Paret Cuban Fighter Essay Format

When I learned of Emile Griffith’s death Tuesday morning at the age of seventy-five, my mind instantly went back to a night more than fifty years earlier, the cold, blustery Saturday evening of March 24, 1962, when I happened to be at Madison Square Garden. I was ten and a half years old, a fifth-grade student at a boarding school in Maryland, and I was attending the Griffith-Benny “Kid” Paret fight for the world welterweight championship with Hugo Harris, a former New York cop who would eventually become my stepfather. Also there, as it happens, was Angus Cameron, the legendary Knopf editor, though it would be thirteen more years before we actually met in person and he became my mentor. The notion that two people could be in the same place at the same time, two people who would later become important to each other, has always intrigued me, a kind of serendipitous coincidence that has underscored my deep belief in fate.

This was the first big prize fight I had ever seen in person, and I loved everything about it: the smell of cigar smoke, the palpable tension surrounding a big event, and the growing buzz of the crowd in anticipation of what was to come, as one fight after another on the undercard concluded, all leading to the main event. There was the dramatic ping-ping of flashbulbs popping, and the silence that befell the huge arena as everyone waited for the fighters to make their way down their respective aisles, toward the elevated ring and its plush ropes. All of it felt irrecoverably, deeply primal, though I feel pretty sure that, at the time, I didn’t know what “primal” meant. But I would soon find out.

Watching “Friday Night Fights” with my maternal grandfather, followed by “Make That Spare” (“Live from Paramus Lanes in Paramus, New Jersey, it’s ‘Make That Spare’!”), had become a kind of ritual for me. I would go over to my grandparents’ house for Sabbath dinner and to stay the night. The religiosity of the evening was then echoed by the devotion we attached to the gladiatorial struggle that awaited us. I had never yearned to box myself, as Angus had, nor did I have the benefit of a neighborhood “gym,” as he had had across the alley in Indianapolis. But I followed boxing with a passion, and had plenty of opinions about Sugar Ray Robinson and Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson and, though they had long retired before I had a chance to see them fight, the same fighters that had been such an integral part of Angus’s growing up: Gene Tunney, Jack Dempsey, Jess Willard.

What I didn’t know, nor could Angus, was that this would be the third—and last— fight between Griffith and Paret, but not for the usual reason, that three was often the greatest number of times that two fighters would meet each other in the ring when a championship was at stake. Griffith, born in the Virgin Islands and blessed with incredibly quick hands, had won the first bout in Miami Beach less than a year before, on April 1st. Then Paret narrowly reclaimed the title on September 30th. But Paret wasn’t satisfied with one crown, so he tried to add the middleweight one, held by Gene Fullmer, to his trophy case. It turned out to be a drastic overreach, and he wound up pummeled. Nonetheless, here he was, slightly more than three months later, ready to defend his welterweight crown. At the weigh-in, the sassy Cuban, in an attempt to gain a psychological edge, taunted Griffith, calling him a maricón (Spanish for “faggot”).

The fight was a slugfest, and Paret nearly ended things in the sixth round. But after six more rounds, things ended for Paret as Griffith punched him senseless against the ropes, sending him into a coma from which he never emerged. He died ten days later. Norman Mailer, who was also in attendance that night in a ringside seat, wrote, “As he took those eighteen punches something happened to everyone who was in psychic range of the event. Some part of his death reached out to us. … As he went down, the sound of Griffith’s punches echoed in the mind like a heavy axe in the distance chopping into a wet log.” Mailer summed things up with the following words: “Paret died on his feet.”

Mailer was right. Some part of Benny Paret’s death did reach out to all of us. I had not witnessed death before, and what I remember most clearly was the hushed silence in the arena as Paret was moved, ever so carefully, from the floor of the ring onto the stretcher, beginning a procession down the aisle of the Garden where I was sitting and where, as it turned out, Angus was, too. (His seat, however, was closer to the ring; he always had ringside seats because, as he later explained, “I knew everybody.”) It might as well have been a funeral procession without a casket. When the stretcher approached where we were seated, I looked—not for long, but long enough to see Paret’s battered face and the blood on his white satin trunks. That image, that instant, bore itself permanently into my memory.

Benny Paret’s shocking death was followed, a year later, by the death of the featherweight Davey Moore, which inspired Bob Dylan to write a song:

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an’ what’s the reason for?
“Not us,” says the angry crowd,
Whose screams filled the arena loud.
“It’s too bad he died that night
But we just like to see a fight.”

After Moore’s death, boxing was banned from network television for another decade. As for Emile Griffith, he continued fighting, but he remained forever haunted by that Saturday night in March.

I can’t recall exactly when it was that Angus and I talked about that fight. It came up, of course, in the many discussions we would have about boxing, and his initial amazement at the coincidence quickly gave way to his clear pleasure that he and I shared an interest in the sport. Angus used to tell me about hanging around the Gramercy Gym and Stillman’s Gym (“The University of Eighth Avenue,” according to A. J. Liebling) in New York, spending time with Cus D’Amato, whom he had been hoping to persuade to write a book. Any fighter who was hoping to get a shot and become somebody trained at Stillman’s. Angus loved the raw simplicity of the sweat-stained place, loved hearing the sound of men grunting as they hit the heavy bag, loved the pungent smell of liniment that permeated every nook and cranny of the joint.

Of the many things he learned from Cus, who trained Floyd Patterson, José Torres, and, early on, Mike Tyson, among others, was this simple but unassailable fact: every fighter was afraid, every one was scared shitless. One time, when Cus was sixteen and living in a tough Italian section in New York, he was nominated by his friends to fight an Irish kid at nine o’clock one evening, an attempt to settle a dispute and prevent all-out gang warfare. Cus was scared, but apparently the Irish kid was even more so. He never showed. Then there was the time, Cus told Angus, about this fighter from Buffalo, who was going to have a big fight in Chicago, the biggest fight of his career up to that point, the shot he had presumably been waiting for. The boxer boarded the train, headed for the City of Big Shoulders, and never got there. The train didn’t derail; he did. He got off the train in Cleveland and went back to Buffalo. Angus loved that story, loved it so much he would tell it over and over—And you’ll never guess what happened next. The guy simply couldn’t go through with it—just to reinforce Cus’s point. And Cus’s point was particularly poignant in light of Benny Paret’s death, especially since Emile Griffith had that same fear—a fear of being hit, of being hit so hard and so many times that his pretty face would become unrecognizable, or worse.

When Angus left the Garden that night, he went, as he so often did after a prizefight, to Toots Shor’s for a nightcap, a cigar, and conversation, before heading across town to Grand Central, where he caught the last train to Westchester County, and home to his wife, Sheila. When I left with Hugo Harris, I went back with Hugo to my mother’s apartment on East Fifty-sixth Street, somehow sensing, perhaps even knowing, that I would forever carry with me what I had witnessed that night at such a young age. And instead of talking to many boys back at boarding school about the fight, or to anybody, really, I kept silent for quite some time, until Angus and I had the occasion—and, for me at least, the need—to speak of it years later.

Jonathan Coleman is the author of four books, the most recent of which is “West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life” (which he co-wrote with Jerry West). This essay is adapted from his work in progress, “What He Stood For: The Many Worlds of Angus Cameron.”

Photograph by Charles Hoff/NY Daily News Archive/Getty.

Summary

In this set of lessons which extend over several days, students read excerpts from "The Death of Benny Paret" by Norman Mailer and "The Fight" by William Hazlitt. Students annotate the text, specifically looking for metaphor and simile, tone, and syntax. Working with a partner, students write three paragraphs, analyzing metaphor or simile, tone, and syntax in "The Death of Benny Paret." Working independently, students write one paragraph, choosing to analyze metaphor or simile, tone, or syntax in "The Fight."


Materials

  1. Copies of an excerpt from "The Death of Benny Paret" by Norman Mailer. This text may be found in some AP Language textbooks or online. The excerpt I use starts with "Paret was a Cuban, a proud club fighter who had become welterweight champion because of his unusual ability to take a punch" and ends with "As he went down, the sound of Griffith’s punches echoed in the mind like a heavy ax in the distance chopping into a wet log." I have included a link to the website I use as a source for this text.
  2. Copies of an excerpt from William Hazlitt's "The Fight." The excerpt I use starts with "This is the trying time" and ends with "Alas, for Mrs. Hickman!" I have included a link for the website I use as a source of this text.

Background for Teachers

  1. "The Fight" by William Hazlitt is a challenging text. Students will need help building background. I have included an idea for using research to build background in the instructional procedures section of this lesson.
  2. Students need to know how to deal with challenging vocabulary - how to use context clues, how to consult reference materials, and how to check the inferred meaning of a word or phrase in context or in a dictionary.
  3. Students need to know how to integrate or embed quotations into their own sentences. I have attached the website I use to teach how to integrate or embed quotations in the materials section of this lesson.
  4. Students need to know how to cite quotations (I use and teach MLA).

Student Prior Knowledge

Students need to build background for William Hazlitt's "The Fight."


Intended Learning Outcomes

Students will read two pieces of informational text ("The Death of Benny Paret" and "The Fight"), annotating textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says.

Students will use context as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase. Students will consult reference materials to determine or clarify the precise meaning of words.

Students will verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase.

Students will conduct a short research project to answer questions.

Students will produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


Instructional Procedures

PART ONE - "The Death of Benny Paret"

  1. Pass out copies of the passage.
  2. Read, write on the board, and/or project the directions (I put them on the handout with the passage).

    DIRECTIONS

    • This is a THINK ALOUD with your partner assignment. Trade roles as you READ AND THINK ALOUD and as you LISTEN. You must each ANNOTATE your own copy of the text. You will be GRADED on the QUALITY/INSIGHT of your annotations. Work with your partner to make meaning.
    • Determine the TONE of the passage. Identify HOW the author carefully chooses words and details to create the tone. How does the tone help Mailer convey his claim?
    • Look for METAPHORS and SIMILES – Try to determine WHY Mailer chooses the metaphors and similes he includes – What significance does the figurative language add to the passage? How does the figurative language help Mailer convey his claim?
    • Look at SYNTAX (sentence structure) – How does Mailer's syntax "capture" the action of the fight and help Norman Mailer convey his claim?
    • What IS Mailer's claim? *Remind students that there may be more than one correct claim and there are many different ways to word the same claim.
  3. Begin by modeling a think aloud with this text. As you read, and think aloud, annotate the text. Project this for your students to see. Students should read along with you and annotate their own copies of the passage. I normally model the first paragraph and then let students complete the assignment with their partners. Circulate around the room as students read and annotate.
  4. When all students have completed the assignment, move on to the second, more challenging passage by William Hazlitt.
PART TWO - Background for "The Fight"
  1. Pass out the "The Fight" Background handout.
  2. Put students in pairs and take them to a computer lab.
  3. Partners should quickly research and record the items on the handout. This should only take about 10-15 minutes.
  4. Return to class and discuss your findings as a whole group. Students should add additional information to their handout during the class discussion.
  5. Remind students to keep this handout; they may refer to it as they read the Hazlitt passage.
PART THREE - "The Fight"
  1. Pass out copies of "The Fight."
  2. Read, write on the board, and/or project these directions (I put them on the handout with the passage):

    DIRECTIONS

    • This is a THINK ALOUD with your partner assignment. Trade roles as you READ AND THINK ALOUD and as you LISTEN. You must each ANNOTATE your own copy of the text. You will be GRADED on the QUALITY/INSIGHTS of your annotations. Work with your partner to make meaning.
    • This is an OLD and challenging piece. Take your time. Figure out words in context or look them up. Verify the inferred meaning by rereading the sentence(s) with the challenging vocabulary.
    • Pay attention to (and annotate) the items we researched and discussed. Refer to your Quick Research Background handout and use the information on it to deepen your understanding of the passage.
    • Determine the TONE of the passage. Identify HOW the author carefully chooses words and details to create the tone. How does the tone help Hazlitt convey his claim?
    • Look for METAPHORS and SIMILES – Try to determine WHY Hazlitt chooses the metaphors and similes he includes – What significance does the figurative language add to the passage? How does the figurative language help Hazlitt convey his claim?
    • Look at SYNTAX (sentence structure) – How does Hazlitt's syntax "capture" the action of the fight and help William Hazlitt convey his claim?
    • What IS Hazlitt's claim? *Remember there can be multiple correct claims and there are many different ways to word the same claim.
  3. Begin by modeling a think aloud with this text. As you read, and think aloud, annotate the text. Project this for your students to see. Students should read along with you and annotate their own copies of the passage. I normally model a larger chunk of this challenging text before I let students complete the assignment with their partners (you should be able to tell when the class is feeling more comfortable with the text). Circulate around the room as students read and annotate.
PART FOUR - "The Death of Benny Paret" Analysis
  1. Put students into pairs and have them take out their annotated copies of "The Death of Benny Paret."
  2. Pass out one copy of the Formula for Analysis "The Death of Benny Paret" handout to each pair.
  3. Read through the directions with the class.
  4. Model how to complete the metaphor or simile paragraph for the class by referring to your own annotated copy of "The Death of Benny Paret." Use the appropriate checklist (on the back of the handout) to lead the class in an assessment of the paragraph.
  5. As a class, collaboratively write the two remaining analysis paragraphs (tone and syntax). As a class, assess the two remaining paragraphs.
  6. Partners will now work together to collaboratively write three new paragraphs about "The Death of Benny Paret." Remind students to proofread, edit and revise. Remind them to assess each paragraph by completing the checklist on the back of their handouts.
    Remind them to staple their paragraphs to the handout.
  7. You must actively monitor the collaborative writing process. I grab my clipboard and take anecdotal records; students know they will earn (or lose) points based on their participation in the activity.
PART FIVE: Review Analysis of "The Death of Benny Paret"
  1. Randomly choose one paragraph to assess for each partnership.
  2. Note the COMMON problems students are having with the assignment. Choose a few strong examples. Choose a few examples that need to some work - these examples should represent the common problems students are having with the assignment. Type these paragraphs up (leave off the names).
  3. Return the paragraphs to the students. Project the strong examples and, and as a class, use the checklist to assess these examples. Project the examples that need some work, and as a class, use the checklist to assess the paragraphs. Don't forget to tell students that you chose this examples because they show common problems - things with which many of their classmates struggled. Also emphasize what the writers of these paragraphs did well.
PART SIX - "The Fight" Analysis

  1. Pass out the Formula for Analysis "The Fight"
  2. Preview the handout and the directions. Tell students to take our their annotated copies of "The Fight."
  3. Students will work on their own to write a one-paragraph analysis of "The Fight." They may CHOOSE to write an analysis of metaphor or simile, tone or syntax.
  4. Remind students to use the checklist to assess their paragraph. Students should proofread, edit and revise the rough drafts. Students should type their final drafts, using MLA format.

Extensions

Student write a comparative analysis of the two pieces ("The Death of Benny Paret" and "The Fight," examining how the two authors develop their claims.


Assessment Plan

Formative and summative assessments (and checklists) are included in the handouts and the instructional procedures sections.


Created: 07/28/2012
Updated: 02/02/2018

One thought on “Paret Cuban Fighter Essay Format

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *