Passing away far too young, after suffering almost unimaginable misery in his retirement years, was the great Jerry Quarry, who died aged a mere 53 on this day in 1999. Quarry, who was almost forced into the sport of boxing by a domineering father, would go on to thrill millions in superior efforts against giants, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Ron Lyle, Earnie Shavers, and many other big-name heavyweights, this at a time when the division was chock full of magnificent talent.
With so many good to very good to great heavies plying their trade during a decade that has been accurately described as one that gave us a golden age of heavyweight boxing, Quarry was almost always matched tough. Jerry didn’t mind his blend of toughness, of heart, of an at times crazy ability to take punishment, and of some underrated boxing skills, seeing him take to the ring certain of victory no matter who he was fighting.
Ultimately, Quarry fell short, never winning the big one, but how “The Bellflower Bomber” tested the best of the best. Quarry went pro in May of 1965, aged just 19 after he had fought some 200 amateur bouts. Born in Bakersfield, Jerry became a big fan-favorite at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. Possessing a quick mind, in and out of the ring, Quarry was an extremely likable, witty, and fun-loving person (check out Jerry’s quite incredible vocal impersonation of Ali!). Stardom beckoned.
A July 1966 loss to the crafty Eddie Machen served up a headache for Quarry before Jerry boxed a draw with, and then defeated, Floyd Patterson. A February 1968 win over Thad Spence saw the 22-year-old Quarry get a shot at Jimmy Ellis for the vacant (stripped from Ali) WBA heavyweight title. Quarry came up short, losing a 15-round majority decision.
Quarry was far from done. In fact, he was really just getting going.
A 1969 win over Buster Mathis was pretty good, while Quarry then waged war with an unbeaten, seemingly unstoppable Joe Frazier. The Frazier fight, this Jerry’s second crack at a version of the world title, ended after seven savage rounds, with Joe’s smoke proving too much for Quarry.
Another stoppage loss came that year, with Quarry being stopped by George Chuvalo, before Quarry bounced back in 1970, stringing together four good wins. Then came Quarry’s big fight with the returning, no longer unlicensed Ali. An enraged Quarry was stopped on cuts after just three rounds. Amazingly, the now 38-5-4 Quarry would fight 20 more times.
Quarry, a fine counter-puncher who just loved the taste and the thrill of a brawl, of a war, was still sharp in the early ’70s, with him doing some fine commentary work and some good fighting. Quarry was still good enough, after so many tough nights, to best Jack Bodell, Ron Lyle, and Earnie Shavers. It was after a second fight with Ali (another non-title affair that saw Quarry get stopped on his feet) that Quarry showed he could never be written off or underestimated, as he blasted big banger Shavers to a one-round defeat in December of 1973. This, though, was Quarry’s last big win.
Quarry battled on, being stopped by Frazier in a rematch and then being stopped by Ken Norton. The damage may not have been visible or even detectable at this stage, but inside, Quarry was suffering. He was paying the price, ever so slowly, for the amount of punches he had shipped. Now 51-8-4, yet still only 29 years of age, Quarry was pushing everything he had left in fighting on.
A win came in 1977 before an overweight Quarry returned for two fights in 1983, both wins. Then, in what can only be described as one of the most criminal acts ever witnessed in a sport that has been full of them, a shot, brain-damaged Quarry was somehow allowed to clamber into the ring with a guy named Ron Cranmer. The October “fight” of 1992 was awful, disturbingly so. Quarry, with only his ability to soak up leather remaining as far as his famous boxing skills, took a sickening hammering over the course of six disgusting rounds. Lucky to have left the ring on two feet, Quarry was paid just $500.
It should NEVER have ended like this, not for as great a fighter and person as Jerry Quarry. Sadly, Jerry’s final years, which turned out to be just a little more than six years on this planet, were terrible. His cognitive abilities left him by the day; Jerry needed around the clock care, this provided by loving family members.
It was a sad sight seeing Jerry at any public function he was wheeled into at the end. Quarry passed away way before his time. But the end was perhaps nothing short of gratefully accepted by all those who cared about him, who cared for him.
Jerry Quarry was a special fighter, one of the best heavyweights never to have won a world title. Quarry’s story is also a stark reminder of the unpayable price all fighters risk having to face at the end when all the fans have long since stopped screaming, cheering, and caring.
Quarry’s final ring record reads an incredible 53-9-4(32). Jerry faced six world champions during his blood and guts ring career.