Emile Griffith Biofile
Status: Former Welterweight and Middleweight champion. Inducted into The International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
DOB: February 3, 1938 In: St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
Childhood Heroes: "Floyd Patterson, Ray Robinson, Ralph ‘Tiger’ Jones."
Hobbies/Interests: "Baseball, New York Yankees, tennis."
Nickname: "Champ. A kid at the gym called me ‘champ’ in 1957. I told him I wasn’t the champ yet. He said, Yes you are."
Childhood Dream: "I wanted to be a baseball player. I was a catcher. I didn’t want to be a boxer. (How did you start to box?) My mother moved to New York from the Virgin Islands when I was a teenager. I got a job in a factory. One day in the factory where I worked, I took off my shirt and Howie Alpert saw my physique and asked me if I boxed. He thought I had a good physique for boxing. That’s how I started boxing."
Favorite Movie: "Ben-Hur."
First Job: "Movie theater usher in the Bronx (age 15)."
Early Boxing Memory: "I loved to go to school. I was a teacher’s pet. When I’d get into fights, she’d come to my rescue. She would walk me home and then help me with my schoolwork."
Greatest Sports Moment: "When I won the Welterweight championship of the world (vs. Benny Paret in 1961). I felt like I owned the world. That was the biggest thrill of my life. Still is."
Most Painful Moment: "My third fight with (Benny) Paret (TKO 12 in 1962). It was a disaster. I almost lost my career. Benny passed away. May his soul rest in peace. After that I didn’t want to fight any more. I was getting the hate mail from Cubans, they called me a murderer. But I also got positive mail from fans who cared about me."
Favorite Fights: "Ray Robinson decision 15 Carmen Basilio. Their second fight. At the time, Basilio was talkin’ all kinds of junk. Sugar Ray just went out there and took care of business. Archie Moore-Yvon Durelle. Moore got knocked down three times in the first round and came back to win the fight."
Closest Friends from Boxing: "Joe Frazier, Nino Benvenuti, Gaspar Ortega, Simon Brown, Juan Laporte, George Foreman."
Favorite Boxing Movie: "Rocky."
Hardest Puncher: "Florentino Fernandez. Cuban. A good puncher. A right hand he caught me with…he shaked me up, you know? Didn’t knock me down though. I won the decision."
Toughest Opponents: "Gaspar Ortega – he was my first ten-rounder in Madison Square Garden. .I won, but he gave me a rough fight. A good ten-round fight. He thought he should have won. We fought in Los Angeles two years later and I knocked him out (TKO 12 in 1961)…Dick Tiger. He was really a tough warrior. We fought in Madison Square Garden for the championship. I knocked him down. It went 15 rounds. I won the decision. I was lucky to beat Tiger. We were good friends, we used to spar together. I guess that helped me to beat him because I knew his style…Nino Benvenuti. We fought three times, he won twice. After he retired we became best of friends. I became godfather to his son. Every two years I go see him in Italy. He sends for me to come see him. It’s fun. I see my godson, his wife, and his other kids. Then we have exhibition fights. The place is packed. He’s a big man over there. He hit me hard, I hit him hard. It’s fun. When we were fighting we couldn’t stand each other. Now we’re the best of friends. Carlos Monzon. He was tall and had a long reach. So it was hard to get to him. He was crazy. He didn’t respect me. He didn’t respect nobody. I fought him when I was an old man. He beat me by decision in ’71. I thought I won the second time in ’73 but, hey, that’s life."
Pre-Fight Feeling: "I used to be scared for every one of them. Every one. All my fights, all the same. Gil might come over and smack me and say, Relax yourself. I said, I am relaxed. He said, No you’re not, you’re tense. After I touched gloves, the fear was gone. It was just getting me into the ring. I didn’t respect any guy until the fight was over. He was coming to take something away from me, and I was going to take something from him. When the fight was over, I’d hit him with a glove and he’d hit me. No hugging like you see today."
Favorite Boxers To Watch: "I enjoyed watching Muhammad Ali. And my friend Joe Frazier. I liked Sugar Ray Robinson. We sparred once. Joe Louis – I met him a few times. Archie Moore. He was a good man. He taught me a lot about boxing in the gym. .One thing I liked about Archie Moore is he never show off. Evander Holyfield. He proved to the people he is a great champion. Felix Trinidad. And any fighter that is a well-skilled fighter."
Most Treasured Posession: "My six championship belts. I have them in my house."
People Most Admired: "My mom (Emelda). Gil Clancy. He was more than a manager to me. He was my pop. I’d fight and he’d help me keep up with my education. He was there for me. He kept me feeling good and happy. He knows me. We’ve been together since the Golden Gloves. If I call for him now, he’ll come over. And vice versa. He’s a good man, good people."
Ring Record: 85-24-2 (one no-contest) with 23 KO’s; Boxed professionally from 1958-1977.
(Note: This interview was conducted by telephone in 1995. I met Emile again at a Lennox Lewis training camp in Pocono, PA in 1997 and added to the interview.)