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Jimmy Ellis

Jimmy Ellis
Ellis in 1968
Born James Albert Ellis
(1940-02-24)February 24, 1940
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
Died May 6, 2014(2014-05-06) (aged 74)
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
Nationality American
Height 6 ft 1 in (1.85m)
Division Heavyweight
Reach 76 in (196cm)
Years active 1961–1975
Professional boxing record
Total 53
Wins 40
By knockout 24
Losses 12
Draws 1

James "Jimmy" Ellis (February 24, 1940 – May 6, 2014) was an American professional boxer. He was a WBA world heavyweight champion, a title he won by defeating Jerry Quarry in 1968. He made one successful title defense against Floyd Patterson, before losing by fifth-round stoppage to Joe Frazier in 1970.

Ellis is also known for his fights with Muhammad Ali, Earnie Shavers, Ron Lyle and Joe Bugner. He retired from boxing at the age of 35 in 1975, with a record of 40–12–1 (24 KOs).

He died of dementia complications on May 6, 2014 at the age of 74.


  • Birth and early years 1
  • Amateur career 2
  • Early professional career 3
  • WBA world title eliminator matches 4
  • Wins WBA world title 5
  • Title reign 6
  • Unification title match with Joe Frazier 7
  • Fighting Ali 8
  • Diminishing skills 9
  • Retirement 10
  • Life outside boxing 11
  • Death 12
  • Legacy 13
  • Professional boxing record 14
  • See also 15
  • References 16
  • External links 17

Birth and early years

He was born one of ten children. His father, Walter, was a pastor, and Ellis was brought up as a Christian.[1] As a teenager Ellis worked in a cement finishing factory.[2] He also sang in the local church choir, later joined by his wife Mary. He continued church involvement all his adult life. He also admired Joe Louis.[3]

Amateur career

Ellis got into boxing as a teenager after watching a friend box fellow Louisville youngster Muhammad Ali on a local amateur boxing television show called Tomorrow's Champions. "I had a friend of mine named Donnie Hall, and he fought Ali," Ellis said. "Donnie lost, and I thought I could maybe be a fighter then." Ellis went with Hall to Louisville's Columbia Gym, where the coach was a police officer named Joe Martin.[4]

Ellis won 59 of 66 amateur bouts and was a Golden Gloves champion. He boxed Ali twice as an amateur, with Ali winning the first bout and Ellis winning the second.

Early professional career

Ellis turned professional as a George Benton. This start probably helped his speed of punch, movement and finesse.

At the end of 1964, after losing three out of four fights, Ellis decided to leave Bruner. He later recalled Bruner fondly. "I liked him, and I fought a lot of top-rated fighters when I was with him, but eventually I had to move on," Ellis said. "He did me justice, and we always remained friends."[5]

Ellis wrote a letter to an at first sceptical[6] Angelo Dundee, the trainer of Ali, and asked him to handle his career. Dundee agreed to be both manager and trainer. Ellis became a sparring partner for Ali and fought on several of his early pre-Liston undercards. Six of his first eight fights with Dundee were on an Ali undercards.[7]

Buy the mid 1960s Ellis was fighting heavyweights. Being a tall natural athletic build he'd had increasing trouble keeping down to middleweight. Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, who worked with both Ali & Ellis throughout their careers, called Ellis's development from middleweight to heavywweight one of the most dramatic he could recall.[8]

WBA world title eliminator matches

By 1966, Ellis was fighting as a heavyweight. When Ali was stripped of the world title for refusing to enter the military, the World Boxing Association staged an eight-man tournament that featured most of the top heavyweight contenders. Ellis, who was ranked eighth in the world after eight consecutive wins, was invited to be in the tournament. Joe Frazier, ranked second by the WBA, chose not to participate in the tournament. Instead, Frazier fought for the vacant New York State Athletic Commission World Heavyweight Championship, which he won with an eleventh-round knockout of Buster Mathis.

In the opening round of the tournament, Ellis fought Leotis Martin on August 5, 1967 in Houston, Texas. Ellis, the betting underdog, battered Martin's face into a bloody mask, and the referee stopped the fight in the ninth round.

Ellis met Oscar Bonavena in the second round of the tournament. The fight took place on December 2, 1967 in Louisville, Kentucky. Ellis, once again the underdog, dropped the iron-jawed Bonavena with a right once in the third round and once in the tenth from a truly wicked left hook. After twelve rounds, Ellis was awarded a clear unanimous decision. He controlled the match throughout with perhaps the best display in his career. He made Oscar look basic and was only really in trouble himself in the ninth. But ironically, he turned the ninth around with a split second counter catching Oscar wide open and decking him badly. Ellis advanced to the tournament final.[9]

Wins WBA world title

In the tournament final, Ellis faced Jerry Quarry, a slight betting favorite, on April 27, 1968 in Oakland, California.[10] In a dull fight, Ellis fought what Sports Illustrated called "a tactical masterpiece". But he was very cautious and won a fifteen-round split decision[11] to capture the vacant WBA Heavyweight Championship. Quarry said, "If they'd given me the decision, I'd have given it back. I didn't deserve it."[12][13]

Title reign

In his only successful title defense, Ellis defeated Floyd Patterson by a controversial fifteen-round decision on September 14, 1968 in Stockholm, Sweden. Ellis, who suffered a broken nose in the second round, was awarded the decision by the referee, the sole judge. Many in the crowd of 30,000 disagreed with the decision and started chanting, "Floyd champ!" The New York Times scored the fight seven rounds to six for Ellis, with two even.[14]

Following the defeat of Patterson, Ellis was out of the ring for seventeen months. He was going to fight Henry Cooper in the United Kingdom, even though the British Boxing Board of Control refused to recognize the fight as a world title bout: the BBBofC was affiliated with the World Boxing Council, who stated that they would only recognize a fight between Joe Frazier and a suitable contender as being for the world title. The fight was postponed a couple of times and eventually cancelled because Cooper injured his knee.[15] Ellis then planned to fight Bob Cleroux in Montreal, but Cleroux lost what was supposed to be a tune-up fight against the lightly regarded Billy Joiner. Finally, Ellis was going to fight Gregorio Peralta in Argentina, but promoters canceled the fight 24 hours before it was to take place because of poor ticket sales.[16][17]

Unification title match with Joe Frazier

On February 16, 1970, Ellis fought Joe Frazier to unify the World Heavyweight Championship at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The undefeated Frazier, a heavy betting favorite, proved to be too strong and powerful. Ellis, who had never been floored as a heavyweight, was knocked down twice in the fourth round by a relentless Frazier, and Angelo Dundee stopped the fight before the start of the fifth round. It was the first knockout loss for Ellis.

Fighting Ali

After winning his next three fights, Ellis fought Muhammad Ali in the Houston Astrodome on July 26, 1971. Angelo Dundee chose to work with Ellis for the fight. He was Ali's trainer, but he was both manager and trainer for Ellis. Working with Ellis meant that he would get a bigger share of the purse. Ali understood completely and got Harry Wiley, who had worked with Henry Armstrong and Sugar Ray Robinson, to be his trainer for the Ellis fight. It was one of the few fights in Ali's career in which Dundee was not in his corner.[18]

Ellis fought well over the first three rounds, but the fight turned after Ellis was hurt by a right hand in the fourth round. The right hand "hurt me so bad I couldn't really fight my best after that," Ellis said. "It ruined me." The referee stopped the fight in the twelfth round as Ellis remained on his feet. No knockdowns were recorded throughout the fight.[19]

Diminishing skills

After the loss to Ali, Ellis won his next eight fights by knockout. But on June 18, 1973, he fought Earnie Shavers, who was 44–2 (43 KOs), at Madison Square Garden. Ellis, ranked fourth by the WBA, stunned Shavers with a chopping right to the jaw and backed him into a corner. Shavers took numerous shots in the corner before clinching. After the referee separated the fighters, Shavers put Ellis down for the count with a wickedly powerful single right uppercut to the chin. The time was 2:39 in the first round. It was a stunning win for Shavers.[20]

Ellis came back with a knockout win against club fighter Memphis Al Jones, but with his skills in decline, he went winless in his next five fights. He lost a split decision to Boone Kirkman, fought a draw with Larry Middleton, dropped decisions to Ron Lyle and Joe Bugner, and was stopped in nine rounds in a rematch with Joe Frazier.

The rematch with Joe Frazier took place in Melbourne, Australia, on March 2, 1975. Ellis trained at the Golden Bowl Gym in Camberwell, Melbourne with martial arts 4th Dan Gerry Scaife. Ellis won the first three rounds, but Frazier then picked up the intensity and took control. With Ellis bloody and battered, Angelo Dundee signaled for referee Bob Foster to stop the fight in the ninth round.


On May 6, 1975, in what would be his last fight, Ellis knocked out club fighter Carl Baker in the first round. He retired aged 35 after suffering a training injury that left him partially blind in his left eye. Ellis finished with a record of 40–12–1 (24 KOs).

After retiring from boxing, Ellis trained boxers. Later he worked for the Louisville Parks Department on athletic and recreational projects between 1989 and 2003.[21]

Life outside boxing

In 2004 Ellis told the Washington Times "...All I ever wanted to be was a good fighter and good man.'[22] He seemed to achieve it. Brother Jeff gave a tribute on his death saying " He was someone you could model yourself on"[23] Ellis was a reserved family man who shunned flash although had a determined competitive streak in boxing.

With wife Mary he had six children,2 sons and 4 daughters. His brother Charles boxed in the 1964 Olympics. Ellis was personally kind and gracious. He maintained a brotherly relationship with Ali over all the decades. Ali himself often recalled Ellis as a great friend. Ellis wasn't always pleased by the sparring partner tag but felt he had proved himself above that.[24]

He suffered from dementia pugilistica, for over decade before his death.[25] It was reported that Ellis' condition was so bad that he believed his deceased wife, Mary who died in 2006, was still alive.[26][27]


Ellis died of complications from dementia on May 6, 2014, in Louisville, Baptist Hospital, Kentucky.[28]

A tribute came in from Muhammad Ali; 'In the world of heavyweights I always thought him one of the best".[29] Ellis's family considered that boxing exacerbated the dementia, but had not necessarily caused it.[30] His younger brother Jeff, who'd trained with Ellis in years past, commented that he himself now avoided watching boxing as he'd seen too many damaged by it.[31] Ellis was survived by three brothers and a sister.[32] Son Jeff played professional football and confirmed the family were always immensely proud of Ellis's achievements and world title.[33]


Ellis will be remembered as a top boxer and part title holder who battled both Frazier and Ali. Not withstanding his contests with Quarry, Patterson and Bonavena however. It was perhaps boxing's peak era and he was a crucial major figure.

Professional boxing record

40 wins (24 knockouts, 16 decisions), 12 losses (4 knockouts, 8 decisions), 1 draw [34]
Result Record Opponent Type Round Date Location Notes
Win 21–22–1 Carl "The Tank" Baker KO 1 06/05/1975 Orlando, Florida
Loss 31–2 Joe Frazier TKO 9 02/03/1975 St. Kilda Junction Oval, Melbourne The referee stopped the bout at 0:59 of the 9th round.
Loss 48–6–1 Joe Bugner PTS 10 12/11/1974 Empire Pool, Wembley, London The referee's score: 0–8–2
Loss 27–1–1 Ron Lyle UD 12 16/07/1974 Denver, Colorado Scores: 55–59, 52–58, 52–59
Draw 21–4–1 Larry Middleton PTS 10 04/03/1974 Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland Scores: 46–44, 45–46, 47–47
Loss 30–2 Boone Kirkman SD 10 12/12/1973 Seattle Center Coliseum, Seattle Scores: 93–97, 95–98, 98–97
Win 5–20–2 "Memphis" Al Jones KO 7 23/10/1973 Atlanta Municipal Auditorium, Atlanta
Loss 44–2 Earnie Shavers KO 1 18/06/1973 Madison Square Garden, New York City Ellis was knocked out at 2:39 of the 1st round.
Win 10–13–2 Rico Brooks KO 5 05/05/1973 Phoenix, Arizona Brooks was knocked out at 0:48 of the 5th round.
Win 4–5–1 Joe Tiger Harris KO 2 14/04/1973 Huntington, West Virginia Carmen Basilio was the referee.
Win 8–16–1 Charlie "Emperor" Harris TKO 1 06/03/1973 Miami Beach Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida The referee stopped the bout at 1:48 of the 1st round.
Win 16–11–1 Bob Felstein KO 2 21/02/1973 Orlando, Florida Felstein was knocked out at 0:48 of the 2nd round.
Win 13–21–2 Harold "70's Version" Carter TKO 7 26/10/1972 Raleigh County Armory, Beckley, West Virginia The referee stopped the bout at 0:37 of the 7th round.
Win 21–41 Ollie Wilson TKO 6 21/09/1972 St. Josaphat Auditorium, Parma, Ohio The referee stopped the fight after the 5th round.
Win 10–11–1 Rico Brooks KO 2 13/06/1972 Miami Marine Stadium, Key Biscayne, Florida The fight took place on a barge.
Win 10–13 Dick Gosha TKO 6 16/05/1972 Seattle Center Arena, Seattle The referee stopped the bout at 2:55 of the 6th round.
Loss 31–1 Muhammad Ali TKO 12 26/07/1971 Astrodome, Houston NABF Heavyweight Title. The referee stopped the bout at 2:10 of the 12th round.
Win 63–16–2 George Chuvalo UD 10 10/05/1971 Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto Scores: 48–46, 48–44, 49–43
Win 36–8–1 "Irish" Tony Doyle KO 10 02/03/1971 Miami Beach Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida Doyle was knocked out at 2:42 of the 10th round.
Win 21–20 Roberto Davila TKO 7 10/11/1970 Miami Beach Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida The referee stopped the bout at 2:26 of the 7th round.
Loss 24–0 Joe Frazier TKO 5 16/02/1970 Madison Square Garden, New York City WBC/WBA/NYSAC World Heavyweight Titles.
Win 46–6–1 Floyd Patterson PTS 15 14/09/1968 Solna Stadion, Stockholm WBA World Heavyweight Title. The referee's score: 9–6.
Win 26–1–4 Jerry Quarry MD 15 27/04/1968 Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland, California WBA World Heavyweight Title. Scores: 10–5, 7–5, 6–6–3.
Win 31–3 Oscar Bonavena UD 12 02/12/1967 Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky WBA Heavyweight Elimination Tournament. Scores: 56–53, 59–53, 55–54
Win 24–1 Leotis Martin TKO 9 05/08/1967 Astrodome, Houston WBA Heavyweight Elimination Tournament. The fight was stopped on cuts.
Win 17–3–1 Johnny Persol KO 1 22/03/1967 Madison Square Garden, New York City The fight was on the undercard of Muhammad Ali vs. Zora Folley.
Win 35–29–4 Tommy "Hurricane" Sims KO 1 14/11/1966 Astrodome, Houston The fight was on the undercard of Muhammad Ali vs. Cleveland Williams.
Win 10–2 Eddie Dembry KO 1 27/10/1966 Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky
Win 20–14–1 Billy "The Barber" Daniels PTS 6 10/09/1966 Waldstadion, Frankfurt The fight was on the undercard of Muhammad Ali vs. Karl Mildenberger.
Win 19–4–1 Leweni Waqa KO 1 21/05/1966 Arsenal Stadium, Highbury, London] The fight was on the undercard of Muhammad Ali vs. Henry Cooper II
Win 13–3–2 Hubert Hilton PTS 8 29/03/1966 Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto The fight was on the undercard of Muhammad Ali vs. George Chuvalo I.
Win 11–7–1 Chuck Leslie UD 10 15/11/1965 The Hacienda, Las Vegas Scores: 49–43, 48–43, 48–43
Win 66–23–9 Joe Blackwood KO 1 25/05/1965 Saint-Dominic Academy, Lewiston, Maine The fight was on the undercard of Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston II.
Loss 52–9–1 George Benton MD 10 30/11/1964 Philadelphia Arena, Philadelphia Scores: 45–46, 45–46, 46–46
Loss 32–11–2 Don Fullmer SD 10 21/10/1964 Louisville Gardens, Louisville, Kentucky
Win 5–2 Joe Spencer KO 1 21/04/1964 Lexington, Kentucky
Loss 18–4 Rubin Carter UD 10 28/02/1964 Madison Square Garden, New York City Scores: 2–7, 3–6, 3–7
Win 54–5–5 Lou Gutierrez PTS 10 27/09/1963 Louisville Gardens, Louisville, Kentucky
Win 31–11–5 Johnny Halafihi KO 1 18/06/1963 Empire Exhibition Stadium, Wembley, London The fight was on the undercard of Cassius Clay vs. Henry Cooper I.
Win 20–15–2 LeRoy Green UD 10 03/12/1962 Columbia Gymnasium Arena, Louisville, Kentucky
Loss 52–16–3 Henry Hank UD 10 01/09/1962 Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky Scores: 45–47, 46–47, 44–47
Win 2–2 Sammy Poe PTS 4 13/06/1962 Phoenix Hotel Ballroom, Lexington, Kentucky
Win 14–10–1 Charlie Glover PTS 4 13/06/1962 Phoenix Hotel Ballroom, Lexington, Kentucky
Win 34–27–4 Rudolph Bent TKO 2 07/06/1962 Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky The referee stopped the bout at 1:17 of the 2nd round.
Win 57–22–6 Holly Mims UD 10 04/05/1962 Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky
Win 14–3–3 Johnny Alford MD 6 17/02/1962 Madison Square Garden, New York City The fight was on the undercard of Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Denny Moyer II.
Win 45–14–2 Herman Calhoun KO 1 11/01/1962 Louisville Gardens, Louisville, Kentucky
Loss 56–22–6 Holly Mims UD 10 29/11/1961 Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky The fight was on the undercard of Cassius Clay vs. Willi Besmanoff
Win 18–24–5 Clarence Riley TKO 2 07/10/1961 Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky The fight was on the undercard of Cassius Clay vs. Alex Miteff.
Win 34–19–1 Wilf Greaves MD 10 22/08/1961 Fairgrounds Stadium, Louisville, Kentucky
Win 21–4 Johnny Morris SD 6 22/07/1961 Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky The fight was on the undercard of Cassius Clay vs. Alonzo Johnson.
Win 11–3–1 Gene Leslie PTS 8 06/05/1961 Louisville, Kentucky
Win 15–12–1 Arley Seifer TKO 3 19/04/1961 Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky The fight was on the undercard of Cassius Clay vs. LaMar Clark.

See also


  1. ^ Courier Journal
  2. ^ New York Times
  3. ^ New York times, 6 may 2014
  4. ^ – July 31, 2004Washington TimesThe
  5. ^ The Courier-Journal – February 23, 1996
  6. ^ New York times 6 may 2014
  7. ^ – December 11, 1967Sports Illustrated
  8. ^ Ferdie's book Fight Doctor
  9. ^ Boxing history by Sam Andre, Hamlyn publisher. Fight films
  10. ^ Boxing history by Sam Andre, Hamlyn, & also fight videos
  11. ^ Sam Andre's Pictorial History of Boxing
  12. ^ "Forty Years Ago: WBA Launches Heavyweight Tourney"
  13. ^ – May 6, 1968Sports Illustrated
  14. ^ The New York Times – September 15, 1968
  15. ^ – September 30, 1969Washington Afro-American
  16. ^ – July 22, 1971The Montreal Gazette
  17. ^ – December 23, 1969The Age
  18. ^ Muhammad Ali vs. Jimmy Ellis: The Inevitable Fight – 40 Years On
  19. ^ – August 2, 1971Sports Illustrated
  20. ^ – June 19, 1973Montreal GazetteThe
  21. ^ New York Times, 6 May 2014
  22. ^ New York Times, 6 May 2014
  23. ^ Wiky sports, May 2014
  24. ^ New York Times 6 May 2014
  25. ^ Bloomberg News, May 2014
  26. ^ "Jimmy Ellis: From Ali Sparring Partner To Heavyweight Champion"
  27. ^ "The Sweet Science: Boxing And Getting One's Head Examined"
  28. ^ Miller, Stephen; Henry, David (May 6, 2014). "Jimmy Ellis, Ali's Friend Who Won Heavyweight Crown, Dies at 74". Bloomberg. Retrieved May 7, 2014. 
  29. ^ New York Times 6 May 2014
  30. ^ Courier Journal, May 2014
  31. ^ New York Times, 6 May 2014
  32. ^ Courier Journal, May 2014
  33. ^ Courier Journal, may 2014
  34. ^

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Muhammad Ali
WBA World Heavyweight Champion
April 27, 1968 – February 16, 1970
Succeeded by
Joe Frazier
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