Jimmy Ellis (boxer)
James Albert Ellis (February 24, 1940 – May 6, 2014) was a mid-20th century American professional boxer. He won the vacant WBA heavyweight title in 1968 by defeating Jerry Quarry, making one successful title defense in the same year against Floyd Patterson, before losing to Joe Frazier in 1970.
Ellis in 1968
|Real name||James Albert Ellis|
|Height||6 ft 1 in (185 cm)|
|Reach||76 in (193 cm)|
|Born||February 24, 1940|
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
|Died||May 6, 2014 (aged 74)|
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
|Wins by KO||24|
- 1 Early life
- 2 Amateur career
- 3 Professional career
- 4 Later life
- 5 Death
- 6 Tributes
- 7 Personal life
- 8 Professional boxing record
- 9 References
- 10 External links
He was born one of ten children. His father, Walter, was a pastor, and Ellis was brought up as a Christian. As a teenager he worked in a cement finishing factory. He also sang in the local church choir, later joined by his wife Mary. He continued church involvement all his adult life. In his youth he admired the boxer Joe Louis.
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.
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.
Ellis turned professional as a middleweight in 1961. Early in his pro career, he was trained and managed by Bud Bruner. With Bruner, he compiled a record of 15–5 (6 KOs). His five losses were decisions to top Middleweight contenders Holly Mims (whom he defeated in a rematch), Henry Hank, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, Don Fullmer, and 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."
Ellis wrote a letter to an at first skeptical 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 Ali's early pre-world championship undercards. Six of his first eight fights with Dundee were on an Ali undercards.
By 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 heavyweight one of the most dramatic he could recall.
WBA heavyweight title eliminator matchesEdit
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 Bonavena with a right once in the third round and once in the tenth. After twelve rounds, Ellis was awarded a unanimous decision. This fight was regarded as one of the best of his career. He seemed to be in control for most of the fight apart from the ninth round. Ellis advanced to the tournament final.
WBA heavyweight championEdit
In the tournament final, Ellis faced Jerry Quarry, a slight betting favorite, on April 27, 1968 in Oakland, California. In a dull fight, Ellis fought what Sports Illustrated called "a tactical masterpiece". A cautious Ellis won a 15-round split decision 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."
In his only successful title defense, Ellis defeated Floyd Patterson by a controversial 15-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.
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. 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.
Unification title match with Joe FrazierEdit
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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.
Ellis vs. AliEdit
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 accepted the arrangement and got Harry Wiley, who had worked with Henry Armstrong and Sugar Ray Robinson, to be his trainer for the Ellis fight.
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.
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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 powerful single right uppercut to the chin. The time was 2:39 in the first round.
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. In 2004, Ellis told the Washington Times "...All I ever wanted to be was a good fighter and good man.' He seemed to achieve it. Brother Jeff gave a tribute on his death saying " He was someone you could model yourself on" 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.
He suffered from dementia pugilistica, for over a decade before his death. It was reported that Ellis' condition was so bad that he believed his deceased wife, Mary who died in 2006, was still alive.
Ellis died at the age of 74 from complications of dementia on May 6, 2014, in Louisville Baptist Hospital, Kentucky. On 12 May 2014 a funeral for his body was held at Louisville's Canaan Christian Church, which was afterwards buried in the city's Green Meadows Memorial Cemetery.
Ellis was survived by three brothers and a sister. His son Jeff played professional football and confirmed the family were always immensely proud of Ellis's achievements and his World Title. Ellis's family considered that boxing exacerbated the dementia of his later years, but had not necessarily caused it. His younger brother Jeff, who'd trained with Ellis, commented that he himself now avoided watching boxing as he'd seen too many damaged by it.
Professional boxing recordEdit
|Professional record summary|
|53 fights||40 wins||12 losses|
|53||Win||40–12–1||Carl Baker||KO||1 (10), 2:48||May 6, 1975||Sports Stadium, Orlando, Florida, U.S.|
|52||Loss||39–12–1||Joe Frazier||TKO||9 (12), 0:59||Mar 2, 1975||Junction Oval, Melbourne, Australia|
|51||Loss||39–11–1||Joe Bugner||PTS||10||Nov 12, 1974||Empire Pool, London, England|
|50||Loss||39–10–1||Ron Lyle||UD||12||Jul 16, 1974||Denver, Colorado, U.S.|
|49||Draw||39–9–1||Larry Middleton||SD||10||Mar 4, 1974||Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland, U.S.|
|48||Loss||39–9||Boone Kirkman||SD||10||Dec 12, 1973||Center Coliseum, Seattle, Washington, U.S.|
|47||Win||39–8||Al Jones||TKO||7 (10)||Oct 23, 1973||Municipal Auditorium, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.|
|46||Loss||38–8||Earnie Shavers||KO||1 (10), 2:39||Jun 18, 1973||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|45||Win||38–7||Rico Brooks||KO||5 (10), 0:48||May 5, 1973||Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.|
|44||Win||37–7||Joe Tiger Harris||KO||2 (10)||Apr 14, 1973||Huntington, West Virginia, U.S.|
|43||Win||36–7||Charlie Harris||TKO||1 (10), 1:48||Mar 6, 1973||Municipal Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.|
|42||Win||35–7||Bob Felstein||KO||2 (10), 2:48||Feb 21, 1973||Sports Stadium, Orlando, Florida, U.S.|
|41||Win||34–7||Harold Carter||TKO||7 (10), 0:37||Oct 26, 1972||Raleigh County Armory, Beckley, West Virginia, U.S.|
|40||Win||33–7||Ollie Wilson||TKO||6 (10)||Sep 21, 1972||St. Josaphat Auditorium, Parma, Ohio, U.S.|
|39||Win||32–7||Rico Brooks||KO||2 (10), 2:50||Jun 13, 1972||Marine Stadium, Miami, Florida, U.S.|
|38||Win||31–7||Dick Gosha||TKO||6 (10), 2:55||May 16, 1972||Center Arena, Seattle, Washington, U.S.|
|37||Loss||30–7||Muhammad Ali||TKO||12 (12), 2:10||Jul 26, 1971||Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S.||For vacant NABF heavyweight title|
|36||Win||30–6||George Chuvalo||UD||10||May 10, 1971||Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario, Canada|
|35||Win||29–6||Tony Doyle||KO||10 (10), 2:42||Mar 2, 1971||Municipal Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.|
|34||Win||28–6||Roberto Davila||TKO||7 (10), 2:26||Nov 10, 1970||Municipal Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.|
|33||Loss||27–6||Joe Frazier||RTD||4 (15), 3:00||Feb 16, 1970||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.||Lost WBA heavyweight title;|
For NYSAC, vacant WBC and lineal heavyweight titles
|32||Win||27–5||Floyd Patterson||PTS||15||Sep 14, 1968||Råsunda Stadium, Stockholm, Sweden||Retained WBA heavyweight title|
|31||Win||26–5||Jerry Quarry||MD||15||Apr 27, 1968||County Coliseum Arena, Oakland, California, U.S.||Won vacant WBA heavyweight title|
|30||Win||25–5||Oscar Bonavena||UD||12||Dec 2, 1967||Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.|
|29||Win||24–5||Leotis Martin||TKO||9 (12), 1:43||Aug 5, 1967||Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S.|
|28||Win||23–5||Johnny Persol||KO||1 (10), 2:44||Mar 22, 1967||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|27||Win||22–5||Tommy Sims||KO||1 (6), 2:38||Nov 14, 1966||Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S.|
|26||Win||21–5||Eddie Dembry||KO||1 (8), 2:18||Oct 27, 1966||State Fairgrounds, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.|
|25||Win||20–5||Billy Daniels||PTS||6||Sep 10, 1966||Waldstadion, Frankfurt, West Germany|
|24||Win||19–5||Leweni Waqa||KO||1 (10)||May 21, 1966||Arsenal Stadium, London, England|
|23||Win||18–5||Hubert Hilton||PTS||8||Mar 29, 1966||Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario, Canada|
|22||Win||17–5||Chuck Leslie||UD||10||Nov 15, 1965||Hacienda, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.|
|21||Win||16–5||Joe Blackwood||KO||1||May 25, 1965||Central Maine Youth Center, Lewiston, Maine, U.S.|
|20||Loss||15–5||George Benton||MD||10||Nov 30, 1964||Philadelphia Arena, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.|
|19||Loss||15–4||Don Fullmer||SD||10||Oct 21, 1964||Convention Center, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.|
|18||Win||15–3||Joe Spencer||KO||1 (8), 1:49||Apr 21, 1964||Phoenix Hotel Ballroom, Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.|
|17||Loss||14–3||Rubin Carter||UD||10||Feb 28, 1964||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|16||Win||14–2||Luis Gutierrez||PTS||10||Sep 27, 1963||Convention Center, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.|
|15||Win||13–2||Johnny Halafihi||KO||1 (10)||Jun 18, 1963||Wembley Stadium, London, England|
|14||Win||12–2||LeRoy Green||UD||10||Dec 3, 1962||Columbia Gym Arena, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.|
|13||Loss||11–2||Henry Hank||UD||10||Sep 1, 1962||Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.|
|12||Win||11–1||Charlie Glover||PTS||4||Jun 13, 1962||Phoenix Hotel Ballroom, Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.|
|11||Win||10–1||Sammy Poe||PTS||4||Jun 13, 1962||Phoenix Hotel Ballroom, Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.|
|10||Win||9–1||Rudolph Bent||TKO||2 (10), 1:17||Jun 7, 1962||State Fairgrounds, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.|
|9||Win||8–1||Holley Mims||UD||10||May 4, 1962||Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.|
|8||Win||7–1||Johnny Alford||MD||6||Feb 17, 1962||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|7||Win||6–1||Rory Calhoun||KO||1 (10), 1:47||Jan 11, 1962||Jefferson County Armory, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.|
|6||Loss||5–1||Holley Mims||UD||10||Nov 29, 1961||Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.|
|5||Win||5–0||Clarence Riley||RTD||1 (8), 3:00||Oct 7, 1961||Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.|
|4||Win||4–0||Wilf Greaves||MD||10||Aug 22, 1961||Fairgrounds Stadium, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.|
|3||Win||3–0||Johnny Morris||SD||6||Jul 22, 1961||Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.|
|2||Win||2–0||Gene Leslie||UD||8||May 6, 1961||Jefferson County Armory, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.|
|1||Win||1–0||Arley Seifer||TKO||3 (6), 1:15||Apr 19, 1961||Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.||Professional debut|
- Courier Journal
- New York Times
- New York Times, 6 May 2014
- The Washington Times – July 31, 2004
- The Courier-Journal – February 23, 1996
- New York Times 6 may 2014
- Sports Illustrated – December 11, 1967
- Ferdie's book Fight Doctor
- Boxing history by Sam Andre, Hamlyn publisher. Fight films
- Boxing history by Sam Andre, Hamlyn, & also fight videos
- Sam Andre's Pictorial History of Boxing
- "Forty Years Ago: WBA Launches Heavyweight Tourney" Archived 2009-06-15 at the Wayback Machine
- Sports Illustrated – May 6, 1968
- The New York Times – September 15, 1968
- Washington Afro-American – September 30, 1969
- The Montreal Gazette – July 22, 1971
- The Age – December 23, 1969
- The Independent – May 12, 2014
- Muhammad Ali vs. Jimmy Ellis: The Inevitable Fight – 40 Years On
- Sports Illustrated – August 2, 1971
- The Montreal Gazette – June 19, 1973
- New York Times, 6 May 2014
- New York Times, 6 May 2014
- Wiky sports, May 2014
- New York Times 6 May 2014
- Bloomberg News, May 2014
- "Jimmy Ellis: From Ali Sparring Partner To Heavyweight Champion" Archived 2011-07-08 at the Wayback Machine
- "The Sweet Science: Boxing And Getting One's Head Examined"
- Miller, Stephen; Henry, David (May 6, 2014). "Jimmy Ellis, Ali's Friend Who Won Heavyweight Crown, Dies at 74". Bloomberg. Retrieved May 7, 2014.
- TV News report of the Jimmy Ellis' funeral, WLKY News Louisville, published on Youtube 12 May 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltax6sZavyA
- Entry for Jimmy Ellis' grave in Findagrave website (2019). https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/129313194/jimmy-ellis
- New York Times 6 May 2014.
- Courier Journal, May 2014.
- Courier Journal, May 2014.
- 'Courier Journal', May 2014.
- New York Times, 6 May 2014.