NEW YORK (AP) – It was March 24, 1962. Emile Griffith and Benny “Kid” Paret were inside the ring at Madison Square Garden, waiting for the bell, ready to fight for the championship of the world.

In their Brooklyn apartment, 12-year-old Dan Klores and his father sat together in front of their television, eagerly anticipating the third in a series of bitter grudge bouts between the welterweights.

In the 12th round, before the Klores clan and a national TV audience, Griffith knocked Paret out with a brutal barrage of head shots.

Paret never regained consciousness. Ten days later, he was dead.

Four months later, Griffith was back in the ring – but he was never the same fighter, or person.

The episode lingered with Klores, co-director/producer of the documentary “Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story.”

“I wanted to tell this story,” says Klores, a longtime master P.R. man. “It had all the elements I’m attracted to: politics, media, sports and sex.”


Before the fight, Paret disparaged Griffith at their weigh-in with an epithet for homosexuals.

Rumors about Griffith’s sexuality had floated throughout the boxing world, where homophobia was as much a rule as anything written down by the Marquis of Queensberry.

“Hardly any gay men were out of the closet in the 1960s, especially in the world of sports,” Klores says. “Griffith was not insulted, he was humiliated, and therefore angry. One will never know if that anger carried over into the ring.”

The USA Network will air it 9 p.m. EDT Wednesday, without commercial interruption – the first time the network will offer an ad-free telecast.

USA purchased the movie after its showing at the Sundance Film Festival.

Klores, with partner Ron Berger, spent 16 months putting the film together.

Most of the 38 interviews were conducted by Klores, who sat down with Paret’s wife and son as well as boxers Carmen Basilio, Jose Torres and Gene Fullmer.

Klores spent 16 hours over three days with Griffith, now a 67-year-old man living humbly with his adopted son.

In all, the directors shot 100 hours of film – but it’s three minutes of vintage TV footage that anchors the documentary.

It shows the same grainy images that Klores watched as a boy, the 12th round of the scheduled 15-round fight: Griffith backing Paret into a corner, stepping back, then unloading his right hand.

Paret was suddenly helpless against 10 … 15 … 20 punches … and referee Ruby Goldstein stepped in, too late.

“It was shocking when I saw it again,” Klores relates. “To look at it from an adult’s perspective, it was so brutal. I can’t compare to how I viewed it when I was 12, but I was absolutely stunned and shocked.”

He was equally surprised by his initial meetings with the soft-spoken, gentle Griffith, a six-time world champion.

“He’s the anti-Mike Tyson, in terms of the caricature of the fighter,” Klores says.

For Klores, who produced Paul Simon’s Broadway musical “The Capeman,” this was his second documentary film. “The Boys of 2nd Street Park,” about the lives of his boyhood friends, premiered at Sundance and aired on Showtime.

While the Griffith-Paret fight is the focus of the documentary, it also serves as a starting point for much of the story.

Griffith went on to fight for another 15 years before retiring.

He retired with 85 wins (23 KOs) and still holds the record for most title-fight rounds (339).

Over the years, he has remained guarded about his sexuality and barely survived a 1992 assault.

Paret’s wife, Lucy, was pregnant when her husband died and delivered a second son. Her oldest, Benny Jr., works in the mail room at Klores’ Manhattan public relations firm.

At a recent screening of the documentary, he stood up and walked out at the first glimpse of footage from the 12th round.

Lucy Paret also has yet to see a replay of the fight.

Before their fateful night in Madison Square Garden, the two fighters were, in several ways, kindred spirits.

Both were immigrants, both came from families of eight, both had enjoyed great success in a sport where brutality was rewarded.

“They came to this country, and this city, and they became world champions,” Klores said. “The found the American dream until their collision. And then the dream fell apart.”

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