Only a fool has no fear in the ring, and he does not survive. Fighters seldom think about being noble and brave, and it is even more rare when one is genuinely unafraid of what the ring is, what it can do to the heart and mind and body. The professional, who knows what he is about, what his work is, and then—with all his fears and all his doubts—coldly does what he has to do, he will last and, if he is good enough, he will be remembered a long time. Nobody will ever again say Jerry Quarry is not a brave man, but he is not a professional and certainly, for one long, painful moment in his career last week, he lamentably insisted on being a fool.
His mind, of course, has always been a thief of his talents. Quarry has at times been confused, undisciplined, unintelligent and emotionally juvenile, but while he was preparing for his heavyweight championship fight with Joe Frazier it appeared that he had subdued all that separated him from genuine excellence. He now was, he said, mature and trigger-fine. And who could doubt that he had the instruments needed for the delicate surgery prescribed for an opponent like Frazier? Quarry entered the ring wearing a pink mandarin robe, a blue golf hat and a wide smile, his whole presence exuding a false bravado that drew the roaring music of approval in Madison Square Garden, his refuge from the insensitive sniping that he endures in Los Angeles.
Seven rounds later, after a dreadful machine mounted on rails had reduced his face to a doughy substance, Quarry sat while a doctor examined a swollen, angry cut below his right eye, on the cheekbone. Benevolently, the doctor looked at the referee and, shaking his head, ended a fight whose result was only in balance until the closing seconds of the second round. Like a stray hit by a car and not knowing where to go, Quarry stumbled blindly about the ring after the doctor's decision, his frustration and disgust visible in every quiver of his muscles. Then he stopped and prayerfully looked up at the ceiling, his face a weird mask melting in the yellow light, mirroring, it seemed, his rage at the path of disaster he had chosen.
Looking up at the face, his father, Jack, who repeatedly had warned his son that toughness was not related to winning, could share his rage. The old man's eyes, which always seem to tell of the desolation that filled most of his life, were startled at first, as if he had just been caught by a flashlight in some dim boxcar. Then a fragile smile came and went across his face, and it was clear that he could not argue strenuously with Billy Conn's wry summation of the bout: "What's the use of being Irish if you can't be thickheaded?" Yet it was not really a question of obstinacy or dumbness. The fight cut deep into wherever it is Quarry lives and, despite the sound logic that militated against such tactics, Quarry was obsessed. He came seeking the dignity that he felt he had left behind in too many rings; he came looking to stuff his valor down the throats of all those who said he had none. He was determined to leave New York with honor, and he would beat Frazier at Frazier's own primitive game.
July 6, 1969
Quarry, it appeared, had discovered what someone once called the formula for failure: trying to please everybody. Up at his camp, the signs of his tactics were evident, but on one believed he would be so puerile. "I'm ready for anything Joe Frazier can hand out," he said. "I want to find out who is best at what. Who is the toughest. Who's the best puncher and who can take the best punch." It was easy to dismiss his remarks as an effort to shore up his ego. When it came time to fight, form argued that Quarry would be what he has always been, a cautious, sometimes brilliant counterpuncher who would trap Frazier, keep him at bay with a jab, spin him and, like a matador using a cape, reduce him to a lunging, uncertain bull. If ever there was a script for a fight, this conflict of styles had one.
But much to the annoyance of those who must chart the anatomy of boxing, there is seldom any choreography to the ring. Too many intangibles can turn up to haunt even the soundest conjecture. Did the fighter leave his fight in the gym or on the lonely miles in the woods? Did he have the proper sparring partners, or was his camp too cheap to worry about such a matter? Would the corner, maybe not the smoothest in the business, perform under pressure? Finally, who knows what is in a fighter's mind? He can lose his edge or change his thinking in a dream or in the drive from his camp to the city, or even when he makes his move from the tabernacle quiet of his dressing room to the white gauze of the ring.
Without doubt, Quarry's sparring partners were inferior, and his camp is, if not cheap, certainly far from being spendthrift. The corner, like the camp, is actually controlled by Quarry himself; the one person he may respect is Trainer Teddy Bentham, a fine architect of talent but a secretive man who does not command. None of this, though, contributed much to the fight's result. Quarry's mind was simply riveted on one thing—a display of bravery, even at the risk of immolation. He intentionally fed himself to a machine that pounds everything into scrap, and the only thing he left with—a small enough reward—was the fact that he had been a participant in one of the most savage first rounds in heavyweight history.
For the entire three minutes of that round the two men, like two rhinos quarreling in the bush, stood in an eight-foot circle in the center of the ring and used no more than eight inches of space while punch after punch caromed off their heavy skulls. Quarry reached Frazier with the stiffest shots, two crackling right hands that only chased the sweat from Frazier's brow. At the end it was Quarry's round, but it was an expensive one. He really was going to make this fight a test of wills. Looking up at him, one could only think of the Wehrmacht crossing into Russia.
The message seemed obvious to most of the 16,570 who paid $502,518 to see Frazier defend his title of limited domain. Quarry was up against an inexorable tide. Not even his sharp punching would reverse the forward thrust of Frazier's marauding body, and the grunting Philadelphian's heavy punches that were blasting Quarry from every angle would never end. Quarry scored with powerful hooks to the liver and spleen in the second round, but after two minutes he seemed to be coming apart; he was flinching and his hand speed was in slower gear.
Throughout the first two rounds Quarry kept his right hand tied to his cheek. It was a stratagem that Oscar Bonavena had used effectively against Frazier, but Quarry's arm was not long enough to protect his face and body too. The sudden evil of Frazier's left hook—the calling card of all Philadelphia fighters—achieved its purpose. Quarry's right hand began to drop, and Frazier flashed a hook to the cheekbone, producing a cut that later required eight stitches. "The right was coming down," said Yank Durham, Frazier's manager, "so I hollered to him to double up on his hooks." Frazier was smiling when he met Quarry for the fourth round.
"He knew," said Durham, "and Jerry knew then that Joe had him. So I tell Joe to start movin' him around. Just keep touchin' him. Keep him busy, move the punches up and down, alternate the spots on the body and the power of the punches. In the fifth round Joe started to work behind a jab. He stiffed him with five or six good ones, and he put a beautiful right hand in behind the last one. Quarry's legs picked up, but he didn't go down. Joe came back to the corner, and he say: 'Damn, Yank, that man sure do have an iron chin.'
"I had a feelin'," added Durham, "that Jerry would come out smokin', and I told Joe to watch out for a right hand. Duck it, I told him, and don't put the hook upstairs but bang it to the body, because he'll be waitin' for you to come up and then he'll counter. It worked. It all worked. We had an idea to smother everything Quarry could throw, and we did. If Quarry needed two feet to throw a hook, Joe cut the distance to a foot. That was the plan—blanket Quarry's power."
Durham, as he has from the beginning, guided Frazier superbly. "The animal didn't draw a breath," said one manager, shaking his head. Frazier's physical condition, though, was never a question, but there was persistent concern over the flaws that seemed to cut him off from greatness. His jab was unhoned, his head was vulnerable and there was a monotony to his moves that invited deception. All of this is still true, but now only in part. He is vastly improved in each of these areas, and it is becoming evident that it will take a wrecking ball to separate him from consciousness. Imperfection also becomes insignificant when a man can work 15 rounds, fighting six minutes each round and throwing from 80 to 100 punches each round.
Joe Frazier's temperament has not changed much, however. He still follows instructions, trains doggedly and he has avoided the influence of the Philadelphia ghetto that has destroyed so many fighters. "That's the way I like a fighter," says Durham. "I don't want him thinkin' for himself when he's fight-in'. I do the thinkin'. Joe, he starts think-in', and I says, 'Joe, don't you go sawin' anything up there. I think, you fight.' " But Frazier, as Durham well knows, is not dense or even excessively compliant. He just understands the impositions of his deadly game, though he still quietly resents its intrusions on what he calls "my pleasure."
"Go spend some time with the young ladies," he once told a young fighter. "What are these people tryin' to get you into? You'll remember my advice when you're out doin' roadwork early in the mornin' and those boots start feel-in' awful heavy after you've run three or four miles and you come to a hill you can't whip and your trainer yells out: 'I think you'd better go another three miles today.' "
Frazier's life of ease will not come for a time. First, there is Jimmy Ellis, who is the WBA champion, and then there is Muhammad Ali. Frazier, like Ellis, is seriously agitated over Ali's shadow, which has made both of them feel like peons waiting for Zapata astride his white horse. "They won't have to wait long," says Bob Arum, Ali's friend and former legal counsel for Main Bout, Inc. "By October, Ali will be clear of the courts and free to fight. By February, he'll be ready to fight. Frazier can have him, but then he might not be so rash." Says Ellis' manager, Angelo Dundee: "Forget Ali now. We want Frazier, and Ellis can beat him. You can bet your house he won't fight Frazier's format, like Quarry did. The idea is to win. No matter what else you have to do."
That is, of course, the paramount thought in the mind of a professional. Approaching a fight, he does not think of courage or cowardice, but rather he thinks of winning and whatever it takes to win, whether it is running or standing fast and fighting. What should have been a classic test—indomitable will against artfulness—was merely Frazier fighting a miniature Frazier. And while Quarry sat proudly talking to the press about how he regretted that the fight had not ended with him on his back, the crowd, which he so desperately had wanted to please, wandered out, fulminating over his ineptness. One wished he could have somewhere discovered the words of Tom Cribb, the barefist champion:
A hasty temper never show,
Nor strike your little friend a blow;
Far better wait till you are cool
And then half kill the little fool.