Jerry Quarry, the raw, young heavyweight from California, who should be but so far has not been called Rock, fought to a draw in Madison Square Garden last weekend and proved: 1) that if he was not yet master of his trade he could be eventually and 2) that once he learns the finer points he well might become the next heavyweight champion.
With only 16 pro bouts behind him, Quarry fought Tony Alongi, a tall, difficult veteran of 41 fights and, as soon became evident in their match, an excellent instructor in the less honorable aspects of boxing. Alongi provided the astonished Quarry with an advanced postgraduate course in thumbing, elbowing, butting and in landing left hooks to the groin. Even so, the surprise of the fight to the ringside press was that Jerry Quarry had not won. It voted for him 16-8-4.
"I wasn't ready for this one," Quarry said later. "Maybe I stepped up too far in class. Johnny Flores and my dad didn't think I should fight Alongi, but I wanted to fight in the Garden. I guess every young fighter does. I had to get it out of my system."
Flores and Jack Quarry, Jerry's father, manage him, although they do not always control him. The week before the fight, in his room at the Midtown Motel in Manhattan, Quarry's father explained why he was not in favor of the Alongi fight.
"Jerry was supposed to meet Buster Mathis," he said. "Mathis would have been fine. He hasn't had any more experience than Jerry, and he is about the class of fighter we would like to put Jerry in with now. I think he may beat Alongi, but if he does, we won't be able to get fights with the young heavyweights in his own class. We'll have to step up, and I don't want to push him that hard. He's only 20. He has time."
Originally Quarry's father felt that it would be three years before the husky youngster would be ready to challenge Cassius Clay; after his performance against Alongi in the Garden, two years would seem a more realistic estimate. His showing was made more impressive because he was on display on a special card with two other undefeated young heavyweights—Olympic Champion Joe Frazier and James J. Woody—and he looked to be much the best of the trio.
Quarry's best rounds came early in the fight, before Alongi's low left hooks took his legs away from him. In the second round, slipping under the long left jab that is Alongi's most effective legal weapon, Quarry slammed his taller opponent in the belly with a short, bludgeoning left hook, then looped a right to the side of his head. The punch was a trifle off target. Had it been a little lower, it might have put Alongi down. As it was, it opened an inch-long cut at the side of Alongi's left eye, which his corner closed between rounds.
Quarry's inexperience was evident in the way he chose to fight the more knowledgeable and extraordinarily long-armed Alongi. Barely more than six feet tall, Quarry was giving away 15 pounds in weight and four inches in height. Alongi used his considerable advantage in reach to fence with the short-coupled Quarry (with his stubby, thick arms he reminds you of Rocky Marciano) at a comfortable distance.
A more experienced fighter might have counteracted this strategy by crouching, so that Alongi would have had to punch down at him, but Quarry, a natural stand-up boxer, stayed erect and defended himself from the jab by picking it off with his right hand or slipping it with quick movements of his head. While he did this extremely well for a man who has had so few fights, the parry still left him too far away for very effective counterpunching. This hurt his cause, since Alongi is not a difficult man to hit, especially when he is crowded.
Occasionally Quarry would manage to get inside the long left and batter Alongi with strong hooks to the head and body, but too much of the time he was kept on the outside. And Alongi, whether by design or accident, hit him low at least seven times.
Once, after being hit in the groin, Quarry bent over in obvious pain and sank to one knee. Inexplicably, the referee saw fit to warn Alongi only once, but it is a tribute to Quarry's natural fighting instinct that after each of the low blows he fought back viciously. The most damaging foul came in the sixth round and seemed to sap some of Quarry's energy, although he had enough left to land the most decisive punch of the bout in the seventh. In that round Alongi had crowded Quarry into the ropes and was moving in when Quarry hit him flush on the mouth with a short left hook. The blow set Alongi back on the seat of his pants, but it did not stun him; he was up at the count of three and fully capable of defending himself against Quarry's ensuing attack. In the last two rounds Quarry, who had gone 10 rounds only once before, moved on leaden legs. For the first time in the fight, he looked as inexperienced as he is, and he threw a wild assortment of bolo punches and swinging left and right hooks.
Quarry has a crisp, economical style when he is fresh and in control of himself. His jab leaves a good deal to be desired, but it is doubtful that a jab will ever be very effective for a man with such short arms. What he needs most is instruction in infighting. When his furious rushes took him inside, he often wound up off balance. Alongi wrapped him up easily, then draped his long body over Quarry, tiring the youngster even more.
"I didn't run enough for this one," Quarry said in the dressing room. He was unmarked, except for an angry red abrasion under his left eye, where Alongi's elbow caught him in the sixth round. "I thought I won the fight," he went on. "I would have won in California. There, in a fight like this, the decision goes to the fighter who gets the knockdown."
"You did all right," his father said. "You got nothing to be ashamed of."
"I'm not ashamed," Quarry said. "I'm disappointed. I'd like to get him again. I can take him."
"How about Frazier or Woody?" someone asked him.
"Either one," Quarry said. "Or Buster Mathis."
It seems likely that Quarry would be too difficult for any one of the other new heavies. Frazier, who replaced Buster Mathis as the U.S. heavyweight in the Tokyo Olympics and took a gold medal, won against a reluctant tiger named Dick Wipperman in one of the eight-round bouts preceding the Quarry-Alongi fight. Wipperman is a veteran from Buffalo. Before the fight he sat in his dressing room trying to psych himself into aggressiveness.
"My name is Richard Wipperman," he told a visitor. "Richard for Richard the Lionhearted. And Wipperman, if you break it down, means whip a man. And that is what I'm going to do."
Somewhere between the dressing room and the ring, Wipperman's self-psyching failed. All he did during the bout was paw ineffectually at Frazier and sidle unhappily along the ropes as if he were seeking a sanctuary. Against so inept an opponent Frazier was unable to demonstrate many of his skills, but he did show fast hands and a good deal of resourcefulness against a thoroughly unorthodox opponent.
The fight was stopped in the fifth round, not because Frazier had done great damage to Wipperman, but because Wipperman demonstrated a growing disinclination even to go through the motions of fighting. Although Frazier is a bit bigger than Quarry, he did not appear nearly as strong against his opponent, nor as effective a puncher.
He was understandably disgruntled after the fight.
"Most people said I couldn't go more than two, three rounds," he said. "But I feel good. I'm a little weary, but I still had power. I wish the man had stood up. He said he came to the Garden to fight, then he got in the ring and changed his mind."
Frazier and Woody would be a good match. Woody, whose previous claims to fame were two bloody dismantlings of 6-foot 8-inch Jim Beattie, was knocked flat early in his fight with Lee Carr and spent three rounds discovering how to avoid Carr's roundhouse swings, but he improved as the bout went on and won a unanimous decision. He is a sharp puncher and obviously a quick study. By the sixth round he had learned to time Carr's most effective punch, an overhand right thrown with much the same motion Don Drysdale uses in delivering a fast ball. Once he stepped inside the cumbersome swing and delivered a handsome, straight right hand to the chin that floored Carr.
While neither Woody nor Frazier appears to be in the same class as Quarry, both are promising fighters, and they add strength to the ranks of the youth movement in the heavyweight division. Woody's principal defect seems to be a lack of killer instinct. When he had Carr down, he failed to follow up his advantage aggressively. Maybe one explanation of this reluctance is that he trained in the same gym with Carr.
"I didn't have no meanness," he said.
"I'm going home and work," Quarry said as he left the Garden. "I know I got a long way to go, but I know I can make it. But my daddy is right. I have to pay the price, and I haven't been paying enough. The next time I come here I'll be ready. You watch. I got time."
He has much more than time. He is still growing; eventually he probably will weigh 200 pounds. He has very quick hands for a heavyweight and, although he is not as fast on his feet as Cassius Clay, he is nimble enough. He takes a punch well; Alongi hit him with several strong left hooks, but Quarry was never dazed. He has to learn how to handle a rough, tall fighter and how to corner a fighter who retreats, but he appears capable of learning.
And he has the biggest asset of all. "He can hit," said Alongi after the fight. "With both hands."