On Tuesday, May 15, Jerry Quarry would have celebrated his 73rd birthday. Quarry was never the heavyweight champion of the world, but he sure fought like one. Relatively short for a heavyweight at six-feet and weighing roughly 190 pounds, Quarry was all heart.
Quarry competed against some of the sport’s true giants. Covering a span beginning March 1967 and running through November 1977, Quarry, who fought four times for the title, squared off against Brian London, Floyd Patterson, Thad Spencer, Jimmy Ellis, Buster Mathis, Joe Frazier, George Chuvalo, Mac Foster, Muhammad Ali, Ron Lyle, Earnie Shavers, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and Lorenzo Zanon.
While some were at the end of their careers and others at their peak, Quarry, armed with a devastating left hook, counterpunching ability with both hands, rugged chin and a willingness to give it his all, cemented his legacy.
It’s been said that perhaps in a different era, Quarry would have made it to the mountain top.
That Quarry, who closed his professional career with 53 wins, nine losses and four draws with 32 knockouts, was eager to fight the best helped his popularity. He was named The Ring magazine’s No. 1 fan favorite between 1968 and 1971.
Like many boxers before him, Quarry, the No. 1 heavyweight contender three times, came from distinctly humble beginnings.
Born in Bakersfield, about 115 miles north of Los Angeles, in 1945, the family moved to Bellflower, a Los Angeles suburb, when Quarry was just a boy.
Quarry’s father, Jack, was a boxer as were brothers Bobby and Mike. One could say it was the family business.
Quarry was once asked if he made the correct career choice. “Would I do it all over again?,” he said in 1990, nine years before his passing. “When I started in 1965, I was changing Greyhound bus tires for a living, bringing home $99.50 a week. You damned well know I’d go back into boxing.”
At an early age, Quarry showed extreme promise. It began as an amateur when the soon-to-be nicknamed “Bellflower Bomber,” started mowing down the competition in the more than 200 bouts he had that included a National Golden Gloves championship.
The next logical step was turning pro, which he did eight days shy of his 20th birthday when he faced Gene Hamilton at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
That night, Quarry won his initial fight, a four-rounder on points, which kick-started a 20-fight unbeaten streak.
The skein ended when the young Irishman walked into the ring against Eddie Machen at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles.
In attendance was Rocky Marciano, who came to Southern California with designs on perhaps managing Quarry.
The one-time undefeated heavyweight king from Brockton, Massachusetts, left before the conclusion of the fight as Quarry fell prey, losing a 10-round unanimous decision to the more seasoned veteran, who went by the moniker “The Old Professor.”
Quarry then took on London in March 1967 at the same venue and earned a unanimous decision triumph over 10 rounds.
Three months later, Quarry met the two-time heavyweight champion Patterson.
Across 10 rounds at the Coliseum, it was a veritable war as Patterson went down twice in the second round and Quarry once in the seventh. In the end, it was ruled a majority draw.
Around this time, Ali refused induction into the Army and was stripped of his title and not allowed to box.
Consequently, the World Boxing Association held a heavyweight tournament to determine the new champion.
In October 1967, Patterson and Quarry faced off in an elimination bout at the Olympic. This time, Quarry proved superior, knocking down the Brooklyn native in the second and fourth rounds and ultimately taking a majority decision in the scheduled 12-rounder.
Four months later, Quarry, who was managed by his father and Johnny Flores and later Gil Clancy, would have a go-around with Spencer at the Oakland Arena in a WBA elimination fight.
Quarry passed this test, knocking down Spencer in the fourth and 10th rounds and garnered a technical knockout victory in the 12th round.
In April 1968 at the same locale, Quarry stood toe-to-toe with Ellis, a one-time Ali sparring partner with the WBA title on the line.
In his biggest fight to this point, Quarry couldn’t get past the slick and sharp-punching Ellis, losing a 15-round majority decision.
Quarry then cruised into the ring with Mathis in March 1969 at Madison Square Garden.
After decking the “big man” in the second round, Quarry captured a 12-round unanimous decision.
Frazier awaited Quarry three months later at the “world’s most famous arena,” and the two absorbed enough punishment to last a lifetime in this New York State Athletic Commission title bash.
Cut, bruised and battered, the bout was halted in the seventh round. So good was the scheduled 15-rounder that The Ring magazine voted it “Fight of the Year.”
Afterward, Quarry was philosophical. “They never thought I had a heart till that fight,” he said. “Damned shame I had to show ’em that way.”
Frazier knew Quarry had no quit in him despite his early departure. “He’s a very tough man,” said Frazier, who himself was blessed with a pulverizing left hook. “He could have been a world champion, but he cut too easily,” he said of Quarry who was elected to the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995.
Thirty months after taking on London the first time, the pair met at the Oakland Arena.
This time it was short and sweet as Quarry floored London twice in the second frame which halted matters.
Three months later Quarry and Chuvalo, a tough Canadian, faced off at the Garden, and a left hook by Chuvalo to Quarry’s head in the seventh round capped the fight.
Foster was next for Quarry in June 1970, again at the Garden, and saw the young Californian deliver significant punishment to Foster in the fifth and a knockout in the sixth round. Coming in, Foster was undefeated and had won all 24 of his pro bouts by knockout.
After being inactive for three and a half years, Ali finally returned to the ring in October 1970.
The city was Atlanta and the opponent was Quarry, who made $338,000, the biggest payday of his career.
It didn’t last long, three rounds, and came to a close because of cuts on a TKO. An accidental head butt over Quarry’s left eye didn’t help matters.
These two would meet in June 1972 at the Las Vegas Convention Center with the North American Boxing Federation heavyweight belt up for grabs.
This time the fight would last seven rounds and Ali would prevail via a TKO.
Afterward Quarry said he was distracted when his younger brother Mike, fighting in the chief undercard bout, was seriously hurt as Bob Foster administered a fourth-round knockout with the WBA and WBC light heavyweight belts on the table.
“I watched it on the monitor in the dressing room and it totally destroyed everything I wanted to do,” Quarry said. “I thought he killed my brother.”
Quarry then faced Lyle, a hard-hitter in February 1973 in New York City and hurt him in the fifth and eighth rounds and eventually earned a 12-round unanimous decision.
A meeting with Shavers, who Ali said was the hardest hitter he faced, was next in December 1973 at the Mecca of boxing.
In short order, Quarry belted Shavers with a crisp left hand and felled him with a solid right that ended the bout in the first round.
A second fight with Frazier took place in June 1974 at the Garden and once again it wasn’t to be for Quarry, who lost on a TKO in the fifth round.
Norton awaited Quarry in March 1975 in the “Big Apple” with the vacant NABF belt at stake.
Once again, Quarry came out on the short end, losing on a fifth-round TKO, but wasn’t done just yet.
This time Quarry would meet up with Lorenzo Zanon at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in November 1977. Quarry would lose every round on the judges’ cards until the eighth but would prevail, winning by TKO in the ninth.
At this juncture and 32 years old, Quarry decided to retire from the sport, but would change his mind and enter the ring six years later.
When he did, in August 1983, he took on Lupe Guerra at the Albuquerque Civic Auditorium and it ended with a left hook and a TKO win in the opening round.
A majority decision victory by Quarry over 10 rounds against James Williams three months later at the Kern County Fairgrounds in Bakersfield followed.
Then Quarry retired again. He stayed away for nine years before getting into the ring one final time.
Quarry’s last fight came against Ron Cranmer in Aurora, Colorado, in October 1992 at age 47.
For his services, Quarry was paid slightly more than a thousand dollars. Like so many greats and near-greats before him, the six-round clash would see Quarry lose, on a unanimous decision.
Quarry’s reflexes were gone, but certainly not his enormous heart that helped him pull through so many blistering ring battles.
During his career, Quarry earned $2.1 million, but most of the money was spent and eventually he was sideswiped by that ugly demon, pugilistic dementia.
Near the end of his life, which came on January 3, 1999, at the age of 53 in Templeton, California, Quarry was reflective about his time in the ring. He summed up his feelings in a poem: “I’ve been in the ring with the best of all men/Some say the best of all time/I gave my all, round after round/And the world knows I tried/I fought with heart/But needed much more/A bridesmaid but never a bride.”
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