By Jim Amato
Mike Tyson was the self proclaimed “Baddest Man On The Planet.” Even after his decisive loss to Buster Douglas in 1990 and three year exile to prison many still believed him. His two subsequent losses to Evander Holyfield have now changed all that. It’s too bad that Mike didn’t box in the talent rich late 60’s and early 70’s. If Mike would have wanted to meet a real “Tough Guy,” he could have looked up Jerry Quarry.
Remember Jerry Quarry? He was a perennial mainstay in the heavyweight division throughout the 60’s and 70’s. The dominant “White Hope” of that era Jerry was always in the thick of the title picture and had a tremendous following. The fans either loved him or hated him. They could never seem to find a middle ground and either could the odds makers. Just when it seemed that Quarry had arrived at the crest of his skills, those skills would desert him. Untimely losses and remarkable come back wins were his claim to fame. What Jerry had is what the respected Evander Holyfield and many of today’s other top heavyweight lack. That was charisma. Win or lose the fans always got their money’s worth and the press produced reams of copy on Jerry’s adventures in and out of the ring.
Quarry entered the pro ranks with the reputation as a comer. An accomplished amateur, Jerry’s progress up the fistic ladder was on its way. As Jerry began to establish his credentials he began to receive more and more interest. One of the interested parties was the none other than Rocky Marciano. The rumor was that the “The Rock” was willing to pay $100,000 for Jerry’s contract. Big money in those days. Just as this rosy scenario was unfolding the fates sent Jerry an omen of things to come. There messenger, Eddie Machen. Eddie was a hardluck ex-contender on the way down the ladder. His name would look good on Quarry’s resume. Fittingly when they entered Machen’s name on Jerry’s record there was an L-10 next to it. Marciano was no longer interested in Jerry’s contract and now Quarry with dogged determination he would show throughout his career began the rebuilding process.
During his career much was written about the relationship Jerry had with the “Quarry Clan.” Managed by his father Jack and constantly surrounded by family members, the press could never figure if the “Clan” was good for Jerry or not. Jerry seemed to have the same problem. Unconditional loyalty, internal arguments and marital difficulties. The “Clan’s” battle royales in the auditorium parking lots sometimes upstaged Jerry’s fight. The press loved it and the fans ate it up.
With or without family woes Quarry’s career was soon back on track. When he held former champion Floyd Patterson to a draw he had hit the big time. Again the fates would take over. Muhammad Ali was forced from his throne for failing to enter the US Army. Quickly the World Boxing Association chose eight men to compete in an elimination tournament to determine Ali’s successor. Jerry was one of the eight chosen. In his first tourney bout he was again pitted against Patterson. This time Jerry got the verdict. In his next match Quarry squared off against tournament favorite, Thad Spencer. Spencer had defeated ex-W.B.A. Champ Ernie Terrell and now the experts were picking him to beat Quarry. Jerry proved the experts wrong stopping Spencer in round twelve. Now Quarry was made the favorite in the championship match against Jimmy Ellis. Ellis was managed by Angelo Dundee and was a former spar mate of Ali’s. Still the experts said that Ellis was just a blown up middleweight. They forgot that Ellis had beaten Leotis Martin and Oscar Bonavena to get to the finals. The bout itself was dull. Neither man refused to lead by the quicker handed Ellis won the decision and the title. Jerry’s stock dropped dramatically and many began to wonder if Jerry “had the goods.”
Quarry’s loss to Ellis brought Jerry and the “Clan” back to reality. It was again time to start over. Jerry wasted little time as he trounced Buster Mathis over twelve rounds. His reward was a shot at the New York State heavyweight crown held by none other than Joe Frazier. The first two rounds of Jerry’s 1969 bout with Frazier may have been Jerry’s finest. He outslugged the consummate slugger. Soon through it became apparent that this was Frazier’s kind of fight. Jerry faded and was stopped in seven. Later that year Quarry met another top white hope in George Chuvalo. For six rounds Quarry outboxed his plodding foe. Desperate and bleeding Chuvalo came to life in round seven and floored Jerry. Quarry was dazed and misread the referee’s count. The ref tolled ten and Jerry was counted out.
Disbelieving and disillusioned it looked to Jerry like he had reached the end. Trying to squeeze one more payday from the Quarry name, Madison Square Garden match Jerry with Mac Foster who was 24-0 and the no. 1 contender. Again Jerry bounced back into the heavyweight picture destroying Foster in six rounds. Jerry’s reward was a shot against the come backing Muhammad Ali.
Although Jerry fought well, a bad cut over his eye lead to a third round stoppage. Quarry stayed active but the fire seemed to be missing. Not quite two years after their first bout, Jerry met Ali again. This time it was no contest. Ali dominated Jerry and the bout was halted in round seven. His performance was lethargic and the experts had written Jerry off as a has been. Deciding to give it one more try, Jerry hooked up with trainer Gil Clancy and began another remarkable comeback. A twelve round decision over previously unbeaten Ron Lyle put Jerry back in the ratings. He solidified this when he stopped Earnie Shavers in one round. Jerry was now matched for a second time again with Joe Frazier. Frazier-Quarry II was a mismatch. Jerry was never in the fight which was mercifully halted in round five. Jerry had one more shot at the big time when he was matched with Ken Norton. Game but out of condition, Quarry scored well early but ran out of gas. Norton picked him apart and stopped Jerry in the fifth. There was an awful come from behind victory over Lorenzo Zanon then Jerry slipped into oblivion He later tried to return as a cruiserweight but his skills had long ago eroded.
The problems that Jerry is facing today have been well documented. A testimony to every punch he absorbed from Ali, Frazier, and all the other top heavyweights he crossed gloves with. Who knows how Jerry’s career would have gone if Ali and Frazier had not boxed in the same era? He has nothing to be ashamed of. He was a ranked contender for ten years in possibly the toughest heavyweight division of any era. When the division did become a little stagnant you better bet Jerry would do something to stir it up. Charisma.