It seemed as if the three of them had never left the dim room in the belly of the Garden, as if they were wax figures and the room was a museum dedicated to losers. Freddy Brown, the trainer who looks like a trainer should, prowled from corner to corner. Jimmy Archer, the brother and manager with a waterfront manner, stood on the edge of the crowd circling the table, his eyes empty. Joey, his long, pale legs swinging slowly, sat on the table and held an ice bag on a cut below his right eye.
"How could dey?" muttered Freddy, his beautifully disarranged face expressing disgust. "How could dey give 'em the foist round? Dey know nothin'."
"I don't know how they judge fights here," said Joey. "This is the second time they give me the business in the Garden."
Nothing had changed—same dialogue, same pictures—since Joey had reached out for Emile Griffith's middle-weight title last July and lost on a split decision. Yet there was a certain quality to his anger and bitterness that first time, and you could feel it and you wanted to believe him, because he alone had made the evening special, made it hum like a huge electric cable. The Archer who brooded last week was just performing. Had he performed as well in the ring he would now be the champion.
February 6, 1967
"I'll give him this, though," says Gil Clancy, Griffith's co-manager. "He's the best negative fighter around. He's some guy to fight. He's never there, and he's always ready to run."
That, of course, is exactly the kind of fight Archer made against Griffith. It is the only fight Archer knows how to make, and it is a style—move, jab, think, defend—that has always belonged to the Irish. Stand-up Irish fighters they called them in another time, and even now in certain musty old saloons in New York their yellow photographs hang high on the wall behind the long, stained bars. The legend is Archer's appeal, and from the crowd's standpoint it made his first fight and second fight with Griffith two of the most galvanic nights in recent Garden history. Archer, however, contends that his style is not appreciated by ring officials today, that it has cost him in two fights with Griffith. Perhaps, but Archer—12 pounds heavier and an inch taller—has never stepped out and handled Griffith, technically or physically.
The most impressive aspect of Archer's fight was the brilliant way in which he protected his eye. Cut early in the second round, Archer never gave Griffith a chance to work on the wound. He clutched Griffith, grabbed his neck, spun him, danced out of danger and fell into his natural rhythm of stick and jab. After six rounds, Archer was leading, 4-2. Griffith seemed uninterested. Possibly Archer bored him, or maybe he was thinking of his white poodle, Don Achilles, or his 35 suits, or the mob of relatives he supports.
"You've got to come on, Emile, or you'll blow the title," warned Clancy in Griffith's corner. "Put the pressure on him and fight."
Griffith began to take command in the next round. He won the seventh, eighth and the ninth, in which he scored with a spectacular triple hook; Griffith is often a sloppy puncher, but these hooks were the best and most exciting punches he has thrown in years. Emile lost the tenth ("fogged out again," said Clancy) but got serious again in the 11th and stayed in the fight the rest of the way. Going into the last two rounds, Archer had to win both of them just to gain a draw.
"Joey Archer fought better the first time," said Griffith. "The first time he was hungry for my title. This time he wanted the money—that's all."
Not many—not even the vocal Archer followers who lined the Eighth Avenue bars—could be genuinely critical of the decision. Archer did not make a gallant or inspired bid for the title, and Griffith had made the fight. To be certain, it was not an entertaining bout, but it did have a few artistic moments, composed mostly of Archer's artful dodging and Griffith's flashes of creative punching.
"Emile," says Clancy, "was brilliant in spots, but also quite poor in places." Clancy pointed to the triple hook, the up-jab, which Griffith began using in the 10th, and the intelligent "setting up of punches." The mistakes? Griffith went into his deep fog twice, and he did not do enough fighting on the inside. Fogging out is a problem that Clancy may never defeat, and it is one that has separated Griffith from greatness. It has also been responsible for a number of unimpressive and dull fights. Everyone keeps waiting for Griffith, who seems so able, to come up with a sensational fight, or even just a commanding fight, but he never does.
The reason is quite obvious. Griffith simply does not like to fight; the fact that he killed Benny (Kid) Paret, he says, has not haunted him or diminished his punching power. He just did not want to be a fighter from the beginning, and only great persuasion by Howie Albert, his former employer and present co-manager, shoved him into the ring. "I got tired of listening to him," Griffith says. Still, Emile has learned to accept the ring as a way of life just as he accepts Clancy's commands, occasional face slaps and the constant torture of training. It is also quite true that Griffith cannot afford not to fight.
Griffith, at 29, has earned nearly $1,000,000 during his eight-year career, but he has not held on to much of it. He spends big—on cars, clothes, the good life—and were it not for Clancy and Albert he would not have a cent. The managers constantly goad him to be more frugal, to stop spending all of his money on his relatives, but Griffith is not listening anymore. There is no tomorrow, just today for Emile. He always borrows against the next fight, and it never occurs to him that someday he may not be the champion. Now, it appears, Griffith is weary of the preachments of Albert and Clancy. He no longer seems to want to be treated as a child, and he is rebelling—in and out of the ring.
"I live good, that's right, but I pay for it with my body," says Griffith. "Nobody else does. I don't want them bothering me about my money. Clancy and Albert, they live good off me. So why shouldn't I, and why shouldn't all my family?"
Griffith seems to want his independence in the ring, too. He has always been considered a mechanical fighter, a remote-control fighter who could not function without Clancy's finger on the button. During a fight Griffith often could be seen looking back at his corner for a message from Clancy, who was always screaming, coaching, exhorting and complaining. Against Archer, Griffith seemed independent of Clancy. He was fighting on his own.
"I had to pick Emile up after the sixth and 10th rounds," says Clancy, "but overall it was a very calm night for me. He is a better fighter now than ever. He's more relaxed than he used to be and certainly more capable."
Maybe this is so, but many observers do not share Clancy's opinion. Griffith's relatives, of course, are not among them.
"How long do you think he can be champion?" his mother was asked.
"Forever," Esmeralda said, standing in the Garden lobby and wearing a dress of brutal yellow. "Forever, my Junior can be champion."
"Yeah," shouted Cousin Bun-ard. "Forever and ever."