Requiem for a Heavyweight & Friday Night Fights
- Remembering Jerry Quarry -
By George A. Haloulakos
This month's blog arose out of a very recent text message exchange with my friend and fellow Galaxy Good Guy Mike Bragg in which we reminisced about Friday Night Fights at the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium. Our "conversation" brought back memories of a local Southern California favorite and world renowned fighter Jerry Quarry (1945 - 1999), who we remember as "The Bellflower Bomber." Quarry became a nationally known prize fighter at age 19 by winning the 1965 National Golden Gloves Championship by knocking out each of his five opponents in the tournament, a feat unmatched. He turned professional later the same year after having over 200 fights in his amateur career. Quarry was undersized for a heavyweight standing six feet tall and weighing between 190 to 200 pounds, similar to any other father or adult male figure you might have known in your own neighborhood. Today he would have been classified or designated as cruiser weight.
In the context of professional fighting, Quarry was regarded as a durable and smart counter-puncher / action fighter. Fearless and courageous, Quarry was the #1 rated contender during his professional career as he fought during what is considered the "golden age" of boxing (1960s-1970s). Quarry fought against world heavyweight champions Ali, Ellis, Frazier, Patterson and Norton. He defeated Patterson, but lost to Ali, Ellis, Frazier and Norton while giving a most honorable account of himself in each of those contests. In addition, Quarry defeated legendary knockout artists / sluggers Foster, Lyle, Mathis and Shavers. Aside from having the bad luck to compete in an era replete with the greatest fighters of all time, Quarry had a tendency to cut easily but commanded the respect of his peers. Ali noted that were it not for his own speed, the outcomes of his contests with Quarry would likely have been very different. After their second fight while still in the ring, Ali spoke quietly with Quarry while having his arms around his opponent in a gesture of sportsmanship offering encouragement and good wishes. Frazier stated that Quarry was "A very tough man. He could have been a world champion, but cut too easily." Long before high-tech social media, Quarry built a world-renowned personal brand that began in full earnest at the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium as a local favorite who forever was accessible and friendly to his fans - win, lose or draw. In reading the many online tributes that have been posted for Quarry, such long lasting respect and adoration was not merely confined to Southern California or the USA, but worldwide in such places as the United Kingdom as he fought against the best fighters from all over the globe. So great was his personal brand, that at his peak, Quarry was rated by Ring Magazine as the most popular fighter in the sport for four years in a row (1968-1971).
His popularity arose from being relatable to people of all ages. In the era in which Baby Boomers came of age, Quarry appeared like our own fathers, who stood at a similar height and weight. Yet this courageous and tough man could stand toe-to-toe with the world heavyweight giants while showing versatility elsewhere. On the athletic field, Quarry made the Finals in the ABC Superstars competition in which he bested many NFL stars. He had a passion for poetry and sang the "Star Spangled Banner" at various public events! Yet through the ups and downs of fame, Quarry never forgot his humble if not tough upbringing when he remarked that he had led a "Grapes of Wrath" life.
With the passage of time and life experience, what we witnessed as young people can now be properly understood as to what led to a brutal if not horrible finale in the late 1990s. At his induction into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995, it was evident that something was very wrong with our popular fighter who seemed largely unaware of the surrounding events as the cumulative effect of all those amateur and professional fights had resulted in battle-boxing related dementia. When I observed this myself, my mind flashed back to the Norton fight in 1975 when Quarry stepped in to battle the soon to be heavyweight champion with only eighteen days notice. Norton (who was taller and weighed more than Quarry) had been preparing for this match for five months, but when two other opponents who were in line for this opportunity backed out, Quarry took the risk to try for the crown one more time. While fighting valiantly, it was apparent that Quarry lacked the punch resistance, movement, reflexes and agility he had shown in earlier such contests. Sadly "The Bellflower Bomber" was no longer the top-rated fighter he had been at his peak, and this was made even worse by little training beforehand. In retrospect, one can easily discern that the aforementioned punch resistance (i.e., taking so many vicious hits) led to his tragic condition of physical and mental decline that led to his passing in 1999.
In reflecting on a unique era through the prism of Jerry Quarry's life, I found this rather poignant self-reflection that Quarry said about himself just prior to his decline. Essentially, it is own epitaph: "I've been in the ring with the best of all men / Some say the best of all time / I gave my all, round after round / And the world knows I tried / I fought with heart / But needed much more / A bridesmaid but never a bride . . ."
Do you have any special memories about watching the Friday Night Fights or perhaps the heavyweight matches that were aired on ABC's Wide World of Sports during the 1960s and 1970s? If so, please send them to us via the GNN web site or post them into the GNN FACEBOOK page (and be sure to "like" us when doing so). And remember the message of Theodore Roosevelt who in his "Man in the Arena" speech noted that those who put themselves on the line risking failure while daring to do great things will never be with those timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.