“I was never the same fighter after that. After that fight, I did enough to win. I would use my jab all the time. I never wanted to hurt the other guy,” Griffith said. “I would have quit, but I didn’t know how to do anything else but fight.”
And fight he could.
Known for his overwhelming speed and slick style — certainly not his punching power — Griffith was a prodigy from the moment he stepped in Hall of Fame trainer Gil Clancy’s gym in Queens. Griffith had been working in a hat factory when, as the story goes, he took off his shirt on a hot day and the factory owner realized noticed his muscles.
Under the watchful eye of Clancy, Griffith blossomed into a New York Golden Gloves champion and eventually turned professional. He easily defeated the likes of Florentino Fernandez and Luis Rodriguez during an era when it was common to fight every couple of weeks.
He quickly earned a title shot against Paret in 1961, winning the welterweight belt with a knockout in the 13th round. Griffith would lose it to Paret in a rematch five months later.
After winning back the title during their controversial third fight — many believe Paret never should have been allowed in the ring after a brutal loss to Gene Fullmer three months earlier — Griffith would eventually move up to middleweight. He knocked down Dick Tiger for the first time in his career and claimed the title with a narrow but unanimous decision.
Griffith would go on to lose twice during a thrilling trilogy with Nino Benvenuti, his lone victory coming at Shea Stadium in 1967, and lost two bouts against the great middleweight Carlos Monzon. Griffith would finally retire in 1977 after losing his last three fights.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990 with a record of 85-24-2 and 23 knockouts.
Griffith would go on to train several champions over the years, including Wilfred Benitez and Juan Laporte, among the most popular boxers in Puerto Rican history.
His humor and generosity buoyed those close to him as his health deteriorated in later years. He would regale fans young and old with tales of his fights, even though details often became hazy, the result of the many blows during his career.
Griffith had four sisters — Eleanor, Gloria, Karen and Joyce — and three brothers — Franklin, Guillermo and Tony. He is also survived by his adopted son, Luis Griffith.
Funeral arrangements are pending.