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IN the end, it was only fitting that once again, someone else had to step in and stop the fight on Jerry Quarry, a fighter who never knew when to give up.

This time, it was not a referee, but Quarry's family. The opponent not Frazier or Ali or Norton, but the most evil opponent of all, the one that goes by the nom de guerre "Punch Drunk Syndrome."

Its proper name is Dementia Pugilistica and it was Jerry Quarry's reward for being only the best heavyweight never to win the heavyweight championship of the world.

Sunday, after the dread malady - so often parodied by talentless, misinformed "comedians" and in movies written by hacks - had succeeded in fooling Quarry's body into thinking it no longer had to breathe, Quarry's family stepped in and told Quarry what everyone but he seemed to know: that his last fight finally was over.

Quarry was only 53, an age when he should have been enjoying the accolades that come to great athletes in their twilight years.

Instead, he spent his last years in the haze of a grotesque, heartbreaking second childhood, unable to care for himself or recognize his parents or his children.

But now is not the time to feel sad for Jerry Quarry. That time came and went six years ago, when he woke up on Halloween of 1992 - the morning after his last, ill-advised fight - and his family suddenly realized that he was gone.

Quarry, who took everything Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali could give him without ever taking a 10-count, could not even remember that the night before, he had been battered by a ham-and-egger named Robert Cramner for a pathetic $1,050.

Still, he went on, a healthy body beneath a dying brain, until Sunday night, when his brother Jimmy and his sister Brenda decided it was time to pull the plug.

For the past three years, Quarry had been a dead man walking, his brain "like a grapefruit that has been repeatedly dropped," according to his neurologist, the remnants of 66 fights, most of them wars.

And yet, even though he would watch current fighters and exclaim, as Sugar Ray Robinson had, "I beat that guy!," he had the presence of mind to know that Jimmy Quarry had set up a non-profit foundation in his name, the Jerry Quarry Foundation for Dementia Pugilistica.

"We are hoping to find ways to prevent this in others," Brenda Quarry said.

In the name of Jerry Quarry and Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson and too many others, that is the only fight truly worth fighting.

Gil Clancy, his former trainer, will tell you Jerry Quarry was the

most talented heavyweight of the 1970s, bar none, but Dementia Pugilistica shows no respect for talent and takes special glee, it seems, in destroying those with the most heart. Frazier-Quarry I

It got to Ali, who was as game as they come, and it got to Robinson, who no man could knock out, and some day, heaven forbid, it may get to their modern-day counterparts, the likes of an Evander Holyfield or an Arturo Gatti, men who also seem not to understand the word quit.

Jerry Quarry was one of those men, too.

The official cause of death was cardiac arrest, the supreme irony, because if there was one part of Jerry Quarry that never gave up, it was his heart.

It was a trait he shared with two of his brothers, Mike and Bobby, both of whom now suffer from the same affliction and are likely to meet a similar end.

It is a trait that was instilled in the Quarry brothers by their father, Jack, a former boxer who put boxing gloves on his kids when they were 5 years old, and who imposed upon them the family motto: "There's no quit in a Quarry."

It is a trait that ultimately killed Jerry Quarry.

Clancy, who began working with Quarry in his first fight with Frazier - the first round of which is, arguably, the greatest round ever fought by heavyweights and, inarguably, a round that Quarry won - says that Quarry's only flaw was that "he didn't believe in himself."

"He would always find a way to talk himself out of winning. One fight, he came in at 199-1/2 pounds," Clancy said. "And all the way to the ring, he kept saying, 'I shoulda weighed 200. I shoulda weighed 200.' He lost."

And yet, Quarry kept the flaw hidden from the eyes of the public and his opponents, who often left the ring thinking they would have had to kill him to make him quit.

Quarry was stopped on cuts by Frazier and Ali twice, and by Ken Norton, but in all of those fights, he beat himself by insisting on trying to win the only way he believed to be honorable - by slugging it out.

In later years, he fought smarter and better - his best all-around performance came against Ron Lyle, a murderous puncher who had dropped George Foreman twice but could hardly lay a glove on Quarry, who counterpunched him to death for 12 rounds.

Quarry always believed he could duplicate the performance against Foreman, but he and Clancy could never get Big George into the ring.

And when all that stood between Quarry and a third shot at the heavyweight title was a win over a faded Frazier, Quarry fell back into his old habits and was outslugged in a 1974 bout at the Garden.

He was never the same after that and he knew it.

A comeback fight against Lorenzo Zanon in 1977 was headed for disaster until Quarry pulled out a miraculous KO punch in round eight. He then grabbed the ring microphone and exclaimed, "Let's hear it for the old Quarry."

Still, he fought sporadically until that fateful night against Cramner, the night his great chin and greater heart finally absorbed one punch too many.

Quarry's story and others like it are the reason why federal boxing legislation is so crucial.

It is the reason why I and others like me are so tough on boxing commissions, which are there only to protect the boxers.

It is why we make such a big deal out of issues such as reciprocity agreements between states, issues that some boxing people would have you believe are trivial when they get in the way of their personal agendas (see: Mike Tyson vs. Nevada, 1998).

It is crucial that all states respect the suspensions, medical and otherwise, imposed on boxers by other states.

It is important to note that Quarry's last fight took place in the state of Colorado, which has no boxing commission and recognizes no such agreements.

Consequently, a 47-year-old fighter who was most likely already neurologically-impaired was allowed to go back into the ring so a tomato can could apply the final crusher to his brain.

The people approved that fight ought to be ashamed today.

And the fighters and promoters who shout loudest today about boxing safety ought to put their checkbooks where their mouths are.

The Jerry Quarry Foundation-web address: - will be more than happy to accept their money and put it to good use.

If that turns out to be his legacy to the sport that destroyed him, then perhaps Jerry Quarry's final fight will turn out to be a victory after all.