25.06.04 – By Frank Lotierzo – GlovedFist@Juno.com – It was the summer of 1969. Apollo 11 landed on the Moon in July and August ended with some big concert in upstate New York better known as Woodstock. That is mostly what the summer of 1969 is known for. However, too me the biggest event of the summer of 1969 happened on June 23rd. That was the night that Heavyweight Champ “Smokin” Joe Frazier defended his title against top ranked contender Jerry Quarry at Madison Square Garden in a fight that would later be referred to as Frazier-Quarry I.
Frazier-Quarry I was the very first fight I saw live on Closed Circuit TV. It was a hot Tuesday night and I was 9 years old and went with my father and cousin to see it at the Cherry Hill Arena. My father was a huge Joe Frazier fan, opposed to me who hated Frazier at the time and rooted against him every time he fought during the mid sixties and early seventies. It wasn’t so much that I hated Frazier because of anything he said or did, it’s just that he was the fighter who was the most likely to succeed the exiled Muhammad Ali as Champ.
To go along with that I had tremendous respect for Frazier as a fighter. As a kid I often covered the fear I had for Ali fighting him. On the outside I would tell my friends that Frazier was only a factor because Ali wasn’t around for him to fight. But on the inside I knew better.. I knew Frazier was some kind of fighter and that if he and Ali ever met, Frazier would give Ali nine kinds of hell. On top of that I knew Frazier was more than capable of defeating Ali.
By the start of the summer of 1969, Joe Frazier was the man in the Heavyweight division. The only other fighters at the time who were thought to have a shot against him were, WBA Champ Jimmy Ellis and the highly regarded Jerry Quarry. Outside of Quarry and Ellis, the only other fighter around who some thought merited a shot versus Frazier was former Heavyweight Champ Sonny Liston who was in his late 30’s at the time. There was a faction who thought that Liston from a style vantage point matched up good with Frazier, regardless of the age disparity. In fact Liston himself was often quoted as saying, “He, Frazier, is made for me, he walks right in.”
At the time Frazier-Quarry was a very big fight. A year prior to fighting Frazier, Quarry met Jimmy Ellis in the final of the WBA Elimination Tournament. The fight turned out to be a real snooze-fest. Quarry spent most of the rounds trying to lure Ellis to follow him to the ropes so he could launch a counter attack. Unfortunately for Quarry, Angelo Dundee was Ellis’ manager and trainer. The shrewd Dundee instructed Ellis to jab and move back away from Quarry, or to the left, thus throwing Quarry off and making him pursue Ellis. The fight labored on for 15 non eventful rounds with neither fighter doing any real damage. Quarry had his moments when he pushed the fight, but those moments were few and far between. Quarry would say afterward that he didn’t press Ellis more because he had an injured back and shouldn’t have even gone through with the fight. When it was over, Ellis captured the vacated WBA title with a majority decision over Quarry.
Heading into the first fight between Joe Frazier and Jerry Quarry, the boxing pundits/experts were evenly split on who would win, although Frazier was a 9-5 betting favorite in Las Vegas. The only real consensus between them was that Quarry probably had the slightly better chin. When it came to styles, many reasoned that Quarry had the style to beat Frazier. Something I could never figure, being that Quarry was a counter-puncher and Frazier was an unrelenting swarmer. Frazier forced his opponents to fight, boxing and counter-punching usually wasn’t an option.
At the bell for round one, Quarry stormed out of his corner and met Frazier at ring center and started trading with him. This strategy caught Frazier by surprise. In the first round Frazier and Quarry had some massive exchanges and Quarry actually got the better of a majority of them. It appeared that Quarry’s quicker hands were the difference. The second round was almost a repeat of the first, with Quarry again holding the edge if only by a slightly smaller margin. At this time the strategy Quarry employed looked to be smart, the only question was could he keep it up? Remember, this was a Frazier paced fight and Joe made his living off of trading and forcing the fight.
Midway through round three Quarry started to fade a little and Joe started to smoke. This is when the fight turned in Frazier’s favor as he was not allowing Quarry the option of counter-punching, he was making him fight. Every once in a while Quarry would launch a hard three or four punch counter attack, but this was just to try and convince Joe that he was still dangerous and in the fight. Something Joe saw through and just continued working Quarry over to the body and head. From rounds four through seven the fight was all Frazier. It seemed the more Quarry slowed and tried to catch a breather, the stronger Frazier got and never let up.
The seventh round ended with Quarry really taking it from Frazier, not offering much back in return. On top of that, Quarry had a severely cut eye that was bleeding and impeding his vision. At the end of the seventh round, Dr. Klieman went into Quarry’s corner to examine his eye. Over Quarry’s protest, the Doctor stopped the fight before the bell rang to start the eighth round. Thus being recorded as a 7th round TKO victory for Frazier, setting up his February 16th 1970 showdown with WBA Heavyweight Champ Jimmy Ellis.
The first Frazier-Quarry fight was outstanding. For those first two or three rounds while Quarry was fresh, he hung right in there with “Smokin” Joe. The difference was Frazier was a little stronger than Quarry. Another difference between Frazier and Quarry was that Frazier was more loose and relaxed when he fought and threw his punches. On the other hand Quarry was tight and swung for the fence with every punch he threw. This on top of Frazier making him fight three minutes of every round was the difference. In the early going Quarry could stay with Frazier, he just couldn’t stay with him throughout the whole fight and was worn down by ultimately being forced to fight Frazier’s fight. Couple that with Quarry’s fair skin that easily cut, he could never beat Joe.
Frazier-Quarry I was an action packed fight, despite being all Frazier from the fourth round on. It marked what I consider to be the prime of Joe Frazier, 1969-71. In that two year span, Frazier stopped Quarry, Ellis, Light Heavyweight Champ Bob Foster, and beat the undefeated Muhammad Ali in the biggest and most anticipated fight in Boxing history. It also was one of Jerry Quarry’s better fights even though he lost. Too bad Quarry didn’t go after Ellis like he did Frazier. Had Quarry taken the fight to Ellis, he most likely would’ve won a piece of the Heavyweight title that eluded him his entire career. After losing to Joe Frazier in June of 1969, Jerry Quarry would never again fight for a piece of the Heavyweight title.
Foreman Makes Pro-debut
There was another significant event that happened during the Summer of 1969 also on June 23rd. On the under card of Frazier-Quarry, 1968 Olympic Heavyweight Gold Medalist George Foreman turned pro. In his first fight as a pro, Foreman KO’d Don Waldheim in the third round an hour before Frazier and Quarry fought. Who could’ve imagined back then that the young Foreman would be the one to take Frazier’s undisputed title three and a half years later almost to the exact day.
Another side bar to June 23rd 1969 brings Jerry Quarry and George Foreman together. I was told, and later confirmed the story passed along to me by a well known CBS broadcaster in the 70’s of a ring meeting between Quarry and Foreman sometime in May of 1969. The story goes that one day in a California gym, both Quarry and Foreman were training. Quarry was preparing for Frazier and Foreman was getting ready for his pro debut. On this one particular day, Quarry and Foreman sparred each other. The part about Quarry and Foreman sparring is a fact, it’s what happened during this one session that two versions have evolved. The first version is that Quarry totally abused a green Foreman and actually knocked George just about out with one right hand. The other version is that Quarry caught Foreman with a big right hand at close to the end of the second round and staggered him, thus Foreman’s trainer Dick Saddler immediately called time ending the session. The only thing I can confirm is that the session did take place and Quarry did hurt Foreman at least once during it. I’ve heard both versions mentioned above on more than a few occasions.
If you were around and followed Boxing during Foreman’s title reign, you’ll remember there was always talk of Foreman defending the title against Quarry. This was the talk after Quarry beat Lyle in February of 1973, which was less than a month after Foreman won the title from Frazier. The fight never happened, Quarry ended up fighting Shavers in December of 1973 and Foreman fought Norton in March of 1974. However, I do remember reading in Ring Magazine and Boxing Illustrated that Foreman was a little reluctant about meeting Quarry back then. Oh, I don’t think Quarry would’ve beat Foreman. But any fighter who doesn’t go directly to Foreman at least has a prayer, and Quarry was super tough and had a cast iron chin.