It was the night of March 24, 1962, a nationally televised welterweight title fight at Madison Square Garden between Emile Griffith and Benny Paret, known as Kid. Griffith was seeking to recapture the crown he had once taken from Paret and then lost back to him.
But this was more than a third encounter for a boxing title. A different kind of tension hung in the Garden air, fed by whispered rumors and an open taunt by Paret, a brash Cuban who at the weigh-in had referred to Griffith as gay, using the Spanish epithet “maricón.”
Fighters squaring off always challenge each other’s boxing prowess, but in the macho world of the ring, and in the taboo-laden world of 1962, Paret had made it personal, challenging Griffith’s manhood.
On a Saturday night about 7,500 fans — not a bad crowd for a televised bout in those years — had trooped to the Garden, then at Eighth Avenue and 49th Street, to watch the fight through a haze of cigarette and cigar smoke. By the 12th round of a scheduled 15, Griffith and Paret were still standing. But in the 12th, Griffith pinned Paret into a corner and let fly a whirlwind of blows to the head.