By Rick Farris
( Former professional boxer and boxing historian )
In early 1999, I was watching ESPN, hoping to hear the result of a fight that had taken place earlier in the evening. When the sports news came on, I waited thru football scores, and golf, until the sportscaster finally said . . . “And now from the world of boxing”.
I expected a report on the fight. Nothing else going on in boxing at the time. Instead, I heard something that made me forget about the fight result I’d been waiting for. I still remember the words . . .”A sad note to report in boxing today, former heavyweight contender Jerry Quarry has died at the age of 53.” I was stunned.
I was aware that Jerry had not been doing well and suffered from Dementia pugilistica. I knew that he had been living with his mother Arawanda in a mobile home park near the Hemet area of Southern California and was under her care. Mutual friends from the past, such as former middleweight Mike Nixon, Jerry’s brother-in-law, had told me that Jerrycould no longer handle simple daily tasks, such as shaving. Jerry’s older brother Jimmy would help him with such things. I remember how sad it was to hear this a couple years back, and that Jerry would no doubt die young. However, I couldn’t imagine him dead at 53.
I wasn’t the only person surprised to hear of Quarry’s death. However, in my case it was something very personal. As a kid, all I wanted to do was become a boxer. Jerry Quarry helped make this possible. Jerry Quarry’s success and accomplishments are a part of boxing history. Being close to a boxer who won the National Golden Gloves Heavyweight title in 1965, and went on to fight for the World Heavyweight Championship as a pro, is a part of my history.
When I was twelve-years-old I had a dream that was a bit unusual for a middle class kid growing up in Burbank, California. I was going to be a professional boxer. I didn’t just want to be a pro fighter . . .I was going to be a pro fighter. I set a goal for myself and nothing was going to stop me. Nobody took me seriously, but it didn’t matter, I took myself seriously. However, this was not going to be easy. There were no boxing gyms in the Burbank area, or close by where I could start out. The YMCA didn’t have a boxing program and even if it had, I was looking for a place where real boxers trained, amateurs and pros.
In early 1965, the Western Regional Golden Gloves Championships were televised in the Los Angeles area and, naturally, I was glued to the TV. The heavyweight final was won by a 19-year-old from Bellflower named Jerry Quarry. Quarry scored a decision over Clay Hodges and would represent Los Angeles in the national tournament the following week in Kansas City. There was something special about this fighter and I couldn’t see anybody beating him in the Nationals. I was right.
Jerry Quarry not only won the 1965 National Golden Gloves Heavyweight title but was the only boxer to do so by knocking out all five of his opponents. I read about Quarry winning the National Golden Gloves title in the Los Angeles Times and the news made me want to start boxing even more.
I was frustrated because I had a goal and couldn’t get started. I was twelve years old and not getting any younger. I couldn’t help but remember that the TV announcer for the Golden Gloves had said that Quarry had started boxing when he was seven, so I believed that I was about five years behind schedule. I used to think of how great it would be to start out in the same place, and train in the same gym as Quarry did, wherever that was.
One day I had this crazy idea. Why not call Jerry Quarry on the telephone and ask where he trains and how I could get my boxing career started. Of course, this would require a phone number. I remembered that Quarry had been introduced in the ring as being from Bellflower, so I called information and asked the operator for the number of aJerry Quarry in Bellflower. She said she had one listing and it proved to be the right one. A few minutes later I was talking on the phone with Jerry Quarry.
I think Jerry was as surprised by my call as I was to get thru to him. I congratulated him on winning the Golden Gloves and asked where he started out. Jerry said he started when he was seven-years-old in a little gym behind the garage of Johnny Flores, the manager and trainer of quite a few top professional and amateurs boxers. I asked Jerry where this gym was and he said it was in the San Fernando Valley.
“The San Fernando Valley, I live in the Valley, where’s the gym”? I asked. Quarry told me that “The Johnny Flores Gym” was in Pacoima, about a dozen miles from where I lived. I asked Jerry if Flores still worked with kids and was told that Johnny had several kids competing in amateur and junior amateur tournaments. Quarry told me that he was about to turn professional and that Flores would co-manage his career along with his father Jack. I asked when he would have his first fight and he told me that he would make his debut on the undercard of the Vicente Saldivar – Raul Rojas featherweight title fight at the L.A. Coliseum in a few weeks. I wished him luck and thanked him for the information. My grandfather had just retired and he and my father agreed to give me transportation to Flores Gym if I agreed to keep my grades up. Within a few weeks I was a member of the same boxing stable as my new idol, JerryQuarry.
During the next six years I competed as an amateur and turned professional shortly after my 18th birthday. In 1970, the year of my pro debut, Quarry split from manager Johnny Flores. However, during the first six years of Jerry’s pro career, I was one of the first to hear about what was going on behind the scenes in the world of heavyweight boxing.
After Quarry turned professional, he shifted his training headquarters from Flores’ Gym to the Main Street Gym in downtown Los Angeles. On weekends, Johnny’s gym was closed, so I’d hop on a bus early Saturday morning and workout at Main Street before the professionals took the floor. It was here that I was able to watch Jerry Quarry train as he moved up the ladder in the heavyweight division
Every weekend when Jerry worked out at the Main Street Gym, his entire family would turn out to watch. When I say entire family, I mean everybody. Jerry’s parents, brothers & sisters, children and other’s would fill the bleachers at one end of the gym. Jerry’s mother Arawanda would pack a picnic basket and the family would make an event of it. This was something that used to irritate gym owner Howie Steindler. One day after the Quarrys left the gym, Steindler had to pick up paper plates, cups and napkins left by the Quarry brood. The gruff little Steindler finally posted a sign by the front door that read “THIS IS A BOXING GYM. IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A PICNIC TAKE IT TO GRIFFITH PARK”.
Watching Jerry spar with other heavyweights in the gym was always exciting to me. He boxed with a variety offighters such as Amos “Big Train” Lincoln, Eddie “Boss Man” Jones and Joe “Shot Gun” Shelton to name a few. On occasion, he would even spar with welterweight contender Ernie “Indian Red” Lopez for speed. However, it seemed that the most brutal workouts were the sparring sessions between Jerry and his younger brother Mike, who was myage.
I remember once, shortly after Jerry had become rated among the top ten in the heavyweight division, he and Mike sparred together one Saturday morning. Mike was just 16 at the time and weighed about 160, thirty five pounds less than Jerry. Jerry cut down on his brother like he were fighting for the title and left Mike laying face down on the canvas. Mike had taken a brutal left hook to the body and thought the punch had broken his back. I could understand a fighter working hard when sparring but was surprised to see him cut down on his 16 year old brother like he did. It was no wonder why Mike Quarry adapted a jab-and-move boxing style when he fought. He had learned to keep his distance from his older brother or pay the price.
After winning his first twelve pro fights, eight by knockout, Jerry was held to a draw by another unbeaten heavyweight from Utah, Tony Doyle. He won his next three fights scoring two knockouts before being held to another draw by Tony Alongi. Jerry would get lazy in these fights and allow himself to fight on a dead even level with boxers that were nowhere near him in talent. This drew criticism from the fans and would drive Flores crazy. Jerry had tremendous talent, however, he also had a lazy streak that came out more than once during his career.
After the Alongi fight, Jerry’s record was 15-0-2 (10 KO’s) and he needed a victory that would impress the many L.A. boxing fans and journalists that were following his career. As he would do so many times in the future when people doubted him, Jerry Quarry came alive. Jerry was matched with one of the most rugged heavyweight trial horses in the world, George “Scrap Iron” Johnson. Johnson had fought some of the best heavyweights in the world and had never been knocked down. Joe Frazier fought “Scrap Iron” early in his career and Johnson became the only man aside from Oscar Bonavena to go the distance with Frazier.
In the second round of Jerry’s fight with “Scrap Iron”, Johnson backed Quarry into a corner. The moment Jerry’s back touched the turn buckle he cut loose with a vicious left hook that landed flush on Johnson’s jaw and sent him reeling backwards across the ring. “Scrap Iron” spun around twice before hitting the ropes on the other side of the ring and went down flat on his back. Referee Lee Grossman didn’t even bother to count.
The following month, Jerry returned to Kansas City where he had won his National Golden Gloves title and defeated Al Jones in a ten rounder. It was then back to L.A. for a rematch with Alongi and Flores was upset that Jerry was not taking him serious. Again, Quarry and Alongi fought to a draw. Flores was frustrated at his fighter and told Jerry that he would never reach the top ten unless he started taking things seriously. As far as Jerry was concerned he was still unbeaten and good enough to beat anybody in the world. In his next fight, he would learn differently.
Eddie Machen was considered an over-the-hill former contender that had been KO’ed by Ingemar Johansson in one round, half a dozen years earlier. At least that was Jerry’s view. Machen was on a comeback and had recently upset another unbeaten L.A. heavyweight named Joey Orbillo. Quarry knew that he was better than Orbillo and took old Eddie Machen lightly. On July 15, 1966, Machen would hand Jerry Quarry his first professional loss via a unanimous ten round decision.
After a three month rest, Quarry finished 1966 with three straight wins and won three more in early 1967, including a ten round decision over Brian London whom had fought Muhammad Ali for the title the year before. About the timeQuarry beat London, Ali was stripped of his Heavyweight title for failing to register for the Draft and the heavyweight title was suddenly vacant.
At this stage, The Ring Magazine rated Jerry Quarry just outside the top ten heavyweights in the world. For Quarry to break into that elite group he would have to defeat one. His next match would offer that chance. The man Quarrywould be facing was not only a contender, he was a former World Champion. Floyd Patterson was not only a former champion, but the youngest to ever win the title and the only one ever to regain the title after losing it. These facts would be enough to inspire anybody to take the fight serious, however, the most motivating factor for Quarry was that Floyd Patterson was his idol.
Quarry trained hard for the Patterson fight and should have won. He had everything necessary to beat Patterson but showed the former champ too much respect and didn’t follow up on several occasions when Floyd was hurt. After ten rounds the decision was a draw.
A few months later Joe Frazier won the New York version of the Heavyweight title with a decision over Buster Mathis. However, few considered Frazier-Mathis as a valid title bout considering there were eight other heavyweights in the picture. I will never forget the smile on Johnny Flores’ face the day he walked into his backyard gym and told us that he had learned that there was going to be an eight man elimination tournament to determine a successor to Muhammad Ali’s title. The reason for Flores happiness was that his heavyweight, Jerry Quarry, would be among the eight.
In the quarter final round Quarry would be matched with Patterson in a rematch of their fight just four months previous. Jerry wanted a tune-up first and KO’ed Billy Daniels in one round at the Olympic Auditorium. Six weeks later he would avenge his draw with Patterson and score a 12 round split decision over the former two-time champ.
Quarry’s opponent in the semi-final round of the tournament would be Thad Spencer, the man who was favored to win the title. I remember that during the weeks leading up to this fight, Johnny Flores would talk about reports he was getting regarding Spencer’s conditioning. Flores had gotten word that Spencer was doing a lot of partying and taking Quarry lightly. This was a major mistake because Jerry was in top condition and ready. On February 3, 1968Jerry Quarry gave Thad Spencer a one-sided beating before stopping him in the 12th and final round. Going into the championship final with Jimmy Ellis, Jerry Quarry was a solid 8-to-5 favorite based on his exceptional performance against the heavily favored Spencer.
By now, the in-fighting between Jerry’s father Jack and Johnny Flores had been going on for months. Flores was oneof boxing’s shrewdest and most respected managers in boxing. Jack had been a problem from day one. He had no experience in dealing with boxing promoters and had no business being included in the management of his son. He insisted Jerry make him co-manager along with Flores so he could keep an eye on things. His only responsibility was to make sure that Jerry got up every morning early to do his road work. Unfortunately, Jack Quarry rarely got up early enough to wake his son.
In Jerry’s first shot at the heavyweight title, he made the mistake of trying to out box Jimmy Ellis and dropped a boring fifteen round decision. After the decision was announced, Quarry grabbed the microphone from the ring announcer and dramatically announced his retirement from boxing in the middle of the ring. Jerry was only 23 and I remember thinking, “give me a break”, as I watched this on TV. After the disappointing performance Jerry had put on that night, nobody cared.
Seven months later Quarry was back in the ring and KO’ed trial horse Bob Mumford in Phoenix. After winning four straight with three knockouts Quarry made his Madison Square Garden debut with an impressive twelve round decision victory over Buster Mathis. Jerry Quarry was back in the heavyweight spot light and three months later would return to the Garden for another shot at the Heavyweight title. This time, Quarry would be facing one of the best heavyweights to ever step into the ring, Joe Frazier.
I will never forget this fight. I was seventeen years old at the time and had watched it develop from day one. Myclosest friend, amateur heavyweight Alan “Kit” Boursse’ would travel to New York with Flores and Quarry to serve as a sparring partner. Jerry set up training camp in the Catskills at the legendary Grossingers Resort where many boxing greats of the past, such as Rocky Marciano, trained for championship fights at the Garden. I would get weekly reports back home from Boursse’ who told me that Jerry was in top shape and had injured every sparring partner in camp but himself. “Jerry’s punching the crap out of everybody they bring in here and I don’t know how I’ve avoided getting hurt”, Boursse reported. “He’s going to surprise everybody that thinks he hasn’t a chance with Frazier. Jerry is likely to knock him out”.
I had high hopes for Jerry Quarry the night he stepped into the ring with Joe Frazier for their first fight. Jerry was ready and, as always, so was Frazier. In the first round I think Jerry shocked everybody, especially Frazier, by going right to Smokin Joe and backing him up. Quarry had Frazier reeling from an all-out attack and there was the smell of an upset in the air. Jerry fought Frazier tough and I’ll never forget the people in the theatre watching it on closed circuit TV jumping to their feet and cheering Quarry during the first few rounds. However, by the 7th round Frazier had taken control of the match and stopped Jerry. Jerry had given his best and I was disappointed he didn’t win. To add insult to injury, after the bout, the I.R.S. invaded Quarry’s dressing room and served he, his father Jack and trainer Teddy Bentham with tax bills. They announced that back taxes for all three would be garnished from the purse. The only one in Jerry’s camp that was not served with a tax bill was Flores. Jack Quarry was furious that he would have to pay back taxes out of his cut and noticed that the feds were not bothering Flores. “What About him!” Jack shouted, pointing at Flores. The agent looked at Jack and answered “Mr. Flores has paid his taxes and is not involved in this”.
This was the beginning of the end of Flores’ association with Quarry. Jerry would fight three more times in 1969, scoring two KO’s prior to returning to Madison Square Garden in December to face George Chuvalo. Chuvalo was the rugged Canadian who had fought Ali for the title five years earlier and was known as a catcher. Jerry went into the bout a heavy favorite and in good shape. Of all the disappointing moments in Jerry Quarry’s career this was the most surprising of all. As expected, Jerry had his way with Chuvalo and handed him a one sided beating. Thru the first six rounds Quarry had staggered Chuvalo repeatedly and in the 7th had Chuvalo ready to go. After staggering the Canadian Jerry got careless and caught a left hook on the chin. The blow caught Jerry off balance and sent him to the canvas. Jerry was not hurt but the referee had to call it a knockdown. Instead of Quarry jumping to his feet quickly to show he wasn’t hurt, he foolishly decided it would be a good time to take a breather until the count of eight. Jerry was resting in a kneeling position but when the count reached eight he remained on one knee and was counted out. Jerry’s excuse was that he couldn’t hear the count and the fans went crazy. I still remember how disgusted Flores was when he returned to California after the fight. At this point Flores and Jerry were no longer speaking and Johnny would never again work his fighters corner.
Jack Quarry had convinced his son to drop Johnny Flores. However, Flores still had two years remaining of a seven year contract signed by the fighter upon his turning professional. Papa Quarry didn’t pay much attention to contracts and attempted to sign with promoters for fights involving his son. He soon discovered that the contracts were no good without Flores’ signature and that promoters had no time to do business with Jack Quarry.
This infuriated the elder Quarry and Jerry as well. As wrong as it was to alienate himself from Flores, Jerry made one smart move at the time and that was to get rid of his father. Unlike Flores’ contract, Jack Quarry’s contract with his son had expired two years previous and had never been renewed. Johnny Flores would still be entitled to one half of 33.3% of all of Jerry’s future earnings until 1972. The father would be entitled to exactly what he deserved, nothing.
At the time Jerry had become friendly with a very well known Los Angeles attorney known for his underworld connections. It was no secret that Quarry was upset over having to honor Flores’ share of future purses and a few months later Flores’ became the target of an attempted contract hit involving two off-duty Los Angeles police officers. The attempt upon Flores’ life was a failure and never connected to Quarry directly. The L.A.P.D. was able to play the incident off as a case of “mistaken identity” but Flores sued the City of Los Angeles and settled out of court.
After winning four straight in 1970 with three KO’s Jerry would become Muhammad Ali’s first opponent after three years of inactivity. The bout was held in Atlanta on October 26th and Ali had no trouble using Quarry as a target, stopping Jerry in three rounds.
After winning his next six fights, Quarry challenged Ali a second time in 1972 and once again was stopped, in seven rounds this time. Jerry opened 1973 with a 7th round knockout over Randy Neumann and the following month was matched with Ron Lyle. Lyle was an unbeaten knockout artist and was considered the next Sonny Liston. Quarry entered the match an underdog and not expected to beat the thunderous punching Lyle. As so many times before in the career of JerryQuarry, he rose to the occasion and easily defeated Lyle over twelve rounds at Madison Square Garden.
Ten months later, after scoring two more knockouts Quarry was matched with another unbeaten knockout puncher, Earnie Shavers.
Quarry was considered to be on the down side of his career despite his beating Lyle earlier in the year. People would say “Quarry just can’t win the big ones”, and Shavers was expected to win. Once again, Jerry Quarry defied popular opinion and this time did it convincingly. He knocked out Earnie Shavers in the first round, setting up a rematch with Joe Frazier.
The previous year, Frazier had the lost the title to George Foreman and had just lost his second fight with Ali. Quarrywas hot and Frazier had lost his last two. Quarry fans believed that this might be Jerry’s fight. However, after five rounds Quarry was finished and the bout was stopped.
Quarry’s ring career came to an end on March 24, 1975 he was KO’ed by Ken Norton in five rounds at Madison Square Garden.
Quarry wisely announced his retirement from boxing after the Norton fight and was immediately hired by CBS to announce their televised fights. This was an ideal situation for Quarry because he was articulate and the fans loved his analysis of fighters and matches. Jerry was able to provide something in the broadcast that other sports announcers could not and that was a fighter’s perspective of a match. After years of Howard Cosell’s nonsense on ABC, Quarry was a welcome alternative and CBS could not have been happier.
Two years later, after establishing himself with CBS, Quarry was having thoughts of a comeback at age 32. When CBS got word of Jerry’s intentions they immediately were supportive of their announcer’s decision to fight again and wanted to televise his comeback on their network. They told Quarry that if it was successful, great. However, if it did not go well he would be able to step right back into his job at the mike. CBS wanted an option on the TV rights to his first fight and offered him $250,000.
This is where it became evident that Jerry Quarry was no wiser a business man than his father Jack. When Quarry learned that ABC was willing to pay $300,00 to televise his comeback, Quarry took the greater offer and signed with ABC. On November 5, 1977 Jerry returned to the ring in a scheduled ten round bout that appeared on ABC. Jerry fought a light hitting nobody named Lorenzo Zanon in Las Vegas and took a beating from the opening bell until finally catching the Italian with a left hook in the 9th round. Luckily, Zanon went down from the hook and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get up. Had the fight gone the distance Quarry would have lost. Jerry realized he was thru and retired once again.
About this time I stopped by Johnny Flores’ house with Kit Boursse’, my friend who’d been Jerry’s sparring partner years earlier. Flores’ told us that after the fight Quarry tried to get his job back with CBS. After making his comeback on ABC, the network was no longer interested in Jerry Quarry.
The last time I saw Jerry Quarry was in 1983. I was living in Westalke Village, California and I knew that Jerry had a home in Agoura Hills, just a few miles away. One day a friend of mine who worked in a local restaurant called me to say that a couple of boxers were sitting at the counter and they said they knew me. “Who are they?” I asked. “Jerry and Mike Quarry”. I immediately drove to the restaurant and talked with Jerry and Mike for about an hour. Jerry seemed the same as always and I didn’t notice any signs of dementia at the time. However, Mike looked like a beat up old fighter and was slurring his words. I’d run into Jerry several times over the years but hadn’t seen Mike since before he was KO’ed in a world title fight by Bob Foster. I could tell that Mike was different and it made me feel bad because he was always the best looking and sharpest of the Quarry brothers.
Jerry was 38 years old at the time and very overweight. A couple of months later I was shocked to learn that he’d had a fight in Albuquerque and had scored a first round knockout. A few months later he won again by decision in a ten rounder in Bakersfield, California. However, Jerry retired again and I hoped that this time it was for good. Unfortunately it wasn’t. Nine years later at the age of 47 Jerry Quarry lost a six round fight in Colorado to some nobody. This would be Jerry’s last boxing match, however, it would not be his last fight.
Jerry’s biggest challenge would come in the form of Dementia Puglistica. The night I tuned into ESPN hoping to hear the result of a fight, I had no idea it would be the result of Jerry Quarry’s last fight.
Today when I think of Jerry Quarry I don’t picture him with dementia, or bleeding from a cut after a bout with Muhammad Ali. I see the Jerry Quarry that excited thousands of boxing fans as he fought his way into the heavyweight picture at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. I see the Quarry that sent “Scrap Iron” Johnson flying across the ring before falling unconscious to the canvas. I see Jerry going toe-to-toe with Joe Frazier and having the best of it in the early rounds. I see Earnie Shavers unable to make it thru the first round with Jerry. And I can still hear the voice of the 1965 National Golden Gloves Heavyweight Champion telling me where I can find my dream and make it come true.
Rest in peace Jerry Quarry . . . and Thank You.