I feel good this morning after putting on my burgundy workout clothes and running a few miles, like when I was a pro, and now I’m going to be interviewed by George Thomas Clark who wrote “Jerry Quarry from Boxer’s Heaven,” an article I enjoyed about my late brother, the top ranked heavyweight contender years ago. I suggested we meet at Barnes & Noble because I love books and have read hundreds of them. Stephen King, John Steinbeck, and Mary Higgins Clark are my favorite authors.
I see a man looking around the store, probably for me, and go over and introduce myself and suggest we sit in two big soft chairs just outside the snack bar. Clark pulls out a notebook and I tell him my mom was from Arkansas, my dad from Oklahoma, and they met in Shafter, near Bakersfield. Mom always stressed her dad had a white collar job and made forty dollars a week, damn good during the Depression, and her family didn’t have to move away. Things were more difficult in our family and my mom and dad followed the crops.
Mom was sixteen when she married and had seven kids by the time she was twenty-six. My three brothers and four sisters were really from a different generation. I was born ten years after the last one. By then we’d moved to Southern California. Jerry and Mike were always sparring. They started when they were four or five years old and never stopped.
My parents got divorced when I was six or seven, in 1968, and I somewhat got sacrificed as a single child living with my mother. She and I moved to Bakersfield when I was fourteen and I went to North High School and started on the football, basketball, and baseball teams. Basketball was my favorite. I averaged about eleven points a game. Quite a few times guys wanted to test me because I was a Quarry. But the only time I got in a fight at school, it was totally my fault and they kicked me out.
After a while I moved back to Southern California and sparred more with Mike than anyone in my life. He’d been the top ranked light heavyweight before getting knocked cold by Bob Foster. That scared everyone in our family. I also sparred quite a bit with Jerry. There was no holding back with either guy. If you don’t train all out, you can’t be your best in real fights. I wasn’t nearly as experienced as my brothers. Jerry had more than two hundred amateur fights and Mike also fought a lot before he turned pro. I only had fifteen amateur fights. The most exciting was in 1981 in Australia. Mike had a fight there and I went as a sparring partner. In only my second amateur fight I took on the Australian champion. We went toe to toe for three rounds. After the fight, fans threw a thousand dollars into the ring. Australian dollars. We got to keep the money because it was a gratuity, not a professional payment.
Before I turned pro, an old guy warned me, “Your features will change.” I wasn’t worried. I was only nineteen, and I was a Quarry. Jerry lost twice to Muhammad Ali and twice to Joe Frazier but he beat most guys he fought including a lot of damn good boxers like Earnie Shavers by first-round knockout, Floyd Patterson, Ron Lyle, and Mac Foster. I won my first five pro fights, four by knockout, and thought I was going to be like my brothers. I should’ve been more disciplined. By 1984 I had a seven-three-one record and had been stopped once. I was playing a pickup game of tackle football and a guy straight-armed me and one on his fingers gouged my right eye. At first I lost about half my vision and later all of it. I didn’t fight for three and a half years. When I started again, I really didn’t feel limited being able to see out of only one eye, but was worried about being completely blind if anything happened to my left eye. The doctors tested our vision at least once a year. I fooled them by memorizing the first few lines of the eye chart. You can do that when you’re training and managing yourself.
In 1987 I went to Japan and fought Levi Billups. I thought I won. They gave him the decision. When I got off the plane from Japan, I started using meth. And I used it most of the time for years, except when I was in trouble. Meth made me feel insecure. I procrastinated and didn’t do what I needed to do and started losing more than winning. I did have a highlight in 1991 against a cruiserweight named Dave Kilgour. You can watch it on YouTube. The announcers said I looked soft at about two-twenty-two and needed to lose twenty pounds. Others criticized me for taking on a cruiserweight. Kilgour weighed about one-ninety-four but was in excellent shape and had an eight and one record. And he was beating me.
I always preferred to fight bigger guys because they’re slower, and Dave Kilgour was definitely quicker. After age twenty-five a man doesn’t get any bigger. Any weight he gains doesn’t need to be there. He probably thought he had me when I was on the ropes and threw a left jab I countered with a right cross to his jaw. Knocked him cold. Experts rated it one of the most devastating knockouts in boxing history. Fortunately, Kilgour was okay and got up after a few minutes. I didn’t load up on the punch. If you’ve got power, the knockouts will come just by putting your punches together. Not that I was some big bomber, but if I hit a guy right, he’d go down.
In boxing, the other guys bang, too. I lost my last four fights by knockout. One of them was in 1992 against Tommy Morrison who’d go on to decision George Foreman and win one of the heavyweight titles. I shouldn’t have taken the fight on short notice. I only had two weeks to train. He was way too strong and hit me on the left ear with a right cross. I was down but not unconscious. I ended my career with a ten-twelve-two record. I knocked out eight guys and six stopped me. I was only twenty-nine. By that age Mike was already showing signs of brain damage. Jerry seemed okay until his early forties. I figured they’d had about five times more amateur and pro fights and I’d be all right. This tremble in my left arm, in my opinion, is from meth, not from boxing. Some people say I’m another Quarry with dementia pugilistica. I don’t think so. I read. I exercise. I speak well. People notice I’ve got a good memory.
In 1995 I got my GED and worked several years in oilfields all over, Ventura, Kern County, Cat Canyon, Brea, Huntington Beach, and other places. I’m a peaceful, serene person but made some mistakes. They weren’t serious felonies. I’ve done time for grand theft and possession of stolen property. I was free when Jerry died in 1999 but when Mike passed away several years later I was in Folsom Prison. Not inside the maximum unit. I was in a camp, I was always in camps, a lower security level. They gave me a furlough, thirty-six hours and no guard. My mom came and picked me up and took me to the cemetery in Shafter for the funeral. Jerry and Mike are together. They were both wonderful guys and I love them. My other brother, Jimmy, was an asshole. He tried to get fame and money by taking care of Jerry. He didn’t care about Jerry. He gave him Haldol, an antipsychotic medication. Our family had to practically kidnap Jerry from Jimmy and bring him up here to Kern County where one sister took care of him and then two other sisters cared for him in Atascadero and Paso Robles. Had I been of my brothers’ caliber, I’d have had more fights and the same things would’ve happened to me.
I’m lucky in many ways. I almost died seven months ago. I’d been doing a lot of meth and was constipated and became septic and my feet turned black. I spent thirty-seven days in the hospital, a lot of that on life support. I thank God I’m still here. The doctors and my sisters didn’t think I’d make it.
I’m okay now, though. I’m on social security and live in an apartment with two other people. I’ve got a wonderful girlfriend over on the coast and visit her often. And I’m playing a lot of basketball with my son. He’s six-four and eighteen-years old. He just beat me for the first time. That’s only because I’m still recovering from being in the hospital. My son doesn’t have any experience but wants to be a boxer. I signed him up at the Police Athletic League. Did I try to talk him out of it? I sure didn’t push him into it. He knows the family history. Jerry and Mike wouldn’t have done anything different, even if they’d known what was going to happen. Boxing is a way of life. There’s no quit in a Quarry.