Forgotten Legends: Montell Griffin

By: Steve Gallegos

Many fighters over the years give their all to the sport, accomplish amazing feats yet walk down any street unnoticed. James Toney and Roy Jones are recognizable figures, who most times draw a crowd anywhere they go. There is one fighter who knows both of these men very well and never seemed to get the shine he deserved. That fighter was former light heavyweight champion MontellIceGriffin.

Griffin was a slick, defensive wizard who also packed a decent punch. Despite being only 5″7, Griffin was a force in the light heavyweight division throughout the mid-90’s and 2000’s and he seemed to mix it up with just about everyone. Griffin grew up around a boxing gym as his father ran the Windy City Gym in Chicago, IL. His father passed away when Montell was just 12 and his mother would not let him box. He turned back to boxing when he was an adult and had a short, but stellar amateur career which resulted in a spot on the 1992 U.S. Olympic Boxing team.

He turned pro in early 1993 and would win his first 14 bouts, 6 by KO. Trained by the legendary Eddie Futch, Griffin showed a tremendous poise and sense of relaxation whenever he stepped into the ring. In just his 15th pro bout, he got a crack at a huge name when he faced two-time world champion James “Lights Out” Toney. Toney was coming off his first professional loss to Roy Jones Jr and he was fighting his first fight as a light heavyweight.

Griffin and Toney met on 02/18/95 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. From the opening bell, Griffin showed Toney he wasn’t there to take a payday. Griffin was relaxed and showed no fear of Toney early on as he used his jab to setup combinations and was able to control the pace of the early rounds; despite being rocked badly towards the end of round three. The middle rounds were fought more in the phone booth as both fighters exchanged hard shots. Toney appeared to be the harder puncher, however Griffin was able to take the shots well.

At the end of the seventh, Griffin got a burst of energy as he wobbled Toney, sending him reeling through the ropes, however no knockdown was called. Going into the championship rounds, Griffin got his second wind and out-boxed Toney, who was getting winded. Griffin controlled much of the 12th and unleashed one last flurry to end the fight. It was very close, tough fight that was left in the hands of the judges. When the scorecards were read, Griffin was announced the winner by majority decision. Montell Griffin had arrived and he would follow up this performance with 10 straight knockout wins.

He would face James Toney again in 1996 and this time the stakes were much higher. Griffin and Toney met again on 12/06/96 at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno, NV. Alot of bad blood had developed between the two and a scuffle broke out at a press conference earlier in the week. While standing face to face, Toney pushed Griffin and Montell retaliated by decking Toney in the mouth. At stake was the WBU light heavyweight championship as well as a chance to challenge pound for pound king Roy Jones Jr, who claimed an interim light heavyweight championship just two weeks before. The rematch was a much different fight from the first encounter. Griffin elected to box more and avoid dangerous exchanges. He used feints, threw punches from different angles and had the tactical edge. The end result this time was a unanimous decision win for Montell Griffin. The stage was now set for Roy Jones Jr. vs Montell Griffin.

They met on 03/21/97 at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, NJ. Much of the publicity going into the fight was focused on Roy Jones’ new friendship with Muhammad Ali. As great as Ali was in his day, he did have an achilles heel in Ken Norton, who always seemed to give him more than he bargained for. Norton was trained by none other than Eddie Futch and both Futch and Griffin were looking to “Ken Norton” to Jones’ “Ali”. Jones himself, didn’t appear to worry much about Griffin and during the HBO opening, Jones recited a rhyme saying “I’ve been playing with my bag of tricks, Confucious says Griffin won’t see six”.

Griffin would prove Jones wrong very quickly. In the first round, Griffin took the initiative and pressured Roy right away pounding away to the body while Jones was in a corner. Jones was able to land a couple good right hands, which Montell took fairly well. All in all, Griffin had a decent 1st round in which he made a statement early and made Jones miss some big shots later in the round. Griffin would pressure Jones in the secpnd as he had Jones on the ropes and was able to land a good left hook as well as many shots to the body. Unlike in the Toney fight where Griffin was landing quick combinations, he was putting a lot more power on his punches in this fight.

Griffin controlled the pace of the action again in the third as he was taking Jones into unchartered territory. The Griffin camp knew that Roy had never been in a real fight before and they were determined to make it one. The fourth and fifth rounds were much of the same. Griffin was landing 47% of his punches throughout the mid way point of the bout and he had limited Jones to only 25%.

In the sixth, the pace began to pick up as both men exchanged punches, however Griffin was getting the better the of exchanges. Towards the end of the seventh, Jones turned the tide as he was able to put Griffin down with a left hook while in a corner. Griffin regained the edge in the ninth as he used a good, stiff jab and later in the round landed a hard counter left hook. His punches were starting to make its mark as Jones’ left eye began to swell.

Griffin started round nine pounding away to Jones’ body as he had been all throughout the fight. With 1:00 left in the round, Jones landed a big right hand that shook Griffin up. Jones began to pressure Griffin and had him reeling. During the assault, Griffin decided to take a knee and while down, Jones landed two punches which caused Montell to slump forward onto the canvas. An obvious foul by Jones and when the confusion cleared, Griffin was ruled the winner by disqualification.

He was crowned the new WBC light heavyweight champion and he provided Roy Jones with the first loss of his career. It wasn’t the way either fighter wanted the night to end and a rematch was inevitable. The emotions amongst boxing media was mixed. Some felt Griffin acted when the foul was committed. Other’s gave Griffin credit, believing he may have Jones’ number. KO magazine quoted, “Montell Griffin. On or off his knees, he’s trouble for Roy Jones.” The rematch was billed as “Unfinished Business” and it was scheduled for Thursday, 08/07/97 in Mashantucket, CT.

Griffin was determined to show his first victory was no accident, however on this night, Roy Jones Jr. came out with ferocity and knocked Griffin out in the first round. Griffin put the loss behind and moved forward winning 11 out of his next 12 bouts, 9 by KO before getting another crack at a world title. This time against WBO light heavyweight champion Darius Michalczewski. Griffin did what many other American light heavyweights refused to do and went to the champion’s home country of Germany to challenge for the title.

After winning the first three rounds against the champ, Michalczewski landed a hard right hand towards the end of the round that hurt Griffin. Michalczewski went in for the kill and referee Joe Cortez stopped the bout at the bell. Griffin hotly disputed Cortez’s call, feeling it was a premature stoppage. As usual, Griffin rebounded well and won his next six bouts before getting another title shot in April of 2003, however he was dominated by Antonio Tarver en route to a 12 round decision loss.

It was pretty much the end of Montell Griffin’s career at the top. He would go 6-4-1 over the next eight years before calling it a career in 2011. His record as a professional stands at 50-8 with 30 KO’s. Montell Ice Griffin was a very smart and skillful fighter who ducked nobody and gave everyone he fought a run for his money. In the end he was another very good fighter who didn’t get back what he put into the sport. He remains another unsung hero who deserves better that what he’s received. He remains another one of our “Forgotten Legends“.

Montell Griffin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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