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March 24, 1962. It was a Saturday night, and crowds filled the seats at Madison Square Garden. It was fight night. Bennie “Kid” Paret would be fighting Emile Griffith for the welterweight title—currently held by Paret. In addition to the nearly 8,000 people crowded into the arena, there were TV sets all tuned in across the United States to watch the fight live.

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“I don’t expect an easy fight, but there is no doubt in my mind that I’ll still be champion when this bout is over,” Paret told the press a few days before the fight. “I’ve trained hard for this bout and I don’t intend losing.” But what happened that Saturday night changed the fates of both men. By the end of the night, one man would be carried out of the ring, clinging to life; the other, haunted by ghosts the rest of his life.

Paret and Griffith had matched up before. The first time, in April 1961, they exchanged blows in Miami in front of a small crowd— just 4,618 people. And as historian Christina D. Abreu explains, the fight became Paret’s “first knockout of his forty-six fight career and ending his ten-month reign as welterweight champ.” Paret got the chance to reclaim his title five months later. He did, though it was a controversial decision that was met with “a mixture of cheers and raucous boos.”

A third fight was going to settle the score once and for all.

As Abreu writes, “promoters billed the fight a grudge match stemming from Paret’s ‘disputed gift decision’ over Griffith.” And that both men lived in the Bronx, passing each other on the streets from time to time, only added to the sense that this was going to be a fight to see. There was a tension there, thick and heavy, but something about it felt like it was more than just sports and trash talk. The afternoon of the fight, Paret said to a reporter of Griffith, “I hate that kind of guy. A fighter’s got to look and talk and act like a man.”

There had been rumors about Griffith. In a 1963 Esquire article, writer Norman Mailer wrote that a gossip columnist had run an item about Griffith, loaded with speculation about his sexuality. At the weigh-in, Paret continued poking at his opponent, “making a few more remarks about his manhood. They almost had their fight on the scales,” Mailer wrote.

The accusation alone was enough. The sports world had its own rules and systems, explains sociologist Eric Anderson. In sports, homophobia “presents itself in the form of resistance against the intrusion of a gay subculture within sports and serves as a way of maintaining the rigidity of orthodox masculinity and patriarchy.” So though homophobia was in all corners of society, it was even worse in athletics. Media scholar Leger Grindon writes that “[a]cknowledging he was gay would have ruined Griffith’s boxing career.”

Both men were ready to fight. And Paret could take a punch. He called himself “the Cuban Kid with the Iron Chin,” and was known for being able to, as Mailer put it “take three punches to the head in order to give back two.” And for a while, it worked. Though the momentum of the fight went back and forth, Paret knocked Griffith down in the sixth round. It swung back to Griffith by the eighth round, but by the twelfth round, something shifted. Mailer noted “I had never seen one man hit another so hard and so many times.” It was a barrage, “between twenty and twenty-six punches in just nine seconds,” Abreu writes. Paret fell, began to shake and foam at the mouth. The “wild brawl” was stopped by the referee. People struggled to understand what they’d witnessed.

La Prensa, a New York City Spanish-language paper, reported “Paret touched Griffith’s chest and told him that he wasn’t a man, that he was homosexual.” Others were more direct, noting that Paret called Griffith a slur. But the exact wording wasn’t the issue. The issue now was Paret, who lay comatose before dying ten days after the bout, and Griffith, who would live with the grief for the rest of his life. In the days following the fight, people argued about not just Griffith and Paret, but boxing in general. Less than a week after the fight, one ABC affiliate announced it would stop televising boxing, with others following suit.

Griffith did come out publicly in later years, but his truth came with violence. He was assaulted in 1992 after leaving a New York City gay bar. Thirty years later, the past not as far behind as hoped. And though some felt a need to find someone to blame for Paret’s death, as Grindon writes, “there seems to be no one to blame except for the brutal nature of boxing itself.”

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