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Mark Kram
May 06, 1968
Jimmy Ellis, his days as Muhammad Ali's sparring partner far behind him, crashed home an effective right hand to win the WBA version of the heavyweight championship and, finally, a chance at better paydays
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May 06, 1968

Right On The Money

Jimmy Ellis, his days as Muhammad Ali's sparring partner far behind him, crashed home an effective right hand to win the WBA version of the heavyweight championship and, finally, a chance at better paydays

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For the old man life has always been hell. His eyes tell you where he has been, his hands tell you what he has done and even now, though his belly is full, when you look at him you think of lost men plucking guitars on city steps or a kid's empty, mountaineer face caught behind the flutter of a soiled window shade. Nobody knows the trouble I've seen, his eyes always say.

Machines failed, crops failed in the dust. Goodby to all that. He left East Texas for the road, a road of night fires, of boxcars where people killed other people, a road of sadistic railroad bulls. Keep away from Denver Bob, he uses a whip—after he clubs you across the chin. Don't run from Fort Worth Red. With gun or knife, Red never misses.

The old man, Jack Quarry, reached out last week just one more time for a piece of a world that had always been inaccessible. He sent his son, heavyweight Jerry Quarry, out to retrieve his pride, broken a thousand times on a thousand lonely nights, out to make up for all the injustices, all the cold city nights when nobody understood.

Saturday night in Oakland Jerry Quarry, his youth just as unrooted as his father's, his suspicions and resentments just as strong, was out in front of the largest viewing audience in the history of televised sports. From Morocco to Tokyo, people watched him go against Jimmy Ellis for the World Boxing Association's heavyweight championship. He was the white boy, with the crumpling right hand and jaw of ingot, who was to be the key to another abundant, glamorous era in boxing.

To many more, less interested in the status of boxing, those in the large cities and small towns who are scared or just simply combative, he was a symbol. Nowhere was it more evident than in Oakland. The Black Panthers, the militant Negro group, were restless. White vigilante groups, behind curious leadership, demanded recognition. The intense atmosphere did not move Quarry. He accepted no bigoted allegiance and resisted the dementia swirling about him. His behavior glittered.

Quarry's performance in the ring was less striking. A crowd of 14,000 paid to see him exhibit lifelessness, inexperience and much ineffectual punching. It watched Ellis, once almost ruined in the middleweight division, create a tactical masterpiece that, though soporific to television viewers and the live crowd, was demanded against the deadly counterpunching of Quarry. Ellis was intelligent and cruel with his long, slashing right hand. Even more than the right and his ring generalship, his jab was the decisive weapon. His fight belonged to those who appreciate delicate artistry, not to those who only recognize heavy-handed slaughter.

The California judges, as always, remained shamefully insensitive to anything resembling subtlety of skill. The referee scored the fight 7-6 Ellis. One judge had it 10-5 Ellis; another, who should never have been given a pencil, called it a draw, 6-6. " California's a nice place to visit," said one manager, "but put a gun in my back before I fight there." Quarry himself concurred: "If they'd given me the decision, I'd have given it back. I didn't deserve it."

Quarry's candor was refreshing. He knew he did not come close in this fight. Quarry is always waiting to counter, especially on the ropes where he feels secure. He cannot lead and is unskilled at finding openings. Ellis refused to follow him to the ropes, and in a fight cluttered with undramatic moments the most interesting moves came when Ellis would walk backward and leave Quarry hanging bewildered on the ropes. "Let 'im lay there talkin' to himself," screamed Angelo Dundee, Ellis' manager. "Make him fight in the center of the ring."

Ellis, who is a habitual gambler in the ring, for once followed orders. When Quarry did come off the ropes he was confused and his punching was un-rhythmic. His usually quick hands were slow and errant. He seldom reached Ellis with the vicious body attack he sometimes has displayed; and his right hand to the head looked like it had an iron weight tied to it. He did catch Ellis with a left hook in the 13th round and then followed up with a right hand, but suddenly he dropped his guns. "Quarry had the fist but nothin' up here," said Ellis' cutman, Chickie Ferrara, tapping his finger on his head.

Ellis only occasionally forgot his instructions. Throughout his training he honed his jab and he seldom discarded it during the fight. The most vital blow in boxing, the jab is both an offensive and a defensive measure. It is the one sound opening for every advance; it is also extremely effective in destroying a big puncher's concentration. Ellis' did do that to Quarry. Only a gambler with a big heart can beat the jab. Quarry, whose youth seemed to make gambling easy, has the heart but he refused to move against the jab. Had he taken its sting and pain and stayed on top of Ellis, the fight might have turned around.

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