By Jim Amato / Senior Boxing Writer
June 23, 1969 at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Joe Frazier met the popular Irish fighter, Jerry Quarry, for the New York State recognized heavyweight title. Back in the day, the New York State Boxing Commission wielded quite a bit of power. Commissioner Edwin Dooley wasted little time stripping Muhammad Ali of his heavyweight title when Ali refused induction into the Armed Forces. The World Boxing Association did the same and they set up a tournament to determine a new champion. Eight top contenders were selected, with unbeaten Joe Frazier being one of them. Frazier’s management declined the invitation, however. The eventual winner of the tourney was Jimmy Ellis, who defeated Jerry Quarry in the finals.
The N.Y.S.A.C. offered Frazier a chance to fight Buster Mathis, who like Frazier, was undefeated. Mathis had defeated Frazier twice in the amateur ranks. The winner would be the champion in New York and a few other states. Well, Frazier met Big Buster and took him out in the eleventh to gain revenge and also win a piece of the heavyweight title.
Although the talented Jimmy Ellis held the more recognized WBA tilte, Frazier was considered by most as the best active heavyweight. They would eventually meet to settle their differences.
The bout with Quarry would be considered as a measuring stick between Frazier and Ellis. Frazier had labored through two decision wins over rugged Oscar Bonavena. In their first ten rounder, Bonavena had Frazier down twice but Frazier rallied to get the verdict. Their second bout saw Frazier and Bonavena slug it out for fifteen tough rounds, with Frazier again getting the decision. In between the two Frazier-Bonavena battles, Bonavena met Jimmy Ellis. In one of Ellis’ best career performances, he floored the granite jawed Bonavena twice to win a convincing decision. Based on those bouts, Ellis seemed to have an edge on Frazier. In the Quarry bout, Frazier needed to make a statement.
Jerry Quarry was no pushover, however. He was ranked as one of the five best heavyweights in the world. He did a number on Mathis just three months before meeting Frazier winning a lopsided twelve rounder. Not surprizingly, there were a lot of people who thought Quarry had a real chance of winning.
The bout itself was non stop action, a real heavyweight slugfest. To his credit, Quarry always came to fight and you never had to look for Joe Frazier. Early in the first round, it was toe to toe action. Knowing that both boxers could bang, the fans were really enjoying this. Each fighter was rocked a bit but were still standing at the end of a terrific round.
The next two rounds were more of the same, as they slugged it out on the inside. By round four, it was becoming apparent the Quarry was fighting Frazier’s fight. Frazier began breaking down Quarry who gamely fought back. As the bout wore on, Quarry was cut and he was getting staggered by Frazier’s famous left hook.
It ended in seven. Quarry had a severe cut and at this point Frazier had taken command. It was a gruelling fight, though, and even in losing, Quarry won a ton of respect from this courageous performance.
Jerry Quarry is no longer with us and he was recently joined by his brother Mike Quarry, who was a fine boxer in his own right. This was one of my favorite heavyweight battles. It is hard for me to believe it took place forty one years ago.