When Emile Griffth and Benny ‘Kid’ Paret opposed each other for their third contest on March 24, 1962, the world was about to watch something truly shocking unfold on TV.
A disgruntled build-up between the pair, who had one victory each from two contests in 1961, culminated in what many see as the most spine-tingling boxing death of them all.
Unbeknown at the time, Paret would never recover from what has to go down as one of the most sickening beatings inside a ring any boxer should have to suffer.
Referee Ruby Goldstein was never blamed for Paret’s tragic passing, although trainer Gil Clancy issued instructions to Griffith to keep punching until the official stepped in – which sadly for everyone involved was too late.
During a highly-entertaining contest for the world welterweight title, both men had enjoyed successes, with Griffith even touching the canvas in the sixth round and eventually being saved by the bell.
Paret had goaded his opponent in the build-up about his links to working in a women’s hat factory, insults that had resulted in several anti-gay slurs reported by media at the time and which many say played a huge part in Griffith surviving the round.
Griffith wanted revenge for Paret’s behaviour – which had included touching his backside, although any intention to slay the 25 year-old was never proven or insinuated by anyone in a professional stance.
In that ill-fated twelfth round, Griffith unloaded with everything he had, sensing Paret was stunned and unleashing a barrage solely focused on the head. Around twenty seconds in, it was apparent Paret was in real trouble and at this point Goldstein or at least Paret’s corner should have been stepping in to save their man.
Even media and fans at ringside shouted for Goldstein to stop the fight, but just a few seconds more and Paret’s fate was sealed.
The hardened Cuban – to his credit – never went down from the punches before Goldstein declared Griffith the winner. It was as if in slow motion, though, Paret began to collapse.
After slumping in the corner like a rag doll, Paret was subsequently stretchered out of Madison Square Garden and taken to hospital for emergency medical treatment.
Following ten days fighting for his life, Paret died on April 3 and supporters of the fighter immediately turned their anger to Griffith.
An investigation was launched by the New York Commission but no guilt was ever attached to Griffith, who admitted to punishing himself mentally and suffering flashbacks and nightmare for decades until his own death in 2013.
Later, in a documentary called ‘Ring of Fire’, Griffth met with Paret’s son and was forgiven of any blame for what was a brutal ending that changed the way referee’s think of halting a contest forever.
If Paret accomplished one thing outside his boxing career, it was etching his plight into the memories of officials, who are forced to re-live the final round in training videos of when to step in.
Lessons learned from Griffith v Paret III continue in the sport to this very day but are a stark reminder of a situation escalating in a split-second and just how dangerous the sport can become between two warriors.
Phil Jay is Editor of World Boxing News. Follow on Twitter @PhilDJay