Mr. Griffith was one of the most exciting boxers of the 1960s and held world titles in the welterweight and middleweight divisions off and on from 1961 to 1968. He was often a model of cunning efficiency in the ring, preferring finesse to power. But on occasion he could summon great reserves of strength and unleash devastating torrents of punches on his opponents.
No fighter felt his wrath more than Benny “Kid” Paret, a Cuban-born boxer who was Mr. Griffith’s arch-opponent in the 147-pound welterweight class.
Their rivalry was explored in a 2005 documentary directed by Dan Klores, “Ring of Fire.” The film also examined lingering questions about Mr. Griffith’s sexuality, which contributed to the atmosphere surrounding his fights with Paret.
The two boxers first fought on April 1, 1961. Mr. Griffith knocked Paret out in the 13th round to win the welterweight crown.
After defending his title once, Mr. Griffith narrowly lost a rematch to Paret in September 1961. That set up a third bout at New York’s Madison Square Garden on March 24, 1962. The fight was carried live on national television.
At the weigh-in that day, Paret confronted Mr. Griffith with what were vaguely described at the time as “remarks questioning his manliness.”
Rumors had circulated through the boxing world that Mr. Griffith, who had worked at a women’s hat factory, was gay. At the weigh-in, Paret touched Mr. Griffith’s buttocks and muttered “maricon,” a Spanish slur for homosexual.
An enraged Mr. Griffith wanted to fight Paret right there, but his trainer, Gil Clancy, pulled him away, saying, “Save it for tonight.”
The fight was exceptionally savage from the opening bell. The referee, Ruby Goldstein, warned both fighters against illegal holding and low blows.
Mr. Griffith gained an early advantage but was knocked to the canvas by Paret near the end of the sixth round. He recovered and nearly knocked out Paret in the 10th.
Midway through the 12th round, Mr. Griffith caught Paret in a corner and attacked with a fury and speed that few people had ever seen.
“Griffith punched faster than most observers could count,” a New York Times account said.
Only in slow-motion replays could the full force of Mr. Griffith’s fusillade be measured. He delivered as many as 29 unanswered punches, including 18 in six seconds.
Amid shouts from the crowd to stop the fight, referee Goldstein belatedly stepped between the fighters. Mr. Griffith’s handlers had to help pull him away from Paret, who slumped to the floor, unconscious.
Mr. Griffith exulted in reclaiming the welterweight championship before he realized the extent of Paret’s injuries. Mr. Griffith went to the hospital, where Paret lay in a coma. He waited for hours, but Paret’s family refused to let him see his fallen opponent.