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Joe Frazier vs Jerry Quarry I: They Don’t make Fighters like this anymore!

Publish Date: 06/25/2024
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

On June 23, 1969 – more than 50 years ago! – two tough heavyweights battled it out for dominance of their respective glamour divisions.

Before an audience of 16,570 at Madison Square Garden, PhiladelphianΒ  “Smokin’” Joe Frazier squared off against Californian “Irish” Jerry Quarry from Bellflower in an exciting high-contact battle deemed The Ring Fight of the Year by critics and fans alike. Frazier eventually emerged victorious via seventh-round corner retirement, yet its story remains equally captivating today.

If you are not old enough to remember this fight and most reading this aren’t thinking Hagler vs Hearns but between two heavyweights. Quarry was the supposed great white hope, and Frazier was an Olympic Gold Medalist who became the New York state Heavyweight Champion after Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title for refusing to go fight an unjust war in Vietnam.

After Muhammad Ali was forced into exile for refusing induction into the Armed Services in April 1967, his undisputed heavyweight championship was rendered vacant. To crown a new champion, the WBA decided to host an eight-man elimination tournament, but this plan proved divisive; Frazier, following advice from trainer-manager Yank Durham, decided not to participate as his position in world rankings had already been secured.

“Yank’s my manager, and if he says to go in, then I’ll go in,” stated Frazier during an interview conducted days after Ali had been stripped of his championship. “But why fight someone who is already two or three in my ranking when there are so many others out there battling number five, six and seven? It doesn’t make any sense!”

Jimmy Ellis, Ali’s childhood friend and stablemate, would go on to win the WBA tournament after beating Leotis Martin, Oscar Bonavena and Quarry in consecutive fights. Frazier would knockout former amateur rival Buster Mathis in 11 rounds to secure a vacant New York State Athletic Commission championship, successfully defending it against Manuel Ramos, Bonavena and Dave Zyglewicz.

How American was the heavyweight championship of the world 50 years ago? State jurisdiction determined recognition; Ellis was recognized in 44 of 50 states, while Frazier was recognized only in six. New York still held great power at this time in terms of boxing championship boxing; thus, Frazier’s honorary recognition from NYSAC had particular weight behind it. If you had a tournament of the top eight heavyweights in the world would any of them be Americans?

Quarry was still one of the great heavyweights to never win a Championship, even after losing by a majority decision to Ellis. Boasting an impressive record of 31-2-4 (18 knockouts), the quick-fisted contender was famed for his counterpunching acumen and tactical acumen; at this stage in his career, 24-year-old Irish-American Quarry held wins over former two-time heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, Thad Spencer and Mathis. Quarry was not just another great white hope; he was an excellent boxer who, if born in another era, may well have been the world’s Heavyweight champion. Too bad for him; he was born in one of the greatest heavyweight eras.

Frazier entered the ring as the favorite but was pummeled in round one by Quarry. That wasn’t unexpected since Smokin’ Joe’s excellent bob-and-weave defense took time to coordinate with oncoming assaults. Frazier had no issue falling behind on the scorecards because chaos ensued once he had an opponent’s timing down it was a wrap. Nobody made Ali miss more often than Frazier did in their initial fight in March 1971. Ali was stunned by Frazier’s colossal counter left hook and relentless body assault, which quickly outlasted Ali’s sharpshooting and ended “The Greatest”. When ABC’s Howard Cosell asked whether Ali was surprised that Frazier kept throwing left hooks, he replied, “No surprise there, he kept hitting!” Usually, the difference for Frazier was his body punching; he was one of the greatest body punchers ever.

Frazier would later recall in his 1996 autobiography Smokin’ Joe, co-written with Phil Berger, that although Quarry was getting the better of those first-round exchanges, he felt exhilarated by them all the same.Β  I felt at peace; nothing beat letting loose and seeing who would buckle first!” Joe Frazier was one of the toughest men to ever enter a boxing ring, and in his prime years, 1968-71, he was as good as any heavyweight that ever lived. Frazier’s only career losses were to Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

Quarry initially surprised everyone with his aggressive tactics but was quickly put in his place by Frazier’s right-hand counter jab and punishing hooks and uppercuts to both head and body. Additionally, Quarry sustained a cut to his right eye in round 4 that Frazier would target with bone-breaking left hooks; still, despite this setback, he gave it his all – an example of true courage often overshadowed by other heavyweight heroes during this golden era – before eventually breaking down and losing the fight.

Frazier (24-0, 21 KOs) had only recently entered his prime at 25. Within eight months, he defeated Ellis in four rounds to capture the WBA championship, then went on to defeat Ali in exile, gaining full recognition as champion under both NYSAC and WBC (while later receiving full recognition by The Ring magazine as well). To give legitimacy to their fight, Ali issued an official retirement statement in which Ring Magazine founder Nat Fleischer installed him as champion immediately upon victory despite Ali continuing to apply for state licenses during this period despite no intention to retire immediately following Frazier’s victory over Ali.

Quarry’s success against Mac Foster and Ron Lyle didn’t bring him much closer to championship contention again. Although he earned big paydays in two fights against Ali and Frazier, he was stopped all three times he faced them. Finally, losing to Ken Norton in March 1975 was his last meaningful fight of note. Talks between George Foreman never materialised, either! Quarry sadly didn’t know when to quit, and his life ended way too young because of dementia, not the way a warrior should go out.

I was born in 1968, so I never saw this fight live, but I did see it for the first time in the mid-80s, and I was in awe of how both of these heavyweights moved. The sheer speed and brutality of their punches were awe-inspiring. I already respected these men because of what they had accomplished in their careers, but seeing this fight took my respect to another level.

Video: Joe Frazier v. Jerry Quarry I Full Fight Highlights 1080p

Joe Frazier v. Jerry Quarry I Full Fight Highlights 1080p

Many people say that today’s fighters dominate guys from fifty years ago; I disagree; when I watch the heavyweights of today, I do not see the sheer brutality and speed of guys like Frazier and Quarry. People marvelled at a young Mike Tyson, and they should have, as he was amazing in the mid to late eighties, but he was nowhere near a Joe Frazier. Frazier’s heart and will separate him from most fighters of any era, and Quarry was not too far behind. Watch Frazier vs Quarry, and then right after that, watch Usyk vs Fury, and you will see the difference I am talking about. They don’t make fighters the way they used to. Joe Frazier is underrated by many boxing fans.

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