This Australian, undoubtedly one of the greatest defensive fighters of all time, was, by the end of his life, begging New Yorkers for their spare change so he could disappear into a bar and quietly drink himself to death.
“Young Griffo” was a boxer with such marvelous defensive skills that he could plant his feet on a handkerchief, clamp a cigar in his mouth and bet he could move his head so fast that no man alive could knock that stogie from his teeth. But his drinking ability was also amazing—it was said he trained for his fights mainly by knocking back a few beers. It wasn’t uncommon for him to enter the ring drunk but still ready to scrap. The Saginaw News in 1948 reported that during one of his bouts with “Kid” Lavigne the Australian got whacked in the stomach and “up came the three or four beers Griffo had swallowed before the fight.”
However, “Young Griffo” was not the only boxer with a bit of a drinking problem—Jack McAuliffe, once lightweight champion of the world, enjoyed having a few beverages during the fight. In Alexander Johnston’s Ten…and Out!—a book Robert E. Howard owned, there is an amusing description of an 1894 exhibition between McAuliffe and Griffo. Johnston writes that McAuliffe “had been out of training for more than a year and his liking for the pleasant reactions of the grape was well known. When he entered the ring for his ten-round jaunt…McAuliffe had carried into his corner a pail containing a number of bottles of vintage wine, nestling in their natural habitat of cracked ice.” Johnston adds that “between rounds [McAuliffe] had various other wines opened and enjoyed them quite ostentatiously.” The author also wonders how poor Griffo must have felt “as his antagonist enjoyed this liquid banquet without a pretense of offering him hospitality.”
“Kid” Lavigne was no teetotaler either. I have a newspaper article from 1897 titled “Kid Lavigne Was Not There”, and it appears that the Kid was unable to enter the ring against “Young Griffo” because, according to his manager, Lavingne was “in bed in the Hotel Walton, in a beastly state of intoxication.”
All of this is really pretty sad, and all three of the fighters mentioned were great, but imagine how much greater they might have been if they’d been able to resist the lure of a drink with a head on it. Bad behavior of modern day athletes is really nothing new.