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E-ticket: Fight Club

Originally Published: March 12, 2008
By By Gare Joyce | Special to ESPN.com
There's Emile Griffith at 29, all sinew and sweat and wide-open eyes, trading punches with mop-haired Nino Benvenuti, who's taking the middleweight title away from him. That's the glossy 8-by-10, black-and-white image of his youth that Griffith at 69 is signing. His face has not changed much, unscarred, unlined. From a distance, he seems pretty hale. A few pounds over his fighting weight, sure, but he still fits in a freshly pressed blue blazer of uncertain vintage -- the only nod to passing time is the AAU patch on the chest pocket that is hanging by a thread. And it's clear he still glories in the fight game. From a 14-karat chain around his neck hangs a pair of gloves the size of overfed goldfish.

Yet the skills that made him a great boxer are gone -- the speed, the hard body, the instincts and the reflexes. Gone utterly. Maybe all that's left is courage. In his prime, it was the courage to stand across the ring from another man trained and poised to do him bodily harm. Now it's the courage to sit on the other side of a velvet rope and be measured against his former self in the eyes of strangers.

"Sign it to Doug," says a paunchy guy in an Everlast T-shirt that has never seen an honest sweat. He's barely 40, not old enough to have seen the Benvenuti fight, not old enough to have seen Griffith at the height of his game. No, what he knows of Griffith he gleaned from the documentary "Ring of Fire." That Griffith's sexual orientation is unclear though he denies he's gay. That Benny Kid Paret taunted him as a maricon before a bout in 1962. And that, in turn, Griffith, usually a technician more than a brawler, killed Paret in the ring. The fan hands Griffith a felt pen.

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