On This Day: The Great Jerry Quarry Was Born

On this day back in 1945, one of the bravest, toughest, and often underrated heavyweights was born. Jerry Quarry was born in Bakersfield, California.

He would go on to fight during the heavyweight golden era that was the 1970s, yet had Quarry been fighting at any other time, chances are good he would have become world champion. But Quarry had to fight the likes of – Muhammad Ali, Eddie Machen, Floyd Patterson, Jimmy Ellis, Joe Frazier, George Chuvalo, Ron Lyle, Earnie Shavers, and Ken Norton.

Quarry held his own with the guys he lost to, while he did score wins over Patterson (after boxing to a draw with Floyd), Lyle (on points), and Shavers (by a quick KO), with Quarry, also besting top names like Mac Foster (TKO), Buster Mathis (UD), and Thad Spencer (TKO). Indeed, Quarry, who was beaten by Ellis and by Frazier in his two world title challenges, has to be ranked as one of the finest big men never to have become champion.

And we know how much Quarry gave of himself in the ring. Far, far too much. It was a sad end for Quarry, his later years seeing him live in a permanent fog, his battle with pugilistic dementia a tragic war he had no chance of winning. Quarry soaked up incredible amounts of punishment in his prime years, but then, in 1992, a 47-year-old Quarry was disgracefully allowed to fight a guy named Ron Cranmer. Quarry, already suffering from cognitive impairment, took a savage hammering over the six gruesome rounds the fight was permitted to go on for.

Everyone involved in this, arguably the most shameful heavyweight fight featuring a big name, a proud fighter who should have been looked after, should be eternally ashamed of themselves. Quarry needed constant care in the final years he had left. The additional damage his brain had been subjected to in the Cranmer fight assisting greatly in his rapid state of deterioration. Jerry deserved far better.

Today, the last surviving Quarry brother, Bobby Quarry, knows all too well how sad it was seeing Jerry during those final, painful years. Here, Bobby kindly speaks with ESB on what would have been his brother’s 76th birthday.

Q: Jerry was, of course, a great fighter. What happened the last time you saw him before he passed away in 1999?

Bobby Quarry: “It’s a distinct memory for me. See, Jerry was what you’d call a momma’s boy – we all were, us brothers. Every day, he would tell my mom how he loved her so much. And towards the end, he began saying it to me. He’d say, ‘I love you, little brother.’ And then, just minutes later, he’d say it again, having forgotten that he’d just said it. It was sad when he passed away, but I know he wouldn’t have wanted to live on like that. Really, to be honest, and blunt, he was better off dead by that time.”

Q: You are in great shape yourself, yet you were a fighter too?

B.Q: “My brothers, Jerry and Mike, they had too many hard, tough fights. I was saved in that I had a short career, and I never went through anything like the way they did in wars. I am lucky that I never suffered a brain injury like Jerry did. I had eight amateur fights and 24 pro fights (10 wins, 12 losses, 2 draws). I never had that same, never, ever give in attitude that Jerry and Mike had.”

Q: Jerry always wanted to fight George Foreman. In fact, Foreman is one of the few great 1970s heavyweights Jerry never faced, along with Larry Holmes. Who would have won between Jerry and George, say in 1973?

B.Q: “Well, that’s a tough one, and we will, of course, never know. I do know that fight was right up Jerry’s alley. But also, George was a special big man himself. A tough fight.”

Q: You still love boxing?

B.Q: “Oh, of course. I will always love it. Jerry took too many punches, and as a result, his short-term memory was really bad. His long-term memory was still good. I had some tough fights, but I was saved by God, and I had a short career. I still watch the big fights. I have so many favorite fights, great fights from years gone by. The media like to say I’m brain damaged, but I’m not. I’m talking; I’m still here. But right now, I’d like to wish my brother Jerry a wonderful birthday with our Lord in heaven. I love you, Bro.”

Q: Talking a little more about Jerry’s great career – how much did trainer Gil Clancy help him?

B.Q: “Yeah, he trained him from late 1971, that’s when Clancy took over. In 1973, Clancy guided Jerry to good wins over Ron Lyle and Earnie Shavers.”

Q: Jerry had a great year in 1973…

B.Q: “Yeah, the Shavers win was big. A boxing magazine once had a piece called, ‘The Five Faces Of Jerry Quarry.’ His career had a number of phases.”

Q: What are your favourite Jerry Quarry fights?

B.Q: “Oh, there’s a lot. Of course the Shavers fight, the first Frazier fight, that was so tough. Buster Mathis. It was a golden era, it really was. The thing about the Shavers fight was, Shavers caught Jerry with a shot and it didn’t do anything to him. I think Shavers was shocked by that. He expected Jerry to drop, but Jerry came back. But the guy who Jerry said hit him the hardest he was ever hit, that was Mac Foster. Jerry said after that fight how Mac Foster could really hit. After the Shavers fight, Jerry told the interviewer he hadn’t been hit. Jerry thought Mac Foster was the hardest puncher he ever met.”

Q: Were you ringside at any of Jerry’s fights? I know you are 18 years younger than him. You are the kid of the Fighting Quarry Family!

B.Q: “I was at the [Lorenzo] Zanon fight (in 1977). I wasn’t so much a kid by that time, I was around 14 or 15 then. Jerry started boxing at four or five years old, we all did. But I got out of it, while they [Jerry and brother Mike] never quit. So all that wear and tear, it takes its toll of course. I was seven years old when Jerry fought Ali the second time.”

Q: Do you agree Ali is the greatest heavyweight ever, or do you favour Joe Louis, or maybe Rocky Marciano?

B.Q: “Ali was the greatest. He’d have beaten Joe Louis, who had no foot movement. He was always stood right in front of you and Ali would have boxed him up. That’s just my opinion, I’m not right with all of my opinions.”

Q: Jerry was such a humble guy, a great personality. That’s another reason we all love him so much. And Jerry did the greatest Ali impersonation! If you look away from the screen and just listen, you could swear it was Ali talking.

B.Q: “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen that. Jerry could do that. I enjoy watching that myself. In terms of me and my brothers, because of the age difference, I was closer to Mike. I don’t remember Jerry in the house, not when I was a really young kid. I remember Mike in the house.”

Q: Jerry Quarry, a great fighter, but he fought too long?

B.Q: “Yes, he did. When you start at age 4 and don’t stop until you’re in your thirties, it’s too much. Jerry had 20 fights his first year [as a pro]. Jerry’s main thing was to be a counter-puncher. We all did the best we could with what we had at the time. Like Jerry said, he always wanted to see if his best was enough to beat the other guy’s best.”