffin knocked Toney backwards. In the third round with a minute to go a straight right drove Toney backwards. Toney was using his jab effectively but wasn’t able to land the right hand due to Griffin’s elusive style and good counterwork. By the sixth round Griffin was stepping around Toney who would be coming forward and getting nailed with right hands.
In the seventh round with a minute to go Toney landed a left hook low that referee Mills Lane didn’t see. As Griffin looked to Lane for a warning he got hit with a right hand to the jaw. Near the end of the round Toney landed a combo and Griffin landed one of his own at the bell. Both fighters stared at one another as Griffin walked back to his corner with Toney standing there.
In the ninth round Toney landed a big right hand over the top with less than a minute to go. Griffin seemed like the fresher of the two at the end of the round. In the tenth Griffin spun Toney around while rubbing the inside of his glove into Toney’s face. Then pushed him from the back toward the corner. Toney looked very tired at this point. Toney’s trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad was urging Toney to finish strong in the last two rounds.
Griffin controlled the last 2 rounds while Toney was completely out of gas. At the bell Griffin was dancing and holding up both hands in the air in victory. Toney was barely getting one hand up. At ringside George Foreman, Larry Merchant and in studio Harold Lederman all had Toney ahead. This writer felt Toney lost the last 3 rounds. Toney’s jab didn’t seem enough to offset the jab and of Griffin.
The scores were 116-112 twice and 119-109 all for the new WBU champion Griffin. It seemed to this writer Griffin controlled the tempo. Something that Toney usually does but Griffin was too quick for him. Roy Jones, Jr. was watching from the studio and knew in March he would be making a defense.
Jones was 34-0 and Griffin 27-0 with the WBC title at stake in March of 1997 at the Taj Majal in Atlantic City. Griffin came into the ring with “Shock the World” on the back of his robe. Jones was giving “high 5’s” to his corner while Griffin was praying in his corner. “I talk to God every day,” said Griffin. Jones was known for thanking God after a win, but would it happen tonight? IBF/WBA champion Virgil Hill was at ringside hoping to face the winner.
Griffin was the aggressor at the opening bell forcing Jones into a corner covering up. Jones was swinging wildly having a problem early landing punches. Jones only landed 2 of 45 jabs in the first 2 rounds. This would continue into the third round. Jones seemed to have trouble punching down to Griffin. Jones would back into a corner “shoe shining” Griffin to the body when Griffin nailed him with a left hook to the head.
In the sixth round Jones “twirled” his right and landed it as Griffin came back with his own right. From the corner holding Griffin with his left Jones waved to the crowd to start cheering. It was a better round for Jones and possibly his first.
In the seventh Jones threw a right hand with Griffin trying to duck under it with Jones bumping Griffin with his body off balance and landing a left hook and down went Griffin. Griffin jumped up complaining about being tripped to no avail as it was an official knockdown.
In the eighth round while inside Griffin put a shoulder/forearm into Jones, missed a right but a follow up left drove Jones back into the ropes where he held the top strand. In the ninth with Jones again in the corner he evades a right from Griffin who ends up in a southpaw stance. He caught a straight right on the chin from Jones while throwing a lead left and was hurt with 2 minutes to go in the round.
Jones came over the top at the one minute mark with Griffin ducking and caught him on the back of the head staggering him right in front of the referee. Jones was chasing Griffin knowing he was hurt landing another overhand right. As Griffin backed into the ropes Jones put a straight arm to Griffin’s chest pinning him then landing a solid right to the head.
Griffin spun off the ropes to get away from Jones taking the first of two left hooks with Jones missing the second one. Griffin knowing he’s hurt takes a (left) knee. With Griffin staring down at him he lands a right to the jaw and follows up with a left to the face. Griffin goes face forward into the canvas as Jones walks away with his hands in the air as if he won by knockout. The commentators all acknowledged it while still having Griffin ahead.
After 8 rounds the scores read 76-75 for each fighter and 77-75 for Jones. This writer had it 77-75 Griffin. Jones was frustrated from the start when he couldn’t land anything but a jab and that wasn’t always accurate. Griffin had out landed Jones 130-92 at time of stoppage.
“I didn’t want an immediate rematch. I wanted to benefit as the champion defending against a lesser opponent. The WBC insisted on a rematch. On top of that my trainer Eddie Futch had a problem with management and retired from boxing,” said Griffin. Thel Torrence, his assistant would take over.
“When it was time to leave the hotel for the fight there was no one to pick me up. When I got to Foxwoods on my own I had to walk through the crowd with no security. While Henry Grooms was checking Roy’s hands getting wrapped he was told to get me ready,” said Griffin. It seems Griffin was still in street clothes when he was told to get ready. They were a good 15 minutes ahead of the scheduled time of 11:45pm. “I had no time to warm-up. I knew if Eddie was there he wouldn’t go along with it,” said Griffin.
Jones came out with vengeance and landed a solid left hook within 10 seconds knocking Griffin backwards. The next left hook landed within 30 seconds and drove Griffin halfway across the ring into the ropes. Referee Arthur Mercante administered the standing 8 count being the ropes saved Griffin from a knockdown. Jones was throwing left hook power punches with few jabs. Another left hook put Griffin down on his back and trying to beat the count but his legs failed him at 2:31 of the first round.
Griffin would come back 3 months later starting a 7 fight streak over the next 11 months. He would then take on southpaw substitute Eric Harding, 14-0-1, for the NABF title in November of 1998 in Miami, FL, replacing Derrick Harmon 2 days before the fight. Griffin had Harding down in the seventh round but lost a split decision.
In 1999 Griffin scored 4 straight knockouts before going to Germany to take on WBO champ Dariusz Michalczewski, 40-0, on 2 week’s notice. Griffin won the first 3 rounds on all the score cards. “I was winning the fight easily when just before the bell in the fourth round Michalczewski landed 2 punches and the referee Joe Cortez jumped in and stopped it at the 2:59. I couldn’t believe it was an American referee that stopped it. He had no cause to stop it,” said Griffin.
It would be 6 months before Griffin fought again and it was in Guangzhou, China. He would win the IBC title defeating Jose Luis Rivera, 18-2, over 12 rounds. Over a 3 year period he won 6 straight including defeating Derrick Harmon, 22-2, in a WBC Continental Americas defense and George Khalid Jones, 18-1, for the NABF title over 12 rounds.
It would be almost 4 years since Griffin challenged for a world title when he took on Antonio Tarver, 20-1, in April of 2003, for both the WBC and IBF titles that Jones vacated. “I signed with Al Hayman as a consultant. I had no respect for Tarver. In the first round I got hit in the back of the head after missing a left hook. I felt drained and could only remember 3 rounds of the fight at the end of the 12. They were the first, then the sixth round seeing the card girl and the ninth when I asked whose winning,” said Griffin.
Griffin would be inactive for 13 months then winning a pair in 2004 before fighting Rico Hoye, 17-0, for the IBA Continental title and an IBF eliminator. “I lost one round in that fight. Showtime’s Steve Farhood had it 12-0 for me,” said Griffin.
Griffin met Julio Cesar Gonzalez on May 5th of 2005 in CA. “I was head butted at least 6 times. One caused a bad cut in the third round. The ring physician stopped it in the sixth and they went to the score cards,” said Griffin. He lost by a majority decision. “Al Haymon made the match with Gonzalez on Cinco de mayo day. I gave him his release after the fight,” said Griffin.
In March of 2006 Griffin defeated Norman Jones, 28-14-3, over 12 rounds for the vacant USBA title. It would be over a year when he got another IBF title eliminator with Glen “Road Warrior” Johnson, 44-11-2. “I had a fight lined up for Danny Green in Australia for more money at 185. I took this while waiting and had 3 weeks to get to 175 and over trained,” said Griffin. He would lose in the eleventh round when the referee stopped the fight.
In June of 2008 Griffin defeated Cory Cummings, 16-2, in Chicago, over 10 rounds. “Everything clicked that night,” said Griffin. Just 2 months later he got a call to travel to Shymkent, Kazakhstan and fight former amateur champion Beibut Shumenov, 5-0. “He head butted me on purpose in the ninth and they deducted a point from me,” said Griffin. He would lose the decision over 12 rounds. “They did a steroids test on me but not him,” said Griffin. At 38 it looked like the end of the line.
Griffin would come back in May of 2010 after almost a 2 year lay-off. His opponent was a one-time contender in Ross Thompson, 27-14-2, in Hammond, IND. Griffin’s plans were to get his 50th victory and retire. “We were supposed to fight at 178. He was over 200 (205) so I got weighed at 188 with my clothes on. A split decision draw ended his career at 49-8-1 with 30 knockout wins.
“Today I’ve finished going through the police academy and am a Cooke County Sherrif in Chicago. It’s the biggest one site prison in America,” said Griffin. When Montell “Ice” Griffin got into the ring you knew he could box. Just the way he bounced around and was so hard to hit but he could hit you from any angle. He was always giving away height to his opponent and willing to fight anyone! In 58 fights he will always be remembered most for “the first boxer to defeat Roy Jones, Jr.”!