Tunney's Fighting Chance : Boxing: Jerry Quarry returns to the sport to assist the kin of a legendary heavyweight.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Normally, a guy making his professional boxing debut is not exactly riding herd over a powerful management group.

The fighter's manager tends to be a guy looking only to make a fast buck. And the trainers at that level are nearly always guys with U-turn noses and bad-looking ears who were, dozens of years ago, well on their way to world championships until it was discovered that when another fighter punched them on the chin, they would fall and remain prone for a long time.

But they loved the game, so they stayed in it. Which is another way of saying that, in some cases, they couldn't do anything else. And now they spend their days showing young kids how to get pounded on the chin.

So just why in the name of broken ribs is Jim Tunney heading into his very first professional fight, a middleweight bout Tuesday night at the Country Club in Reseda, with someone as famous as former heavyweight standout Jerry Quarry in his corner?

Well, it was a case of love at first left hook.

"Someone introduced me to this kid three months ago," Quarry said. "I asked him to step outside with me and I watched his stance and I watched him throw a few punches. What a hook this kid has. And I decided right then that this would be the kid who would bring me back into boxing."

Until Quarry met Tunney, he had not been around boxing gyms for six years. After a two-fight return to boxing in 1983, the man who duked it out during the 1970s with some of the very best heavyweights in history--including Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier--decided that he didn't want any part of what he felt were the unscrupulous promoters who rule the sport today.

But in the 24-year-old Tunney, Quarry found something that he missed.

"My son wanted to be a fighter years ago and I got him started," Quarry said. "But he burned out on it pretty quickly, which is exactly what I wanted him to do. Boxing is just too tough.

"But when I met Jim, he reminded me so much of my own son. The same size, the same movements. And this kid wanted so much to be a fighter that I just couldn't resist."

What Quarry has is a 160-pound slugger who came to him as a pure street fighter with only 12 amateur fights. What he has become under Quarry's guidance will be unveiled Tuesday night.

Quarry promises big things.

"This kid hits like a mule," said Quarry, who was on both ends of many mule-force blows during his career. "I spar with him, and he is one heavy puncher. I know a heavy puncher when I feel one, and this guy is one."

One of the first things Quarry has tried to teach Tunney is the value of body punching. Quarry scored dozens of knockouts during his career behind a crushing right hand to an opponent's midsection. And he makes no apologies about the fact that he enjoyed that aspect of fighting.

"That was my game," Quarry said. "There was no greater feeling than reaching in and grabbing a man's liver."

Into such a sophisticated sport stepped Tunney, who graduated from Newbury Park High in 1983 and lives in Thousand Oaks. And just how did a kid from a land of manicured lawns and the "Hey, dude" mentality come to love boxing?

Well, has the name Tunney jingled any bells yet?

Gene Tunney, the legendary heavyweight champion of the 1920s and the man who whipped Jack Dempsey twice, the second time in the famed "Long Count" fight of 1927, was the uncle of Jim Tunney's father. Gene Tunney's real name also was Jim.

"I grew up knowing about my granduncle," Tunney said. "My dad talked about him a lot, about what he had done. And I have watched all the old films of him fighting, including the two great fights with Dempsey. That's what got me interested in boxing."

Tunney asked his mother for a punching bag on his 15th birthday, and he said that he spent an hour or so every day for the next year hammering away at it.

"I mean every day," he said. "I had a calendar near the bag and I marked off each day. I didn't miss a single day of beating on that bag, covering my hands with old socks. I just couldn't stop."

Tunney fought his first amateur bout at the age of 16 1/2 and remembered something about that now-worn punching bag: It never slammed him in the chops.

But his first opponent did.

"As I recall, the fight was nothing like what I thought it would be," Tunney said. "I won a decision, but I got hit a lot too, and my overall impression the next day was, 'Do you really want to do this?' I found out that it is a really brutal sport. But I decided to keep at it. And I started to like it."

And the more he liked it, the less his opponents did.

Quarry says that after working with Tunney for just a few months, he has a hunch that Fred Thomas of Los Angeles, who has had just three professional fights, is going to have a tough time during their bout Tuesday night.

"Jim is ready for a big career," Quarry said. "He has all the skills and all the power that he needs."

Tunney's debut is scheduled for five rounds.

In the main event, former national amateur heavyweight champion Alex Garcia of San Fernando (12-1 with nine knockouts) will meet Eddie Gonzalez of Houston (25-7-1 with 14 knockouts) in a scheduled 10-round fight.

In other scheduled fights, unbeaten featherweight Gabriel Ruelas of Pacoima will take on Freddie Santos of Tijuana. Ruelas is 16-0 with nine knockouts. Santos is 23-10 with 16 knockouts.

Also, Rafael Ruelas, 10-0 with eight knockouts, will fight Margarito Ruiz, 9-4, of Tijuana, in a junior featherweight bout.

In a heavyweight bout scheduled for four rounds featuring a pair of brawlers, Rocky Pepeli of Van Nuys, 5-2 with five knockouts, will meet J.R. Frye of Phoenix (2-0, with two knockouts).

The card begins at 7:30 p.m.

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