Friday, March 11, 2016

Reconstructing Jerry Quarry

Jerry Quarry vs. Alex Miteff
Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles
April 27, 1967
16mm Film & Network TV Audio, 10 Minutes

Jerry Quarry was an immensely popular fighter during his career. His story is familiar to all boxing fans of a certain age. After an excellent amateur career, Jerry rose with great promise in the professional ranks during the mid-1960s. After an unsuccessful bid to win the heavyweight championship in 1968, Jerry fought on, at times a brilliant though erratic performer. During the era where African-Americans were most prominent in boxing, boxers like Quarry, an Irish-American, thrived while facing enormous social pressures. His wins against Thad Spencer, Floyd Patterson, Ernie Shavers, Ron Lyle, Jack Bodell, and Mac Foster were thrilling and unexpected. But so were his dramatic losses to Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, with equally unexpected fails against George Chuvalo and Jimmy Ellis. The competition was steep, but he was often his own undoing, unable to manage not only his personal demons, but those who guided and misguided his career.

However, appreciate him or not, the young Jerry Quarry was something to see. In 1967, at nearly 22 years of age, he was lean, skilled, athletic and conditioned. Just shy of his physical maturity, Jerry was still light-years from his late career transformation into the heavy-set brawler who came back and briefly peaked in 1973. Film and video of Jerry during his early career however is scarce. Home VCR recorders were not introduced until the end of the 1960s, so as with all broadcast content up to that point, preservation was up to the networks and venues. In those days, the networks disposed or reused much of their post-broadcast video tape save for the most high profile coverage. Venue films, often owned by promoters, were rarely stored long term.

Alex Miteff
Of Jerry’s early fights, one of the surviving films is Jerry’s April 1967 match with heavyweight veteran Alex Miteff at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. The fight was broadcast on network TV and also filmed with a single in-house camera. Originally from Argentina, the 32-year-old Miteff had a promising career of his own. After arriving in the United States in the 1950s, Miteff was a contender, but struggled against much bigger opponents than he had fought in his home country, many of whom—including Zora Folley, Eddie Machen, Henry Cooper, Billy Hunter, George Chuvalo and Muhammad Ali—were among the best of the day.

The Fight
The Quarry-Miteff fight started quickly. Miteff had trained seriously for the match and immediately brought the fight to Jerry. Jerry scored a knockdown in the first round, but Miteff recovered and kept the pressure on Quarry through round two. In the third round, Miteff began to slow down and Quarry beat him to the punch repeatedly. Late in the round as Miteff drove Quarry to the ropes, Jerry countered with a sweeping left hook and Miteff collapsed. Alex beat the count, but Jerry sent him down again and referee George Latka stopped the bout at 2:18. It was Miteff’s last fight.

The Film
The fight was captured on 16mm color film with live audio. At some point the film was transferred to video tape which has been in circulation, though rare, among collectors for many years. On the footage I received, the live sound glitches in and out. Though was no home video recording in 1967, there were cassettes, and while the official network broadcast is lost, someone captured much of the program audio on a home tape recorder. A few years ago, I received copies of both the video and audio sources and recently decided to see how much of the fight could be pieced together. As it turned out, most of the three rounds were captured in one form or the other. But there were problems. The film was edited worse than a home movie, incomplete and out of order. Random long shots of the ring are followed by close-ups and audience cutaways. The knockdown is missing as is much of the third round. The audio was noisy, distorted, and incomplete as well. At times, it’s nearly impossible to hear the announcer’s call above the tape hiss to determine what action is taking place.

The Restoration
Film editing is like solving a jigsaw puzzle. As each new piece finds its place, the picture becomes clear. First I look for markers. The end of rounds one and two were filmed, so I matched them with the ring bells. Once those were locked in, I worked backwards into the footage. The second round is nearly uncut, which filled the biggest gap. The audio became a better editing guide after some fidelity was restored to the recording by cutting the hiss and boosting the vocal range. Once that was done, the announcer’s call of the action pointed to specific moments I could also spot on the film. Slowly, sound and picture all began to match up.

This is by no means a complete production. In several portions the audio runs where the picture is missing and vice versa. But it’s a faithful working print of the fight in the correct sequence of events.
I enjoyed watching both fighters in action, but especially Jerry. His hands are quick, his footwork is fluid, and his counterpunching is lightning fast. He looks relaxed and confident. Jerry’s use of the ropes to trap and counter opponents is still one for the books, and we see some of those tactics here. There’s also Jerry’s defense, which was often more than a little transparent. Or as his brother James once jokingly observed to me, Jerry “ate left jabs for breakfast.” It’s jolting to see when Miteff does get through, as when he smacks Jerry with a big right late in the first round. But Jerry answers and regroups throughout the fight. The knockout punch is a work of art.

This was Jerry’s last fight prior to the big stage. Six weeks later he was in the ring with Floyd Patterson. Jerry was brought in as an “opponent” for Patterson in the first round of the 1967-68 Heavyweight Championship Tournament. But Jerry surprised the establishment by overwhelming Patterson early, and holding the ex-champion to a draw. In their October rematch, Quarry won a very close decision and went on to the tournament finals. Quarry remained a leading heavyweight contender for the next eight years.

Reconstructing Jerry