Gil Clancy, 1922–2011

The brainy trainer of boxing champions

The most memorable fight in Gil Clancy’s long career as a boxing trainer and manager was the one he most wanted to forget. Clancy’s star pupil, Emile Griffith, had already split a pair of closely fought bouts with Cuba’s Benny “the Kid” Paret when they met for a third time in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 1962. The world welterweight title was on the line. At the weigh-in the morning of the fight, Paret muttered an epithet to Griffith suggesting that he was a homosexual. Enraged, Griffith lunged for Paret, and Clancy had to hold him back.

That night in the Garden, Griffith pinned Paret against the ropes in the 12th round. Recalling Clancy’s instructions to keep hitting Paret until he fell, Griffith pummeled the Cuban with a whirlwind of blows until referee Ruby Goldstein intervened. Paret slumped to the canvas and never regained consciousness. He died 10 days later. “Dad didn’t talk about it much because it was so bad,” said Clancy’s daughter, Patricia Houlahan. “My father was the type of man who kept that stuff inside.”

Born in Queens, N.Y., Clancy frequented the boxing clubs that were a mainstay of ethnic enclaves in those days, said The New York Times. “It was neighborhood clubs,” Clancy recalled. “The Irishman against the Jew, the Irishman against the Italian.” Drafted into the Army during World War II, he boxed as an amateur at a base in Mississippi. After the war, he studied on the GI Bill at New York University, earning a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in education. He taught in New York City schools and picked up spare cash by training amateur boxers.

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One of his first students was Griffith, said With Clancy as his trainer, Griffith fought his way to the championship of the 147-pound division of the Golden Gloves in 1958. He turned pro that same year and within three years had won his first world title. Clancy worked with great ring technicians such as Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, but he always had a soft spot for less talented fighters of Irish ancestry, taking Gerry Cooney and Canada’s Jerry Quarry under his wing. After Clancy retired from training fighters, he worked as an analyst, alongside Tim Ryan, on CBS boxing broadcasts.

Clancy came out of retirement in 1997 to work with Oscar De La Hoya, said “Amazed by Clancy’s knowledge of the sport,” De La Hoya credits Clancy with improving his footwork and right jab. “I had a pretty good jab, but he definitely made it better,” De La Hoya said. “The knowledge he had, you can’t buy it.”

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