Jerry Quarry: Cut Adrift in Atlanta

By Mike Casey on April 30, 2013
Jerry Quarry: Cut Adrift in Atlanta
There was something indefinably appealing about the up-and-down California kid.

“You know,” said Quarry, “if anybody asks me to come up here and say he’s the greatest fighter around, forget it. There’s no way…”

It wasn’t just a big fight. It was a major worldwide event. Yet it came and went with an anti-climatic whimper that left many important questions unanswered.

As a fifteen-year-old in 1970, I remember buying a copy of The Evening Standard in Oxford Street, London, and reading with great excitement that Muhammad Ali was coming out of his enforced three-year exile from the ring to fight Jerry Quarry in Atlanta. The sense of anticipation throughout the boxing fraternity was huge. Even Ali’s detractors wanted to see him box again, although they stubbornly continued to call him Cassius Clay.

Could the former undefeated champion of the world shake off the rust of inactivity and topple the newly crowned king, Joe Frazier? Could Muhammad even beat the erratic but dangerous Quarry? Nothing could be taken for granted. More than forty years before, a three-year layoff had stripped the great Jack Dempsey of his “man killer” garb and turned him into a plodding and reluctant warrior against the fleet-footed Gene Tunney.

My loyalties were torn. Ali was never my favorite fighter, but wouldn’t it be something if he could come out of mothballs and once again be the dazzling, fast punching athlete of his prime? Then again, I didn’t want him to beat Jerry Quarry. I never wanted anyone to beat Jerry. There was something indefinably appealing about the up-and-down California kid they called the Bellflower Belter.

Came the big night, and the big balloon of excitement and tension slowly began to lose its size and shape. It didn’t burst with a sudden bang, but leaked air with the steady hiss that comes from a pinprick. The fight wasn’t a fight. Not a proper fight. It was all over in the third round. No spectacular knockout, no sudden and brilliant flurry of punches out of nowhere. The dreaded cut eye had come to spoil all that.

But this was a very different cut eye that provoked many unsavory questions as Jerry Quarry bled from his starboard side and punched the ropes in frustration at being waved out of action by referee Tony Perez.

The Ring’s managing editor, Nat Loubet, was not impressed by the performance of Mr.Perez and didn’t much care for the smell of the whole affair.  “In brief, the Battle of Atlanta was a hoax,” wrote Loubet. “A cut and some blood. Nothing like it ever seen before (in a fight of such importance), setting up a situation inviting nasty conclusions.

“Clay inflicted on Quarry a cut over the left eye which allegedly required eleven modest stitches. Quarry was not decked. Quarry was not hurt. The best of the three rounds, the second, was won by Jerry, who delivered more lefts to the body and face than Cassius had received in any round of his title defenses.

“The fight has gone into the record book as a three round KO, referee Tony Perez, brought up from New York, having stopped the fight before the bell had sounded for the fourth round. Perez stopped the fight entirely on his own after trainer Teddy Bentham had asked that Jerry be released.

“Regardless of the size and gory condition of the cut over Quarry’s left eye, a doctor should have been brought into Quarry’s corner to examine the injury. It is suggested in passing that hereafter any referee listed by the New York Commission be barred from working in wildcat fights held without commission supervision, anywhere.

“Perez had to abide by no state or city rules. There are none in Georgia and Atlanta. But he should have followed precedent.”

Breaks

It is said that gifted people get the luckiest breaks in life. This is invariably true and was certainly true of Ali. He wanted to quit against Liston in Miami Beach and against Frazier in Manila. Trainer Angelo Dundee kicked his charge in the pants on both occasions and Dame Fortune gave Muhammad an accompanying kiss.

Henry Cooper might have knocked Ali out in their memorable first fight, but for Dundee’s timely ingenuity, while Doug Jones could have (and should have in the opinion of many) got the decision over the king-to-be three months earlier.

By the time of his third fight with Ken Norton in 1976, Muhammad had become an almost mythical figure, lauded to such a ridiculous extent that referees and judges became fearful of ruling against him. They told us that he won on points that night at Yankee Stadium. He didn’t. People get annoyed by all this, but it’s life and it’s the luck of men who are destined for greatness. Get your fine-tooth comb out and it’s possible to make a case for every champion being a lucky so-and-so; but as the old riposte goes, the more they practice the luckier they get.

Whether his eyes were open or closed, Ali was never going to walk into a brick wall. Quarry was going to walk into it and break his nose.

As 1970 dawned, Jerry was still three years away from his peak season as a fighter, when he would thrash Ron Lyle on points and knock out Earnie Shavers in one spectacular round, yet it seemed that Jerry had already been around forever and suffered a thousand disappointments. Thrilling victories over Floyd Patterson, Thad Spencer and Buster Mathis had been canceled out by more significant losses to Jimmy Ellis, Joe Frazier and George Chuvalo.

Against Mathis, Quarry was quite majestic. Mathis, a goliath of the age at 234½ lbs., was pitting his deceptively skillful bulk against Quarry’s 196. Buster was in the form of his life, having suffered just one defeat in his thirty fights, a brave and honorable loss to Joe Frazier at that. Buster was a fine boxer and an immensely difficult man to knock over. Frazier had hacked at him for the best part of eleven rounds before finally felling him like a big oak tree.

Mathis had reeled off six victories since that derailment, including a bloody and emphatic points win over George Chuvalo just a month before meeting Quarry.

Buster was a 12 to 5 favorite over Jerry when they clashed at Madison Square Garden. The scuttlebutt on the fight beat was that Quarry was incapable of changing his style and would be picked off and possibly stopped by Mathis.

Jerry was always spurred on by that kind of talk. From the opening bell, the cautious counterpuncher turned downright vicious. Yet there was nothing reckless or needlessly cavalier about the boxing lesson that Quarry gave Mathis.

Establishing his authority from the outset with a charging two-fisted attack, Jerry settled down to fashion an aggressive but intelligent performance. Piece by piece, he took Buster apart, switching the attack from head to body and wearing down the big man’s body.

When Mathis split his black velvet trunks down the back in the second round, it was the least of his problems. A left hook to the side of the head from Quarry shuddered through Buster’s body and finally cut the right wire. Mathis hovered momentarily in his dazed state and then dropped to one knee near the ropes. Jerry saw his chance to end the fight early but was too eager in his subsequent attack and failed to find the payoff punch before the bell. He didn’t have the KO but he had Buster’s number.

It was a virtuoso performance on Quarry’s part. He capped it by bloodying Buster’s nose in the tenth and by dropping his hands and inviting the big man to hit him in the eleventh.

The fight wasn’t a shutout for Jerry, but it was the next best thing. Judges Jack Gordon and Tony Castellano tabbed it 10-1-1 for Quarry, while referee Johnny Colan saw it 9-2-1.

“A man that size has to be weak in the body and I just took advantage of it,” Quarry said.

Then came the Chuvalo fight and a defeat that was a cruel microcosm of Quarry’s entire career, a tragic-comedy of brilliance blighted by errors. Seemingly heading for a points win, Quarry was knocked down by a Chuvalo haymaker in the seventh round, arose at the count of three, dropped back to his knee to clear his head and then missed referee Zach Clayton’s cry of “ten”.

Wheel

Against Ali in Atlanta, there was no dozing at the wheel from Jerry, no glaring tactical errors. He got it as right as he could against a still exceptional boxer, catching Ali with some solid punches, but the golden chance of a big win over a marquee name went west again.

Nat Loubet wrote: “Quarry had fought stupid fights before Atlanta. But he achieved his metal apogee in this one.”

The following day, his eye stitched up and his blood clearly boiling, Quarry was asked for his opinion on what had happened. Did he think he would have won if the fight had continued? As if he was ever going to say “no” to that question!

A night’s sleep hadn’t sated his anger and his bitterness was all too evident. “I knew what was going to happen, I knew it,” he said. “I figured if I could get one more round, I could have taken him out. He didn’t have anything. He can’t punch. You know, if anybody asks me to come up here and say he’s the greatest fighter around, forget it. There’s no way.

“I got beat last night because I got a nasty cut. I’ve never had a break from the beginning to the end of this game. I’ve never gotten a break in the ring and I sure as hell didn’t get one last night.”

Four months before being rained on in Georgia, Quarry had shot from fourth to first in the world ratings by wrecking the title hopes of the undefeated Mac Foster at Madison Square Garden. Now Jerry was back at number four again, behind Ali, Oscar Bonavena and George Foreman.

Boxing can bleed a man in many different ways.


Mike Casey is a Boxing.com writer and Founder & Editor of ALL TIME BOXING at https://sites.google.com/site/alltimeboxingrankings. He is a freelance journalist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).

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Muhammad Ali -vs- Jerry Quarry I 10/26/70 part 1



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  1. Ted 02:49pm, 05/09/2013

    Cyrus has the beat

  2. Mike Casey 01:29am, 05/05/2013

    Nice tribute, Cyrus!

  3. Cyrus Daruwalla 12:35am, 05/05/2013

    Jerry Quarry was a true blue collar fighter, yet skilful, determined and with kayo power. He gave it his all in the ring and deserves to be in the top thirty heavyweights of all time. He was a true “Giant-Killer” and his fights were what fights are supposed to be. His aura grows over time and yes 1973 was his signature year. R.I.P., Mate, you were a man’s man and a fighter for the ages.

  4. Eric 04:05pm, 05/03/2013

    Throw out the loss to Chuvalo. Total fluke. Wonder why there was never a rematch to clear up the controversy. Quarry was winning the fight pretty convincingly before the weird stoppage.

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:52pm, 05/02/2013

    FightFilmCollector-Perez and Clayton couldn’t have done a better job of hosing Jerry if they tried!

  6. OY 04:48pm, 05/02/2013

    Mike—...can’t remember when, but I saw a photo of Jerry holding his brother’s hand in order to cross the street. Life is so fragile. Great to see you keeping a slice of it alive! Peace, Old Yank

  7. kid vegas 03:10pm, 05/02/2013

    I loved Quarry back in the day. Everyone did because he was so professional and didn’t do the self-promotion act.

  8. Mike Casey 12:23pm, 05/02/2013

    FightFilm, thanks so much for this very detailed and interesting account. Fascinating stuff indeed, especially the reactions of Clayton!

  9. The Fight Film Collector 11:58am, 05/02/2013

    Outstanding piece, Mike.  I met Jerry’s older brother James in the mid 90s after Jerry became ill.  I built the web site for the charity foundation that Jerry and James had started, which is now the home page for both Jerry and his brother Mike.  James shared many stories and insights about Jerry, both as his older brother and as witness from the corner of Jerry’s biggest fights.  I’m a big fan of Chuvalo and his documentary The Last Round is a classic.  But the Chuvalo-Quarry fight result was botched.  The key to what happened isn’t just the end of the fight, it was the beginning at Zack Clayton’s long winded instructions to Jerry and George.  Clayton lectures the two fighters saying in the event of a knockdown the fighter, “must take an eight count, kneeling or standing it makes no difference.”  When Jerry went down, he got up at 2 and stepped to the corner and went to one knee, just like Clayton had asked the fighters to do.  Jerry wasn’t catatonic, he was clear and paying attention, and he was clear enough to take his mouthpiece out, adjust it, and replace it with his gloved hands.  Unfortunately, Clayton had his back to Jerry when he directed Chuvalo to a neutral corner.  He never saw Jerry stand up, and the count went on because he never told the timekeeper to stop.  Clayton realized his mistake but never corrected it, and probably thought Jerry was going to get up anyway.  During the count, Clayton’s hands are on his knees.  He’s not waving or indicating the count at all.  He’s just standing there, listening to the timekeeper, even as Dunphy announces, “He’s taking the mandatory eight count”.  Quarry stood up at what was supposed to be eight, and thought the fight was still on as did everyone else in the audience, including Chuvalo who charged across the ring.  The only person who believed the fight was over was the referee, who never followed his own instructions.

  10. Mike Casey 12:24am, 05/02/2013

    Thanks, Mike and Pete!

  11. Pete 04:15pm, 05/01/2013

    This is a great article Mike, talking about a great fighter who never seemed to get the lucky breaks. One thing I wanted to ask was about the cut that ended the fight. It seemed to come out of nowhere and was worse than any cut Quarry ever had. Up to that point Jerry was landing good shots and seemed to be gaining headway. I have read that some have suspected that his manager may have cut him on purpose because of intimidation or believing he needed to spare his fighter. If there is any truth in this than Jerry was truly robbed.  He was certainly in the fight. Once again great job

  12. Mike Schmidt 03:22pm, 05/01/2013

    Mike I shared a limo drive to a pro show up here in Toronto last month with George for lovely one hour drive into T.O along with Marvin “The Weasel” Elkind. I can tell you that George and Jerry had a close attachment and respect for each other over the years.

  13. Mike Casey 02:27pm, 05/01/2013

    Thanks for the insight, Irish. I loved George’s quote after that one when he answered Quarry’s protests by saying, “It must have been a good punch if Jerry couldn’t tell the difference between nine and ten!”

  14. NYIrish 02:15pm, 05/01/2013

    Loved the article, was a big Quarry fan. Saw a lot of his fights in The Garden. What was quoted about the Chuvalo fight is what Quarry said afterward. I’m sure that’s what he remembered. I was seated close enough to see his eyes when he took a knee. They were glassy and vacant. He was hurt. He had approached Chuvalo with his right hand chest high and walked into a left hook. The only thing wrong with Chuvalo’s left hook was that he couldn’t hit the topnotchers with it fast enough so they couldn’t see it coming. Chuvalo hit hard enough to dump anyone. Chuvalo’s hook took whatever reasoning power or luck out of Jerry that night.

  15. Mike Casey 12:31pm, 05/01/2013

    The father/sons scenes would certainly be lively!

  16. Ted 12:26pm, 05/01/2013

    Some day, they should make a movie about Jerry and play down the boxing but stress the other stuff. He lived life to the max, but paid for it. High drama. It could start in dusty Oklahoma where his dad came from and then move to Bellflower.

  17. Mike Casey 09:32am, 05/01/2013

    Johnny, I remember Dave Centi well from those days. Irish Frankie, I also remember watching the Folley challenge against Ali. it looked almost choreographed. Zora boxed nicely for a few rounds but always looked like a man going to the gallows.

  18. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka 08:58am, 05/01/2013

    Mike Casey-May Jerry Quarry rest in eternal peace…. but wait…..more than that…I pray that Gerry had a chance to confront and kick the ass of that Devil behind the curtain that causes so much mischief and misery in good men’s lives!  Thanks to you, Mike Casey for telling it like it was about “referees and judges (who) became fearful of ruling against him” and I might add some fighters who became fearful of trying too hard against him like a highly skilled boxer like Zora Folley who literally offered up his chin to the Great Ali!

  19. johnny yuma 07:58am, 05/01/2013

    I watched most Jerrys early fights KTLA ch.5.I remember watching the news to see lowlights Jerrys 1st defeat at hands of Eddie Machen.I remember sitting huge LA colisium watching DRAW with Patterson. Jerry provided Thrills right to the end. I remember meeting Jerry ,sparring partner Dave Centi at Staircase(night club Downey), they both were real gentlemen.

  20. Mike Casey 06:31am, 05/01/2013

    Yes, Mike, the Lyle victory was Jerry’s masterpiece in my opinion.

  21. Mike Schmidt 06:23am, 05/01/2013

    Sneak got it right on—with Jerry you always got your bang for your buck. Mike one of the best of Quarry was the absolute clinical take apart that he did on Ron Lyle. He kept his temper in check, used all of his skill set, and just beat a very very solid Ron Lyle in every which way one could imagine. Again—great read Sir.

  22. Mike Casey 05:32am, 05/01/2013

    Nice summary, Pete - I agree.

  23. Pete The Sneak 04:57am, 05/01/2013

    Mike, beautiful penning on a fighter, Jerry Quarry who in my opinion was always on the precipice of being “Great” and as you so astutely mentioned did not have that particular ‘gift’ that allowed for him to get the breaks he needed to achieve that Greatness. But what a fighter he was. A Jerry Quarry fight was always a must see, as you knew he was going to leave everything in the ring. And yes, that Mac Foster fight was indeed the definition of brutality. Don’t think Jerry ever really got over that Ali fight. He truly did feel he was cheated out of Greatness that night. Peace.

  24. Mike Casey 04:12am, 05/01/2013

    Thanks, pal -  I know you can never resist a good old slug of Jerry Quarry! I miss him like you do.

  25. Ted 04:08am, 05/01/2013

    Jerry had charisma. Jerry invented the word. To See his sauntering down the aisle in his old school robe and then get into the ring warming up sent chills down my spine. But watching him stare down his opponents was also a big thrill. His closing of Mac Foster was as brutal as it gets, but so was his end for Shavers. Simply one of my all time favorite fighters.

    Thanks for a great write up, Mike, on a great guy who I later got o know on a personal

  26. Mike Casey 03:57am, 05/01/2013

    Yes, Mike, correct! He really did come on in the late rounds against Middleton. Larry was a very bright prospect at the time and very tough - one of the few men to deck Joe Bugner.

  27. Mike Schmidt 03:49am, 05/01/2013

    Tough fight—as in many of his fights Jerry was giving up a lot of size and length—if memory serves me correct Jerry kept getting stronger as that scrap went on—won a close decision—many of those guys that Jerry fought were scary top notch scrappers—Middleton, Thad Spencer….....

  28. Mike Casey 12:47am, 05/01/2013

    Mike, I remember that blitz of Bodell when I was a lad - and the distinct crack of the punches that finished Jack. Jerry was so popular with the London fans, he got invited back to fight Larry Middleton.

  29. Mike Schmidt 12:39am, 05/01/2013

    Loved the article Mike—Jerry had big time star appeal and was never in a boring scrap—even the early exit fights like Bodell and Joe Alexander bring vivid memory shots—and he was great behind the Mike on those CBS broadcasts as well—a unique guy—thanks for the memories Sir!!!!

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