Lee Groves

10: Best Tetralogies

7. Emile Griffith vs. Luis Rodriguez – December 17, 1960 to June 12, 1964

Inside the ring the polite, introspective Griffith and the fun-loving Rodriguez were studies in similarities. Both possessed lightning-fast reflexes, superior boxing intellects and uncommon athletic grace. Griffith’s muscular upper body allowed him to function best in close quarters while the lithe Rodriguez boasted lively legs and the flashy round-ending flurries of his hero Kid Gavilan. Because neither were knockout punchers their bouts were destined to be action-packed, occasionally dirty and extremely difficult to judge.

Their first meeting at Madison Square Garden saw Griffith win a split decision that inflicted the first blemish on Rodriguez’s 35-0 record. That victory earned Griffith a crack at Benny “Kid” Paret’s welterweight championship, which he won by 13th round knockout.

By the time Griffith and Rodriguez met again in March 1963, Griffith had already lost – and regained – the welterweight title while Rodriguez had won 15 of his last 16 to earn his first chance at world honors. Griffith-Rodriguez II was the main event of a rare title tripleheader that saw Roberto Cruz ice Battling Torres to win the vacant WBA junior welterweight title and Sugar Ramos tragically stop Davey Moore, who later died from his injuries. Rodriguez produced one of the greatest performances of his career as he won the most decisive decision of the series (8-6, 8-5 and 9-5 in rounds).

Their third meeting 79 days later in Madison Square Garden was tense at first but warmed up considerably after the halfway point. Rodriguez appeared to pull away in the late rounds but in the 15th the Cuban kept his distance to preserve what he thought was a sure victory. A ringside poll of reporters revealed that 17 of 23 believed Rodriguez had done enough to win and judge Joe Armstrong agreed as he saw Rodriguez a 10-5 winner. But referee Jimmy Devlin (9-6) and judge Tony Rossi (8-7) voted for Griffith, allowing him to become a three-time welterweight titlist.

In many minds the fears of a hometown decision were confirmed and the uproar over the verdict led to a fourth fight at the Convention Center in Las Vegas. As was the case in the previous three fights, the competitive tension was suffocating but this time the action was wild, rough and prickly. The fight’s biggest turning point occurred in round three when referee Harold Krause penalized Rodriguez for low blows and hitting on the break.

The deduction had no bearing on the final result as Griffith won a split decision (69-67, 70-68 and 70-71). The journalists’ opinions were split as the United Press International reporter saw it 71-70 for Rodriguez while the Associated Press writer scored it 72-68 for Griffith. Finally, a poll of 12 sportswriters saw a 7-5 split in Griffith’s favor. The final socre: Griffith 3, Rodriguez 1.

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