Jerry Quarry: The Enemy Within
The feints were absent, the counterpunching was not sharp, and the punches were wild. Something was amiss…
Mac Foster finished with a record of 30-6 and all of his wins came by way of KO. He was 24-0 when he met Jerry Quarry (35-5-4 at the time) on June 6, 1970, in Madison Square Garden. This was a big one for Jerry and a win would get him right back into the mix. After a bad start, Quarry broke Foster down in round five with heavy left hooks to the body, and then with some cute defensive moves that featured his signature head feints, Jerry exploded with a savage flurry of crunching shots that put Mac into a heap in his own corner. The crowd went wild as this was Irish Jerry Quarry at his very best. Foster would finish with a 30-6 mark with all of his wins coming by way of KO.
On December 14, 1973, Jerry would again be in a pivotal fight—this time against another highly touted bomber Earnie Shavers who was 46-2 and had won 34 in a row (all by KO).Shavers was the favorite and this fight also was held in MSG. But Jerry jumped on Shavers from the get go, stunned him, and proceeded to blow him away in the first round with an even more savage closure than that displayed in the Foster bout. Once Jerry had his man hurt, the end was a foregone conclusion. Jerry Quarry once again seemed to be at the top of his game, but something was happening to him that no one could possibly know about. He was fighting an enemy within that even he could not understand and that enemy may have taken initial hold soon after this fight.
On May 8, 1974, Irish Jerry showed the first signs of something being wrong as he appeared a bit bloated and his reflexes seemed off when he fought lightly regarded Joe Alexander (8-3). In fact, Alexander decked him with a well leveraged left hook shortly before the bell sounded to end round one and Quarry literally bounced off the floor. An emboldened Alexander then raised his hands between rounds confident that he would close matters in round two. But the bomber from Bellflower turned things around with a solid right that decked Joe who barely made it up. Then Quarry, ever the savage closer, finished Alexander off with a right, left, right combo. Again, the crowd was up and roaring.
But this Quarry was not the same one who slaughtered Shavers just a few months previously. Something had changed even though Jerry had prevailed in this closet classic that would set him up for another shot at Joe Frazier just one month later in MSG. The feints were absent, the counterpunching was not sharp, and the punches were wild. Something was amiss, but how could anyone know that the real battle had just begun.
The Time Line
The tragic time line looks like this:
1. On May 8, 1974, Quarry beat Joe Alexander but showed signs of sluggishness and bloat. These may well have been the first warning signs.
2. On June 17, 1974, he fought and lost to Joe Frazier in a savage encounter in which both warriors dished out and absorbed meaningful punishment.
3. In 1975, he fought and also lost badly to Ken Norton. He retired for two years.
4. In 1977, he won a dreadful come-from-behind KO victory over Lorenzo Zanon (20-3-1). He was a shell of his former self and those who watched the fight were stunned by the way he looked.
5. In 1983, while researching a magazine article about the health problems of retired boxers, a Sports Illustrated reporter visited and interviewed Quarry, then 37 and training for a comeback attempt. Though the boxer appeared to be in good health, his performances on several simple cognitive tests were shockingly poor. The title of the April 11, 1983 article is “Too Many Punches, Too Little Concern,” by Robert H. Boyle and Wilmer Ames.
6. In 1983, he won two fights against mediocre Lupe “Macho” Guerra (20-10-1) and James Williams (23-25-2).
7. In 1992, after nine years of inactivity and at age 47, Jerry thought he could be another George Foreman. He fought and lost to unknown Ron Cranmer (3-4-1) in Colorado and took horrific punishment for six rounds but did end the fight on his feet which was a testament to his raw courage and will.
8. By 1996, just four years later and at age 51, he was an invalid.
9. Early in 1999, Jerry Quarry passed away at age 53 after family members decided to remove life support systems. The indirect cause of death was pugilistica dementia (the atrophy of the brain from repeated blows to the head, eventually leading to an Alzheimer’s-like state).
This good-looking Irish kid with a great smile and an engaging boy-next-door manner and sunny California manner was one of my favorite warriors and a personal friend. His hardscrabble heritage was of the hot dusty Oklahoma farms of the Grapes of Wrath, and that was part of his appeal. Walking down the aisle with his old school robe, rolling his head and shoulders, loosening up his arms, he was what charisma is all about. He was gritty, down-to-earth, and fun to watch. When he exploded in the ring, it was a sight for the memory bank.
Even today, Jerry has a great number of loyal fans and is remembered both for the heart he showed in the ring and for the way he touched his fans’ hearts. If there is a heaven for boxers, Irish Jerry Quarry is there.