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The Great White Hope

"I've handled hundreds of fighters," Bentham said. "I've had champions like Carlos Ortiz, and real good pros like Eddie Cotton. This guy is one of the best I ever had. He's a real heavyweight, weighs in about 198, and punches like one. He's mean and nasty when he fights. I like him, I really do."

When Quarry finished, there were no small speeches thanking the people for coming, in the manner of Patterson, and no banter, in the manner of Muhammad Ali. He walked over to the heavy bag, punched it for three rounds, battered the speed bag for two more rounds, then did situps for two more rounds. Boxing for money was work, and you did what you had to do to get the job done. When it was over, Quarry walked back to the dressing room without signing autographs or handing out photographs. He smiled at no one, and you had to think: this is one mean bastard.

"He's really a nice kid," Bentham was saying. "It's just that he's changed in the last year or two. He knows what he wants and how to get it. All the rest of it doesn't matter."

"That's right," said Johnny Flores, who manages Quarry with Quarry's father Jack. "I've known Jerry since he was six years old. He used to come to my gym, this gym I had behind the yard out there in California, and he started right from the beginning, right there. He only weighed 45 pounds, and he fought in the Junior Golden Gloves. By the time he went in the real Golden Gloves, back in '65, he already had maybe 300 fights. So he goes to the nationals and knocks out five guys in 18 minutes, and everybody says, 'Who's this guy? Where'd he come from?' But he had been learning all his life."

". . .'If they wanted me to be an animal, then that's what I would be. A real animal.' . . ."

Quarry is one of eight children of Jack and Arwanda Quarry. Jack, the son of an itinerant Irish house-painter, drifted to California from the Texas cotton patches, after living in 30 towns in 16 states. He is a tough hard man, with the letters HARD tattooed on his left hand and LUCK on the right, and he started teaching his sons how to fight very early. "I wanted them to use up their energy," he once explained, "so they wouldn't steal."

Jerry himself lived a childhood right out of The Grapes of Wrath: he attended school in 30 towns from the second to the eleventh grade; in high school alone he spent time in the California towns of El Cerrito, Washington, Porterville and Dominguez before graduating from school in Bellflower. After graduating, he married Mary Kathleen O'Casey, a girl he met while both worked at a Tastee-Freez. He had already developed a talent for bad luck that few athletes can equal. His medical history included nephritis, a ruptured appendix, a broken arm, knuckles that were broken 17 times, a cracked ankle, and a broken back (this happened when he was 16 and he missed a swimming pool he was diving into). He has been hit on the head with a cue stick (there is still a scar where 14 stitches were taken), developed an ulcer (now cured) and cracked a vertebra in his spine while roughhousing with his brother Jimmy in his father's bar in Norwalk, California.

After turning pro, Quarry acquired other characteristics. From the beginning, he was a good puncher (he has knocked out 19 of his 37 opponents, with two losses and four draws). But there were times when he did not seem to exert himself much. As a counter-puncher depending on his opponents to come to him, he stalled a lot, waiting for the fight to start; if the other guy did not want to fight, there was no fight. His first loss, to veteran Eddie Machen, happened, he said, because he thought Machen was too old and did not train. He fought a draw with Floyd Patterson, but it was tainted because after dropping Patterson he became listless and let the fight get away from him. When he fought Jimmy Ellis for the WBA championship, he spent most of the time leaning on the ropes, while Ellis stared at him. The California fans started booing him, even when he showed up at other fights.

"I was bitter after the Ellis fight," Quarry told me as we sat in the fighter's quarters later. "I went into the fight with a cracked fourth vertebra in my back. I couldn't bend, I could hardly move, but I wanted the fight. It was stupid. But then the hate mail started coming in, all these punks who wouldn't have the guts to get into a ring, abusing me, telling me how to fight. My back was in a cast for two months after that fight, and I did a lot of thinking. If they wanted me to be an animal, then that's what I would be. An animal. A real animal."


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