Always, when he was very young, he would be there waiting for Johnny Flores to finish his dinner and walk with him to the door of the matchbox gym in the yard of the Flores home. "Hurry, hurry, Johnny!" the boy would yell, and Johnny would reply, "Sure, sure, Jerry, but let me see you hit somebody tonight. It makes me smile."
Until last Friday night, Johnny Flores had done a great deal of smiling as Jerry Quarry pounded his way to the top of a rising generation of unusually gifted heavyweights (SI, Feb. 21). Then, in the Los Angeles Sports Arena at exactly 10:25 o'clock Pacific Daylight Time, Quarry inexplicably stopped hitting. By 11:05 P.D.T. or 10 unimaginative rounds later, Flores was a study in dejection. For the second time in three months, Quarry had fought a draw with the clever but unranked Tony Alongi.
What was more shocking than the result was its significance. Just a few days before the fight one Los Angeles manager was talking about this quick young gun who was so obviously—at least in all the old Irish bars—on his way to a fight with Cassius Clay within two years. "With the ink this kid's getting, he's only six fights away from a million-dollar gate," the man said.
Maybe he was, but the figure six seems in need of revision now, and perhaps that is for the best—for Quarry and for the many who have wanted him to be so good so quickly. In this fight, Alongi made him look like the fighter he is: a kid of 21 and a genuine, raw prospect who has had 20 fights, the majority of them against refugees from poolrooms, factories and welfare lists. Alongi does not qualify for any of these categories; he is on the lam from Sears, Roebuck, where he was a salesman during two years of inactivity.
June 5, 1966
Whether Alongi will eventually be deposited back into the appliance department by someone like, say, Joe Frazier, or whether he goes on to the kind of ring career that he has long but desultorily sought, is still unpredictable. One thing is clear, however. His future and the new money that has been shoved in to back him were on the line against Quarry, and he did not look for a place to hide. If he had lost, it would have meant the long trek back to where it all began, places like Union City, Pa. and Holyoke, Mass.—where the money is just a jingle in the pocket and nobody cares.
The mystery was why Quarry was fighting Alongi at all. While, because of his youth, he did not have much to lose, he had little to gain from the bout. He should have settled for the first draw in Madison Square Garden (SI, March 14), which was accepted by those who saw it as a good lesson that would not bear repeating. A boxer who knows all the subtleties of his business—that is, he does not mix it up much but he can make you look terrible—Alongi is tall (6-3) and has an 84-inch reach. In 43 fights nobody had won big over him except Billy Daniels and Rodolfo Diaz, who both knocked him out. Yet the Quarry camp signed, and everybody seemed to be saying, "Why not?" The house would be good, maybe 12,000, Quarry could make $15,000, and how could he lose?
"It's a stupid fight for Quarry," said Lou Duva, Alongi's manager. "He doesn't have much to gain unless he knocks Tony out. If he doesn't, and it's anywhere close, we'll just say hometown decision. But we're sure glad to get the fight. Even if it did cost me $300 in phone calls. I give 'em credit. They did think it over a while before signing."
Quarry may have been doing too much thinking before the fight—and talking. He kept telling people how often in the first fight Alongi had hit him low, and that this time he would be ready for him. "I got a specially designed protector for the big mouth this time," said Quarry, answering Alongi's comment in the papers that Quarry was too old to be blubbering. Tony, on the other hand, was not disturbed by the accusations by Quarry until the waitresses in the restaurant where he ate began to serve up reproach with the steaks. "He'll pay for that," he said to one. Tony is quite sensitive to what women think of him.
Unfortunately, the fight did not live up to the preliminary vitriol, nor did it go as the Quarry people had expected. Alongi, who weighed in at 204, was much sharper than he had been in New York, and Quarry was decidedly less so. He boxed at 192 pounds and won the first two rounds with mediocre combinations to the body and to the head, but neither was really a big round. Quarry did not seem to know how to move, and he was forever backing off when he should have been moving inside.
Alongi, with that long left jab of his, began to find the range in the third round, and Quarry began losing rounds. His punches seemed to lack coordination. When he did counter, he was almost always off balance. In the fifth, Quarry whipped home a left hook that raised a welt under Alongi's left eye, but in the sixth Alongi responded with a barrage of jolting jabs. Quarry finally managed to get out of their path, but he moved back from them instead of under them, a trick he should have learned and memorized from the first fight. At one point Alongi stopped, put his hands down and said to the referee, "Hell, ref, he doesn't wanna fight."
Alongi continued his long range firing in the seventh and eighth rounds, but now he was also landing a good right hand. In the eighth, Quarry took a cut over his left eye. Jerry, it appeared, needed the ninth and 10th rounds to even think of a draw. He did win the ninth impressively but he only eked by in the 10th. In the ninth, both Alongi and Quarry complained of low blows. Neither man's argument seemed justified. Alongi took a good shot to the body, and Quarry—one tends to believe—does not know his low zone from third base. Besides, there was no need for Quarry to grimace, what with his special protector.
When it was all over, the referee and judges were prompt (almost indecently so) with their decision. They sent many of the 5,444 spectators grumbling on the way out, not because of the draw or because Quarry had lost, but because the scoring was so beautifully neat. The officials gave each fighter five rounds.
One person who decidedly was not grumbling was Alongi. Tony, in fact, was exuding high spirits in the dressing room. He was certain that the draw proved that he had won. "I get a draw here," he said, "and to me that's a win. How can it be anything else? I'd like it to be an official victory, but I know how I feel inside." Quarry said that he also felt that he had won, but somehow you never could feel that he meant it.
"I'll tell you," said Alongi. "These were the easiest 10 rounds. I ever went. If you ask me, he's punch shy. Quarry doesn't want to get hit."
Others in New York and Los Angeles think they have discovered the same flaw, but it may be that everyone is being influenced by the natural prejudice people have against ruggedly built fighters who move backward. The real flaw in Quarry's makeup may be his almost eerie ability to do physical harm to himself. Last month in Kansas City he injured the knuckles of his right hand while winning an unimpressive decision over Memphis Al Jones, a fighter Frazier put away in one round the night before the Alongi bout. This is a common enough ring injury, but add to the knuckles the nephritis that hounded Quarry as a child, the broken back and hand he got at 16 when he missed the water while attempting a backward dive and the broken this and the smashed that and a classic picture begins to develop of the man who should never get out of bed.
He most certainly should not be playing softball before a big fight. So what was Quarry doing the day before he was to go into training for Alongi? Playing softball. Unbelievable as it sounds, he was out hook sliding into a base. Damage? An ankle that may or may not have been broken, according to which voodoo medicine man you listen to. During the early days of camp at Malibu Canyon, Quarry could hardly run on the ankle. Then Flores, co-manager along with Quarry's father Jack, took him to a cuandero (or curer) in Pacoima, Calif. "Cuanderos are sort of chiropractors, and every Mexican neighborhood has one," said Johnny. "This one is called Felipe, and he soaked rags in alcohol and wrapped them around Jerry's ankle. Then he rubs the ankle and talks to the foot and answers the cracking. Next day Jerry is running. It is magic."
The magic wore off in succeeding days and the sad, unsmiling Flores said after the fight, "You don't know what I had put up with." Hadn't Felipe taken care of the ankle? "Oh, I suppose," Flores said. "But I wish the cuandero would have taken care of other things." He did not specify what other things. Cortisone took care of the knuckles from the Jones fight. Unfortunately, there was nothing to take care of Alongi's jab.
Where the talk had been of Clay around the Quarry headquarters, it was now of Jefferson Davis or Tod Herring in Houston and the long, tedious road ahead. The Clay talk, not surprisingly, had moved into Alongi's dressing room and, if it was not convincing, at least it was colorful.
Said Lou Duva, "When we fight Clay, we're gonna change Tony's name to Benito Mussolini. Get that, huh? And all around at ringside we're gonna have guys wearing carnations and big hats, dark shirts and white ties, and they'll smoke big cigars. Muslims? Forget 'em. We got the mob right here."