Monday, January 19, 2009

Benny "Kid" Paret

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, millions watched The Friday Night Fights on "Gillette's Cavalcade of Sports."

The black-and-white television show started with the theme song "To Look Sharp." It had all the right ingredients for a father-and-son "guy's night out" in the living room watching the fights together-- dads, sons, boxing, shaving products and techniques for future shavers . . .

. . . and (for future reference) beer. Beer companies were major sponsors. These images look vaguely familiar.

Then came the last of three championship fights in about a year between Benny "Kid" Paret (shown below) and Emile Griffith. Each fighter had beaten the other once before. Paret became the welterweight champ in 1960, but soon lost the title when Emile Griffith knocked him out in their first fight. Half a year later in their second fight, Paret then defeated Griffith with a split decision to recapture the championship. The "rubber match" was scheduled for March 24, 1962 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was to be televised live on "Gillette's Cavalcade of Sports."

In the twelfth round of the fight, Griffith trapped Paret in the coroner and hit him twenty-nine times in a row when Paret was unconscious against the ropes. The referee came under criticism for not stopping the fight sooner. Paret went into a coma after the fight, and died nine days later in a hospital bed. He had just turned 25 a couple of weeks before the fight. Paret had a lifetime record of 36-12-3 (with 10 KO).

I remember watching the fight with my Dad, and remember him jumping up and yelling something about "getting caught in the corner." I remember more about my Dad's seriousness and concern than much about the images on the television set. I imagine something changed about watching the fights after that, particularly after learning that Benny "Kid" Paret had died a few days later. My Dad told me.

(It was the first time something like that happened on television-- the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby wasn't far behind-- and some results were that boxing wouldn't be seen on television for more than ten years. Reforms were also enacted-- bouts were shortened to less than 15 rounds, and referees began to stop fights more quickly).

I didn't know the following at the time I watched the fight, and only learned of it recently when researching this post, but it's now been reported that at the weigh-in before the fight, Paret called Griffith a "queer" in Spanish. (They were both from the Caribbean). In the sixth round, Paret knocked Griffith down, who was saved by the bell. Paret blew him a kiss as he walked back to his corner. I don't know if that was a major factor in the fight or not.

These are excellent sources for where most of this information comes from:

These tragic stores just sort of stick with a guy over the years, but I also think they've served to make a guy more careful and appreciative along the way.

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