Farewell Fearless Fighter, Emile Alphonse Griffith
I am honored to have met and known Emile Alphonse Griffith, who has passed away this week.
As a former Harlem pugilist from Haiti, I was first introduced to the sweet science by another Harlemite from Puerto Rico, Hector Luis “Macho” Camacho Matias.
It was Camacho who convinced me to use my brains and brawn not within the confinement of the uncompensated street life of Harlem and the South Bronx but inside a boxing ring at the legendary Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn.
At Gleason's Gym, I met other legendary boxers, the most famous being Floyd Patterson, the gentleman of boxing and former heavyweight champion.
Providentially, at Gleason's, I had the infrequent, but remarkable opportunity to spar with one of my prizefighting heroes, Renaldo Snipes, also known as “Mister Snipes.”
He is best known for knocking down the heavyweight champion Larry Holmes in the 7th round with a powerful overhand right on November 6, 1981 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At Gleason Gym, Camacho, Floyd Patterson, and “Mister Snipes” served as great mentors to a young man who was finding his way in life.
However, I departed from Gleason Gym and started to train at the legendary Times Square Gym in mid-town Manhattan. At Times Square Gym, I was fortunate to interact with another boxing legend, Michael “Dynamite” Dokes who died on August 11, 2012, three months prior to the death of Camacho on November 24, 2012.
Nonetheless, it was at Times Square Gym that I first encountered Griffith, who noticed my boxing skills and offered to serve as my trainer. At first, I declined Emile’s offer to train me as a boxer, but when I heard that Emile had killed a man in the ring for “disrespecting” him, I accepted his offer to train me as a boxer.
With a knock out in the 13th round, Emile won the welterweight championship title for the first time from the Cuban born fighter Benny “The Kid” Paret on April 1, 1961.
At their rematch, on September 30, 1961, Benny defeated Emile in a spilt decision to regain the welterweight championship title. However, during the weigh-in for their final bout, Benny called Emile a maricón, a slur word for homosexual, in a disconcerting and disparaging manner – thus, enraging Emile, who was at that time concealing his sexual attraction to men.
On March 24, 1962 at Madison Square Garden, Emile met Benny for their final trilogy bout. In a virulent manner, the insolent homosexual comment was profoundly personal to Emile.
Emile took his wrath into the ring, and in the 12th round, he bombarded Benny with about 29 unanswered punches that rendered his opponent unconscious.
After the referee stopped the fight, Benny died 10 days later, never regaining his consciousness. In consequence, Emile never regained his sense of self when publically affronted about his homosexuality along with his overpowering drive to win obdurately when brutally confronted in a boxing bout.
Born on February 3, 1938, in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Emile Alphonse Griffith, became the first boxer from the U.S. Virgin Islands to win a world championship. In 1964, he was named “The Ring Fighter of the Year.” By 1977, at the age of 39, Emile retired from prizefighting, with a record of 85 wins, 24 losses and 2 draws.
As a five-time boxing champion and a 1990 inductee of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and World Boxing Hall of Fame, Emile trained legendary Puerto Rican boxing champions such as Wilfred Benitez and Juan Laporte.
Emile, who suffered from dementia pugilistica, died impecuniously on July 23, 2013 at a care facility in Hempstead, New York.
He is survived by his seven siblings: Franklin, Tony, Guillermo, Eleanor, Joyce, Karen and Gloria, and his guardian and compeer, Luis Griffith, who is frequently identified as Emile’s adopted son.
Thank-you, Emile along with Snipes, Patterson, Dokes, and Camacho for teaching me how to fight inside and outside the ring.
Emile, may you rest in peace.
Professor Patrick Delices is a political analyst/commentator for the Black Star News and the author of “The Digital Economy,” Journal of International Affairs. For nearly a decade, Prof. Delices has taught Africana Studies at Hunter College. He also served as a research fellow for the late Pulitzer Prize recipient, Dr. Manning Marable at Columbia University.