Everywhere, for so long now, from the dark, dank gyms and the rooms where the schemes are hatched, to the balconies and ringside with all its shimmering glamour, they have been waiting for Jerry Quarry. A white heavyweight, who could make the old remember and the young interested, who could take the sport and throttle breath back into it. Then the promoters could return to white-on-white shirts and fat rings, the managers could have a solid model for all the young kids who prefer changing tires in gas stations to pain, and for the fighter it would be one long and beautiful ride down velvet alley.
The trouble is that acceptance does not come easily. Suspicion, impatience and sudden dismissal, even by those who passionately want such a fighter and by boxing, which needs him desperately, trail the white heavyweight like another man's shadow. Personally, he can be psychotic, think that Police Commissioner Bull Connor is a sweet man who just eats too much or that Valley of the Dolls is a work of inspired genius, but in the ring he must perform, be the fighter that all the ancient gurus, who lie over 15¢ beers, claim all white heavyweights of another time once were.
Last week Jerry Quarry, neither psychotic nor stupid and far from immortality, defeated Floyd Patterson in the fourth and final quarterfinal match of the heavyweight elimination tournament. The bout, promoted by Aileen Eaton (page 76), attracted 5,300 paying customers to the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, 3,576 more to a closed-circuit television showing at the nearby Sports Arena and a national audience over ABC. But nobody at the Olympic threw any money into the ring, which is the custom there after a good fight and decision. This time they threw cups full of beer and other objects, none of which, refreshingly, could render one insensible. The fight itself—interesting and made exciting by Patterson's stout heart—did not ignite the crowd. It was the decision—quite questionable if not completely recondite—that did.
Floyd Patterson has now fought 22 rounds with Quarry. In the first bout, which Patterson won—but officially was awarded only a draw—he was a victim of points and the curious California scoring system that allows the maximum of five points to the winner of a round and none to a loser. Quarry, after scoring two knockdowns, was given a total of 10 points. Patterson got only five points when he sent Quarry to the floor. Patterson won maybe six or seven rounds in that first 10-round fight. This second, which went 12 rounds, was similarly inequitable.
November 6, 1967
Twice last Saturday afternoon Patterson went down, in the second and fourth rounds. The first knockdown came after an exchange in a neutral corner. Quarry beat Patterson to the punch, and gunned him, sending him to a sitting position. Patterson was down on one knee in the fourth after catching a short right; it looked like a slip this time, but it was a knockdown, if not a very good one. Neither time was Patterson really hurt, and Quarry did not deserve more than one point. Yet one judge—who should have two weeks' rest and no visitors—gave Quarry three points for the poor second knockdown. One wonders what he would have given Quarry if Patterson had had to crawl back to his corner.
By then Patterson was in serious trouble on points; Quarry had won the second, third and fourth rounds, and Patterson had taken the first and fifth. He was behind on points by, say, 5-2 or 6-2, depending on the judge. Only a knockout or a shutout of Quarry the rest of the way could save the fight. Quarry realized this and stayed away from Patterson most of the time after the sixth, which Quarry won with some brilliant body punching that left Patterson frozen. After the sixth, it was practically Patterson's fight. Quarry just did not deliver.
The two judges scored the fight 7-6 each for Quarry, and the referee, who after the sixth round allowed Quarry to lie and hang on Patterson without punching, scored it a draw, 6-6. Patterson deserved at least a draw; indeed, had Quarry been given only one point for each of his knockdowns, Patterson would have won. He certainly won this fight on rounds—6-4 and two even. A fight should be judged on the basis of the complete picture, and in this bout Patterson was the picture.
The California point system gives too much latitude to judges to run amuck with their pencils on knockdowns. A knockdown is only a section of the fight. It is not the whole fight. The system also provides a device that certain boxers can use too effectively: get in front early and then disappear, an odious strategy that satisfies nobody. The fighter who is there to go 12 rounds if unlucky early is faced with a man who wants only to survive, or maybe at best wants simply to steal a round or two, which is what Quarry did. After the sixth he kept looking at the clock, and then near the end of a round he would start to flurry.
"What do they want us to do?" asked Johnny Flores, Quarry's co-manager. "We gambled to try to knock Floyd out early. If not, then we had to stay away. He's too dangerous. He's a professional. Jerry doesn't have the stamina."
"I knew I couldn't take him out after the sixth," said Quarry. "He's got too much heart."
"Jerry'll be a good fighter in two years," said Quarry's trainer, Teddy Bentham.
Bentham, not known for hyperbole or sophistry, is being, it seems, too restrained in his evaluation. Quarry, only 22, is a good fighter now. Those who so badly want a big, white heavyweight back at the pinnacle of boxing should not dismiss him or demand more of him than he has to give at this point, which is not inconsiderable. He is skillful and cruel to the body, is an instinctive puncher and he takes a good shot better than many heavies, past or present. He is no longer the crude, heavy-handed puncher of a year or so ago, and he knows how to think in the ring. He let Patterson take him to the ropes, where Floyd was so effective in the first fight, and he turned what was supposed to be one of his weaknesses into a strength; Patterson was knocked down both times after exchanges on the ropes.
"He's terribly strong," said Patterson, "and he takes an excellent punch. This makes Quarry's style even less comprehensible. A man who has the strength he has should be more aggressive. He utilizes only 35% of his ability. Here you have a man who is either cheating himself or the public. Or both."
Patterson then paused and asked: "Was the fight exciting?"
Nobody answered, and Patterson continued: "I don't know; I got to ask myself that question all the time. But Quarry never seems to ask that. He's not concerned whether the fight was satisfactory to the people who paid. A fighter with these credentials is soon discovered by the public for what he is—a fraud. I hope Jerry isn't."
Patterson came close to unraveling Quarry. He is not a fraud, but there is something very wrong with Quarry as a fighter. He is lazy and seems to lack the raw desire of great fighters. And he has been pampered for far too long by the people in boxing's hierarchy in California. It is almost certain that he never wanted to be a fighter in the first place—his mother supposedly shoved him into the ring—and it is quite probable he will not labor in the sport long, whether he becomes the champion or not. He is not timid, which was a charge once made by many who had followed him, but he is fearful of one day looking like the classic pug. Already his young face has turned hard and is slowly beginning to resemble the faces you see gazing emptily out in the yellow light of arena lobbies.
But Quarry's real problem is himself and the confusion and insensitivity that surrounds him. He wants to be an individual, yet his family, which interests itself even in his marriage, holds a tight rein on him. Professionally he is also caught in a choking web, which has been woven by his managers, Flores and his father, Jack Quarry. Father Jack wants to be the mastermind behind his son, and has for a long time been trying to remove Flores from the scene. Flores, the original manager, gave Jack half of his interest because he wanted the father to see that Jerry did his roadwork every day. Father Jack, who reminds one of an Alabama deputy sheriff, was never effective in this duty. He wants to sign contracts and tends to bore promoters with his unspectacular oratory and his erratic demands. He has succeeded in being only a monumental and distracting nuisance to the progress of his son. After the Eddie Machen fight, in which Jerry (in poor condition) was given a boxing lesson, father Jack wanted to sell his half to Flores. "He's not going anywhere," he said. Later he suddenly changed his mind, which is unfortunate for Jerry and all those who have to listen to father Jack.
Patterson could have buttoned up the old man in last week's fight and stalled Quarry temporarily, but he is fighting from memory now. His skills have been diminished. He was too left-hook conscious in this bout, and his punches, lacking that punishing snap they once had, were too wide. He kept waiting, waiting just that fraction of time too long before he dug in behind the jab and exploded violently to the head. Patterson, even with his graying talent, has all the fine moves of a superb fighter, but with his style it is necessary to have a chin. "Yeah," said Thad Spencer, the No. 1-ranked heavyweight according to the WBA (and third behind Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier according to The Ring magazine). "It's too bad; Floyd's legs ought to sue his chin for nonsupport."
Yet Patterson persists in his solitary journey, and few can understand why. He has money, though not as much as he once had, a fact with which he is not greatly concerned anyway. He is more disturbed by the way he and his money have been used. "I thought," he said before the second Quarry fight, "that friends were special people, that you do for them and they would do as much for you if they had the means and the opportunity. The rats left the sinking ship when they thought I was through. I don't fight because I need money. I've more than enough to live on, but if I were retired what would I do? Boxing is the one thing I know. It is what I do best. It scares me when I stop to think what I would be able to do if I quit fighting."
But it is not the money or the lack of something better to do that keeps Patterson in boxing. For him it is a way of life, the kind of life that has cost him his wife and more than once has driven him into monastic seclusion. "You have no idea the way it is," he says. "You're out there with all those people around you, and those cameras and the whole world looking in, and all that movement, that excitement. But the real thing, the thing that sends it right through you, is the moment two strange men seek each other out. They come together and find out who will succeed and who will fail. There is no other competition like it in the world."
Half of this solemn man's life has been spent in dusty gyms and on lonely roads preparing for those evenings, or for the evening that will finally give him peace. Perhaps his commitment to his profession, his invulnerable pride are what draw people to him and make his sorrow in defeat everybody's sorrow. Even in Los Angeles, Quarry's home, he was the center of attention and had the majority of the people behind him.
After the fight a huge crowd surrounded Patterson on the parking lot. He answered questions quietly, signed autographs and made at least two women cry by his presence. On the other side of the parking lot Quarry's brother was in a fight with a detractor until the police came. At this point Jerry's mother walked up and said coldly to another Quarry: "Mike, why didn't you step in and whip him? You could have."
"Hell," someone said, "the old lady's got more guts than Jerry."
Later that night Quarry returned to the warm circle of his friends. The champagne popped, but he really only deserved a warm beer.