James Tillis

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James Tillis
James "Quick" Tillis- The Fighting Cowboy.jpg
James "Quick" Tillis- The Fighting Cowboy
The Fighting Cowboy
Height6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Reach80 in (203 cm)
BornJames Theodore Tillis
(1957-07-05) July 5, 1957 (age 63)
Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
Boxing record
Total fights65
Wins by KO31
No contests0

James Tillis (born July 5, 1957) is a retired professional boxer and actor. Known as "Quick", he was known for his fast hand speed, quite astonishing for a man of his size and build.[1] A natural southpaw, Tillis turned around to orthodox midway in his amateur career. His left remained the stronger hand and for that reason, he had a powerful jab and left hook, together with the ability to switch stances while fighting.[1] Tillis challenged for the WBA world heavyweight title in 1981, but was defeated in a fifteen round unanimous decision fight against Mike Weaver. Tillis was the first man to go the distance with Mike Tyson in 1986, breaking his knockout-streak and giving him a relatively close fight, nearly a draw, with two of three judges scoring the fight 6-to-4.[1] (in the words of Hall of Fame's Gil Clancy, Tillis was "one punch" away from victory.[2]) He holds notable wins over Ron Stander by TKO in the 7th round in 1980, and the hard punching Earnie Shavers by ten-round decision in 1982. Tillis fought for the last time in 2001 at the age of 44.

Early years[edit]

A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, he was the firstborn son of James Tillis and wife Rose. Tillis attended Mclain High School and grew up in a very religious southern family, with an alcoholic father and a deeply religious mother. His mother would later join First Baptist Mohawk Church under the leadership of Pastor Clint Simmons. He dreamed about being a professional prize fighter and was given the nickname "Quick" by his first cousin Keith Reed.

Amateur career[edit]

"Quick" was influenced to begin training to become a boxer after he listened to the 1964 bout between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston on the radio. He enlisted the help of noted trainer Ed Duncan, by becoming involved in the sport at the O'Brien Park recreation center in north Tulsa. Tillis' amateur record of 92–8 led to his being considered for the United States Olympic team. Due to an illness, he was unable to compete in the Olympic trials.

However, his impressive amateur career included three state Golden Gloves and four state AAU titles. He lost to future pro opponent Greg Page at the 1976 National Golden Gloves, and to Charles Singleton at the 1978 National Golden Gloves in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At the 1977 USA–USSR Duals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he lost on points to the Soviet light heavyweight David Kvachadze. He also managed to beat future pro contender Renaldo Snipes, who he later turned pro with on the same card in 1978.[citation needed]

Professional career[edit]

Tillis began his professional boxing career in 1978, with a first-round knockout of Ron Stephany. He won his first 20 fights with 16 knockouts. One of his most impressive early victories was a seventh-round knockout of Ron Stander in 1980. Stander had once challenged Joe Frazier for the world title and was regarded as one of boxing's most durable fighters. Other notable wins included a knockout of the South American champion Domingo D'Elia, and a points win over the sometimes dangerous fringe contender Mike Koranicki. His co-managers were Beau Williford and Gary Bentley.[1]

Title fight[edit]

In 1981, Tillis fought "Hercules" Mike Weaver for the WBA World Heavyweight title. After a strong start, Tillis tired. The fight would become famous for trainer Angelo Dundee imploring Tillis to do something, asking the fighter, "Do you want to be a bum all your life?" Ultimately, Tillis lost a close points decision.

In June 1982, Tillis came off the floor to outpoint the hard-hitting legend Earnie Shavers. He blew that momentum only a few months later, being upset by late substitute (and future world champion) Pinklon Thomas. In November 1982, Tillis fought former amateur rival Greg Page for the USBA Heavyweight title. He knocked Page down, but again tired and was the victim of an eighth-round knockout loss. Page would go on to win the world title.

Downward spiral[edit]

Having scored four wins, Tillis challenged future two-time world champion Tim Witherspoon in September 1983, for the vacant North American Boxing Federation title. Tillis was shockingly bombed out in one round, apparently slipping on a wet spot in the ring as Witherspoon hit him. After the fight, Tillis' trainer Angelo Dundee left him and advised him to retire, as he had just suffered his third defeat in thirteen months.

Tillis got a new team and put together four wins in 1984, before challenging Carl Williams in a world title eliminator. Having decked Williams twice in the opening round, Tillis tired and was outpointed. In 1985, under the guidance of trainer Drew Bundini Brown, he fought Joe Frazier's son and top contender Marvis Frazier. In a recurring theme, he had Frazier down in the second round, but again ran out of gas and was outpointed. A few months later, he traveled to South Africa to fight hard-hitting ex-champ Gerrie Coetzee. Tillis lost a unanimous decision, but sent Coetzee to hospital with stitches and missing teeth.

Stamina issue[edit]

After extensive medical examination, Tillis' strange recurrent fatigue midway through fights was found to derive from a severe allergy to the classic fighter's diet of milk and eggs. A doctor provided Tillis with a more suitable diet, in the training for his upcoming fight with Mike Tyson, a red-hot prospect with a 19–0 (19 knockouts) record. Tillis appeared to be a new man, as he exchanged with Tyson and gave the future two-time champion a very tough fight. Although ultimately outpointed, he was the first person ever to take Iron Mike to the distance. Surprisingly, Tillis' heart and will to fight has been questioned quite frequently by boxing analysts, even his co-manager Beau Williford told to the press the night before the fight considering that James was on a three-times-in-a-row losing streak, that his professional career as a boxer would be ended most likely if stopped by Tyson. Trainer Angelo Dundee, who worked with Tillis for the Weaver fight and some subsequent fights, finally gave up his job, he said: "James had no spirit to fight." In the pre-fight interview he told the ESPN staff that he found that spirit. To prove Dundee was wrong, Tillis violated almost all the Dundee "No-Nos" in the Tyson fight:[1]

  • Fought out of the squared-up stance, instead of the closed sideway stance.
  • Sometimes fought with both hands down.
  • Switched to southpaw and back to orthodox.
  • Lead with his right hand.
  • "Left-hooked with a hooker."
  • Got tangled in wild exchanges.

Culminative moment of the fight came at 2:45 of the fourth round, when Tillis charged at Tyson with a leaping left hook, missed, and went off-balanced while pivoting on his left foot. Tyson slipped the punch and promptly switched to orthodox, throwing a leaping left hook of his own that landed right to the Tillis' chin, Tillis went down immediately. Tillis got up quickly at the count of "Two." That was the only knockdown during the entire fight, it cost Tillis a point, and subsequently a round on all the three judges' scorecards, and eventually the fight, which otherwise would have been ended a draw.[2]

Initially, the crowd was rooting for Tyson, but in the later rounds it turned somewhat against Tyson due to him being unable to knock Tillis out, and after the ring announcer Paul LeFlore announced the judges' decision, pronouncing Tyson as the winner by a unanimous decision, the crowd booed wildly when referee Joe Cortez raised Tyson's hand. Being interviewed by the ABC Sports Network staff, Tyson himself said he just "fought a guy who was up for this fight, in the greatest shape in his life."[1]

The new Tillis was short-lived, however, as he traveled to Australia and lost a decision to veteran Joe Bugner. In 1987, he was upset in eight rounds, as underdog (and regular Tyson sparring partner) Michael Williams came off the floor to stop Tillis. Later in the same year, he was stopped in five rounds on cuts by future champ Frank Bruno in London, and then knocked out in 10 rounds by hard-hitting Johnny DuPlooy in South Africa.

Having failed to secure a rematch with Tyson in 1988, this time for the undisputed heavyweight championship, he made one last attempt at the big time. Tillis was brought in to fight reigning cruiserweight world champion Evander Holyfield, who was making a high-profile move into the heavyweight ranks. Holyfield outpunched Tillis in five one-sided rounds.

Tillis resurfaced in 1991. However, his days even as a journeyman appeared over, as hard-hitting (and future WBO World Champion) Tommy Morrison stopped him out in one round.


Tillis fought on and off until 2001. Although he still was able to outpoint former top-flight amateur Craig Payne, a 39-year-old Tillis was stopped in six rounds by Cliff Couser in 1996.

Tillis fought his last fight in 2001, losing to clubfighter Rob Calloway when he was 44 years old.

Professional boxing record[edit]

42 Wins (31 knockouts, 11 decisions), 22 Losses (11 knockouts, 11 decisions), 1 Draw, 1 No Contest [1]
Result Record Opponent Type Round Date Location Notes
Loss 42–22–1 (1) United States Rob Calloway TKO 9 April 13, 2001 Missouri Saint Joseph Civic Center, Saint Joseph, Missouri, United States
Loss 42–21–1 (1) United States Tim Puller UD 10 October 16, 1999 Washington (state) Issaquah, Washington, United States
Loss 42–20–1 (1) United States Cliff Couser TKO 6 August 30, 1996 Washington (state) Quay Centennial Building, Vancouver, Washington, United States
Win 42–19–1 (1) United States Craig Payne UD 8 June 21, 1996 Washington (state) Quay Centennial Building, Vancouver, Washington, United States
NC 41–19–1 (1) United States Will Hinton NC 3 December 7, 1995 Colorado Denver, Colorado, United States
Loss 41–19–1 Russia Alexander Zolkin UD 10 October 8, 1995 Ohio Columbus, Ohio, United States
Win 41–18–1 United States Stan White Johnson TKO 3 February 28, 1992 Illinois Union Hall, Countryside, Countryside, Illinois, United States
Win 40–18–1 United States Danny Blake SD 10 November 22, 1991 Illinois Peoria, Illinois, United States
Loss 39–18–1 United States Tommy Morrison TKO 1 January 11, 1991 New Jersey Trump Taj Mahal, Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States
Win 39–17–1 United States Carlton West TKO 3 December 7, 1990 Virginia Valley Sports Arena, Roanoke, Virginia, United States
Loss 38–17–1 Brazil Adilson Rodrigues UD 10 March 20, 1989 Brazil Toledo, Parana, Brazil
Loss 38–16–1 United States Arthel Lawhorne UD 10 January 14, 1989 Michigan The Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Michigan, United States
Loss 38–15–1 United Kingdom Gary Mason TKO 5 November 30, 1988 England Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, Southwark, United Kingdom
Loss 38–14–1 United States Evander Holyfield RTD 5 July 16, 1988 Nevada Caesars Tahoe, Stateline, Nevada, United States
Win 38–13–1 United States Rodney Smith KO 2 April 9, 1988 Nevada Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
Win 37–13–1 United States Dennis Jackson KO 5 October 16, 1987 New Jersey Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States
Loss 36–13–1 South Africa Johnny DuPlooy TKO 10 June 23, 1987 South Africa Ellis Park Indoor Arena, Johannesburg, South Africa
Loss 36–12–1 United Kingdom Frank Bruno TKO 5 March 24, 1987 England Wembley Arena, Wembley, London, United Kingdom Referee stopped the bout at 1:57 of the fifth round.
Win 36–11–1 United States Ronnie Douglas TKO 5 March 6, 1987 Arkansas Fort Smith, Arkansas, United States
Loss 35–11–1 United States Mike Williams TKO 8 January 8, 1987 Texas Marriott Brookhollow, Houston, Texas, United States
Draw 35–10–1 United States Avery Rawls PTS 10 November 11, 1986 Nevada Showboat Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
Win 35–10 United States Lorenzo Boyd KO 3 October 28, 1986 Pennsylvania Station Square, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Win 34–10 United States Eddie Richardson PTS 10 October 18, 1986 Texas Mesquite, Texas, United States
Loss 33–10 Australia Joe Bugner PTS 10 September 15, 1986 Australia Sydney Entertainment Centre, Sydney, Australia 93–99 92–98 95–97
Win 33–9 United States Art Terry UD 8 July 29, 1986 Kentucky Continental Inn, Lexington, Kentucky, United States 80–70, 80–70, 80–72.
Win 32–9 United States Mark Young KO 8 June 17, 1986 Oklahoma Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States
Loss 31–9 United States Mike Tyson UD 10 May 3, 1986 New York (state) Glens Falls Civic Center, Glens Falls, New York, United States 4–6, 4–6, 2–8.
Loss 31–8 United States Tyrell Biggs UD 8 January 25, 1986 Pennsylvania Americana Host Farm, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, United States 33–39, 33–39, 34–39.
Loss 31–7 South Africa Gerrie Coetzee UD 10 September 7, 1985 South Africa Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa 93–99, 94–99.
Loss 31–6 United States Marvis Frazier UD 10 May 20, 1985 Nevada Lawlor Events Center, Reno, Nevada, United States 91–98, 92–96, 91–97.
Win 31–5 United States Bashir Wadud UD 10 December 15, 1984 Illinois Genesee Theatre, Waukegan, Illinois, United States 100–90, 100–90, 100–90.
Loss 30–5 United States Carl Williams UD 10 October 23, 1984 New Jersey Atlantis Hotel and Casino, Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States 2–8, 3–7, 1–9.
Win 30–4 United States Michael Bennett KO 1 August 20, 1984 Oklahoma Miami, Oklahoma, United States
Win 29–4 United States Billy Joe Thomas KO 3 July 10, 1984 Oklahoma Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States
Win 28–4 United States Bobby Crabtree KO 3 April 26, 1984 Oklahoma Excelsior Hotel, Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States
Win 27–4 United States Otis Bates KO 2 February 9, 1984 Oklahoma Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States
Loss 26–4 United States Tim Witherspoon TKO 1 September 23, 1983 Ohio Richfield Coliseum, Richfield, Ohio, United States NABF Heavyweight Title. Referee stopped the bout at 2:16 of the first round.
Win 26–3 United States Lynwood Jones KO 4 July 9, 1983 Illinois DiVinci Manor, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 25–3 United States Larry Givens TKO 2 May 22, 1983 Illinois Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 24–3 United States Grady Daniels TKO 4 April 25, 1983 Illinois Congress Americana Hotel, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 23–3 United States Leroy Boone PTS 10 March 28, 1983 Illinois Congress Americana Hotel, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Loss 22–3 United States Greg Page TKO 8 November 26, 1982 Texas Astrodome, Houston, Texas, United States IBF USBA Heavyweight Title.
Loss 22–2 United States Pinklon Thomas TKO 8 August 14, 1982 Ohio Stouffer's Ballroom, Cleveland, Ohio, United States Referee stopped the bout at 0:58 of the eighth round.
Win 22–1 United States Earnie Shavers UD 10 June 11, 1982 Nevada Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada, United States 96–92, 97–91, 96–92.
Win 21–1 United States Jerry Williams KO 3 March 13, 1982 Nevada Sands Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
Loss 20–1 United States Mike Weaver UD 15 October 3, 1981 Illinois Rosemont Horizon, Rosemont, Illinois, United States For WBA World Heavyweight Title.
Win 20–0 United States Tom Fischer PTS 10 March 9, 1981 Illinois Hilton Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 19–0 Argentina Domingo D'Elia TKO 4 November 13, 1980 Illinois International Amphitheatre, Chicago, Illinois, United States Referee stopped the bout at 1:40 of the fourth round.
Win 18–0 United States Mike Koranicki UD 10 August 14, 1980 Illinois International Amphitheatre, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 17–0 United States Eric Sedillo TKO 4 June 12, 1980 Illinois Hilton Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 16–0 United States Walter Santemore UD 10 May 15, 1980 Illinois Aragon Ballroom (Chicago), Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 15–0 United States Frank Schram TKO 2 April 17, 1980 Illinois Aragon Ballroom (Chicago), Chicago, Illinois, United States Referee stopped the bout at 1:54 of the second round.
Win 14–0 United States Ron Stander TKO 7 March 3, 1980 Illinois International Amphitheatre, Chicago, Illinois, United States Stander did not come out of his corner for the eighth round.
Win 13–0 United States Roy Wallace UD 10 February 1, 1980 Illinois International Amphitheatre, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 12–0 United States Al Jones KO 4 December 13, 1979 Oklahoma Tulsa Civic Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States
Win 11–0 United States Harry Terrell KO 1 November 20, 1979 Illinois Circle Arena, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 10–0 United States Bob Whaley TKO 1 October 19, 1979 Illinois Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 9–0 United States Jimmy Cross TKO 2 September 7, 1979 Illinois Circle Arena, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 8–0 United States Charles Anderson Atlas TKO 2 July 30, 1979 Illinois International Amphitheatre, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 7–0 United States Henry Porter TKO 6 July 20, 1979 Illinois University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 6–0 United States George Gofarth TKO 5 June 11, 1979 Illinois Aragon Ballroom (Chicago), Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 5–0 Rocky Lane KO 1 March 31, 1979 Illinois Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 4–0 United States Sylvester Wilder TKO 3 February 28, 1979 Illinois DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 3–0 United States Dave Watkins KO 1 February 2, 1979 Illinois Aragon Ballroom (Chicago), Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 2–0 United States Al Bell TKO 1 December 15, 1978 Illinois Aragon Ballroom (Chicago), Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 1–0 United States Ron Stephany KO 1 November 18, 1978 Illinois Alumni Hall (DePaul University), Chicago, Illinois, United States

Life after boxing[edit]

In retirement he wrote an autobiography, Thinkin Big: The Story of James Quick Tillis, the Fightin' Cowboy.

James Tillis received catBOX Entertainment, Inc.’s Lifetime Sports Achievement Award. Tillis, whose fighting prowess named him “quick” and “the fighting cowboy”, was honored with the catBOX Entertainment, Inc.’s Lifetime Sports Achievement Award, before the main event at catBOX’s professional fight card set for February 11, 2010 at Remington Park Casino in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.[3]

On February 12, 2010, the State of Oklahoma honored one of its favorite sons, James “Quick” Tillis of Tulsa. Gov. Brad Henry signed a declaration making Feb 12 James “Quick” Tillis Day in Oklahoma.[4]

As of 2010 Tillis is living in Tulsa.[5]

His daughter Iciss played basketball at Duke University as a center, and was on the United States National Team for the 2003 Pan American Games. Iciss was later selected in the first round by the Detroit Shock during 2004 WNBA Draft. She later played for the New York Liberty in 2006.

Honorary Sign[edit]

On September 22, 2017 Tillis was honored by the city of Tulsa with honorary signs renaming a section of E. Virgin St "Quick Tillis Way" from N. Garrison Ave – N. Frankfort Ave.

Rochester Boxing Hall of Fame induction[edit]

On November 5, 2011, James "Quick" Tillis was Inducted into the Rochester Boxing Hall of Fame, receiving the "John Mastrella Integrity Award".

Tillis places the priorities in his life as "Serving The Lord Jesus Christ, Cowboy-ing and volunteering with amateur boxing clubs".

Bringing to fruition film adaptation of his autobiography, Thinkin Big: The Story of James Quick Tillis, the Fightin' Cowboy, is his pet project.


  1. ^ a b c d e f 1986-05-03 Mike Tyson – James Tillis, ESPN Classic.
  2. ^ a b SportsNight, Satellite News Channel, June 1988.
  3. ^ http://www.catboxentertainment.com/catboxaward.html
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 21, 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2011. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ Adam Wisneski, "Then and Now: Boxer 'Quick' Tillis sees fortune, fame knocked out as fast as they came", Tulsa World, August 8, 2010.

External links[edit]