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The Great White Hope

"Jerry decided to become more aggressive," Johnny Flores said. "He was always a counter-puncher, waiting for the other guy to make a mistake. But the customers didn't like it. So when he came back after they took the cast off, we told him to go out and go after them. And he did."

Quarry really came back last March 24 when he boxed Buster Mathis before 16,000 fans at the Garden. He had gone through five mediocre opponents in tank towns, and the gamblers apparently did not believe that Quarry had changed much. Mathis had 37 pounds and four inches in height over Quarry and had just scored an impressive win over George Chuvalo. The gamblers made Mathis an 11-to-5 favorite. Quarry laughed. "That big stiff has a streak of mutton in him somewhere," Quarry said, "and I'm gonna find it early." He did. The first two punches to Mathis' huge body seemed to terrorize him, and Quarry went on to batter him brutally over 12 rounds.

All over New York, in the days after the Mathis fight, you began to hear the talk of the White Hope. Of the last eight heavyweight champions, only two have been white (Rocky Marciano and Ingemar Johansson). After the politicians took away Muhammad Ali's title, two new champions emerged: Jimmy Ellis in 44 states, and Joe Frazier in six states, including New York. The new, aggressive Quarry thinks he can beat both. There has always been a racial and ethnic undertone to boxing matches, with all sorts of resentments and hatreds being fought out theatrically in public; but the big money is in the heavyweights, and for a white heavyweight with an Irish background to come to New York at this point in time was a boxing promoter's dream.

"I boxed Frazier in the gym about four years ago," Quarry said later. "It was the Main Street Gym in L.A. in the afternoon. He's putting out a lot of stuff that he dominated me. That's a lot of crap. I hit him some good shots, and I discovered that he can't really punch too good. I know this: I'm going in there and I know I can beat him. You ever feel that way? That there is one guy you just know you can beat? Well, I know I'm gonna beat this guy. And it will be a hell of a fight."

Quarry was playing solitaire at a big round table, while Flores, Bentham and a friend named Dave Centi played poker. He seemed much looser now that the controlled violence of the workout was over. He had just finished reading the mail, most of it hate mail. "I'll never fight in California again," he said. "They're the worst fans in the world, and the New York fans are the best. I'll still live out there, but when I win the title, I'm gonna win it for me, and for the few fans who remained loyal to me. I'm not gonna win it for California. They appreciate Irishmen here. After the Mathis fight, that little squirt Mando Ramus (the lightweight champion) said 'It looks to me like he still doesn't like to fight.' That little squirt, he doesn't want another champion out there to share the limelight. I went to two fight shows after the Mathis fight, and was introduced. I didn't hear one cheer. The hell with them."

". . . 'I went to two fights after the Mathis fight and was introduced. I didn't hear one cheer. The hell with them.' . . ."

Centi turned on the TV and Somebody Up There Likes Me started playing, with Paul Newman playing Rocky Graziano. Quarry kept playing solitaire, looking up from time to time at the film. He said he lives now in a $45,000 house in La Palma on the coast south of L.A., he has put money into two apartment houses, and has about $200,000 in stocks and mutual funds. He would like to try acting after he retires, "but I just live my life from day to day. Whatever's gonna happen, will happen. That's the way I am."

Finally Paul Newman started fighting Tony Zale for the middleweight championship. Teddy Bentham said that Newman had a pretty good uppercut. Centi started to cheer. Flores said he would like to sign up the scriptwriter. There was a final scene where Graziano comes back to the Lower East Side for a victory parade, with thousands of people out in the streets. Quarry watched it intently.

"They really did have a parade for Graziano," someone said.

"If I win the title," Quarry said, "they'll come around to my house and throw garbage on my door."

We went outside and stood in the darkening evening.

"What nobody understands about this business," Quarry was saying, "is that it's not a game. It's a job. It's got nothing to do with what you like, only with what you gotta do. You go out there and do a job of work. When I started, I was really a kid. Now I'm a man, I'm mature, I know what I want, and I'm gonna get it."

He watched some people walking slowly by, looking at him strangely. He didn't seem to care what they thought of him. In a few weeks he was going to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world, and if he won, this Okie's son would probably become a millionaire. He started off past the gawkers, as if he could see all the way to Eighth Avenue and 33rd Street, into the ring of the Garden, where someone was holding his hand aloft and pronouncing him a champion. He seemed a tough and bitter young man, who wanted the cheers of strangers, but who had taught himself not to care whether he got them or not.

Someone asked him whether he though of himself as a Great White Hope.

"Screw White Hopes," he said. "I'm a fighter."


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