James Tillis

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James Tillis
James "Quick" Tillis - The Fighting Cowboy
James Theodore Tillis

(1957-07-05) July 5, 1957 (age 66)
Nationality (legal)American
Other namesQuick
The Fighting Cowboy
Height6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Reach80 in (203 cm)
Boxing record
Total fights65
Wins by KO31
No contests1

James Tillis (born July 5, 1957) is an American former professional boxer and actor. Known as "Quick", he was known for his remarkably fast hand speed 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 undefeated contender Pinklon Thomas, who was a late substitute, via an 8th-round knockout loss. In November 1982, Tillis fought former amateur rival Greg Page for the USBA Heavyweight title. He knocked Page down in the 2nd round, but again tired and was the victim of another eighth-round knockout loss. Thomas and Page would go on to win different versions of 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 Apr 13, 2001 United States Saint Joseph Civic Center, Saint Joseph, Missouri, U.S.
Loss 42–21–1 (1) United States Tim Puller UD 10 Oct 16, 1999 United States Issaquah, Washington, U.S.
Loss 42–20–1 (1) United States Cliff Couser TKO 6 Aug 30, 1996 United States Quay Centennial Building, Vancouver, Washington, U.S.
Win 42–19–1 (1) United States Craig Payne UD 8 Jun 21, 1996 United States Quay Centennial Building, Vancouver, Washington, U.S.
NC 41–19–1 (1) United States Will Hinton NC 3 Dec 7, 1995 United States Denver, Colorado, U.S.
Loss 41–19–1 Russia Alexander Zolkin UD 10 Oct 8, 1995 United States Columbus, Ohio, U.S.
Win 41–18–1 United States Stan White Johnson TKO 3 Feb 28, 1992 United States Union Hall, Countryside, Countryside, Illinois, U.S.
Win 40–18–1 United States Danny Blake SD 10 Nov 22, 1991 United States Peoria, Illinois, U.S.
Loss 39–18–1 United States Tommy Morrison TKO 1 Jan 11, 1991 United States Trump Taj Mahal, Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S.
Win 39–17–1 United States Carlton West TKO 3 Dec 7, 1990 Virginia Valley Sports Arena, Roanoke, Virginia, U.S.
Loss 38–17–1 Brazil Adilson Rodrigues UD 10 Mar 20, 1989 Brazil Toledo, Parana, Brazil
Loss 38–16–1 United States Arthel Lawhorne UD 10 Jan 14, 1989 United States The Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Michigan, U.S.
Loss 38–15–1 United Kingdom Gary Mason TKO 5 Nov 30, 1988 United Kingdom Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, Southwark, England
Loss 38–14–1 United States Evander Holyfield RTD 5 Jul 16, 1988 United States Caesars Tahoe, Stateline, Nevada, U.S.
Win 38–13–1 United States Rodney Smith KO 2 Apr 9, 1988 United States Caesars Palace, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.
Win 37–13–1 United States Dennis Jackson KO 5 Oct 16, 1987 United States Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S.
Loss 36–13–1 South Africa Johnny DuPlooy TKO 10 Jun 23, 1987 South Africa Ellis Park Indoor Arena, Johannesburg, South Africa
Loss 36–12–1 United Kingdom Frank Bruno TKO 5 Mar 24, 1987 United Kingdom Wembley Arena, London, England Referee stopped the bout at 1:57 of the fifth round.
Win 36–11–1 United States Ronnie Douglas TKO 5 Mar 6, 1987 United States Fort Smith, Arkansas, U.S.
Loss 35–11–1 United States Mike Williams TKO 8 Jan 8, 1987 United States Marriott Brookhollow, Houston, Texas, U.S.
Draw 35–10–1 United States Avery Rawls PTS 10 Nov 11, 1986 United States Showboat Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
Win 35–10 United States Lorenzo Boyd KO 3 Oct 28, 1986 United States Station Square, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Win 34–10 United States Eddie Richardson PTS 10 Oct 18, 1986 United States Mesquite, Texas, U.S.
Loss 33–10 Australia Joe Bugner PTS 10 Sep 15, 1986 Australia Sydney Entertainment Centre, Sydney, Australia
Win 33–9 United States Art Terry UD 8 Jul 29, 1986 United States Continental Inn, Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.
Win 32–9 United States Mark Young KO 8 Jun 17, 1986 United States Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
Loss 31–9 United States Mike Tyson UD 10 May 3, 1986 United States Glens Falls Civic Center, Glens Falls, New York, U.S.
Loss 31–8 United States Tyrell Biggs UD 8 Jan 25, 1986 United States Americana Host Farm, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Loss 31–7 South Africa Gerrie Coetzee UD 10 Sep 7, 1985 South Africa Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa
Loss 31–6 United States Marvis Frazier UD 10 May 20, 1985 United States Lawlor Events Center, Reno, Nevada, U.S.
Win 31–5 United States Bashir Wadud UD 10 Dec 15, 1984 United States Genesee Theatre, Waukegan, Illinois, U.S.
Loss 30–5 United States Carl Williams UD 10 Oct 23, 1984 United States Atlantis Hotel and Casino, Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S.
Win 30–4 United States Michael Bennett KO 1 Aug 20, 1984 United States Miami, Oklahoma, U.S.
Win 29–4 United States Billy Joe Thomas KO 3 Jul 10, 1984 United States Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
Win 28–4 United States Bobby Crabtree KO 3 Apr 26, 1984 United States Excelsior Hotel, Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
Win 27–4 United States Otis Bates KO 2 Feb 9, 1984 United States Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
Loss 26–4 United States Tim Witherspoon TKO 1 Sep 23, 1983 United States Richfield Coliseum, Richfield, Ohio, U.S. NABF Heavyweight Title. Referee stopped the bout at 2:16 of the first round.
Win 26–3 United States Lynwood Jones KO 4 Jul 9, 1983 United States DiVinci Manor, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 25–3 United States Larry Givens TKO 2 May 22, 1983 United States Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 24–3 United States Grady Daniels TKO 4 Apr 25, 1983 United States Congress Americana Hotel, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 23–3 United States Leroy Boone PTS 10 Mar 28, 1983 United States Congress Americana Hotel, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Loss 22–3 United States Greg Page TKO 8 Nov 26, 1982 United States Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S. IBF USBA Heavyweight Title.
Loss 22–2 United States Pinklon Thomas TKO 8 Aug 14, 1982 United States Stouffer's Ballroom, Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. Referee stopped the bout at 0:58 of the eighth round.
Win 22–1 United States Earnie Shavers UD 10 Jun 11, 1982 United States Caesars Palace, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.
Win 21–1 United States Jerry Williams KO 3 Mar 13, 1982 United States Sands Hotel, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.
Loss 20–1 United States Mike Weaver UD 15 Oct 3, 1981 United States Rosemont Horizon, Rosemont, Illinois, U.S. For WBA Heavyweight Title.
Win 20–0 United States Tom Fischer PTS 10 Mar 9, 1981 United States Hilton Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 19–0 Argentina Domingo D'Elia TKO 4 Nov 13, 1980 United States International Amphitheatre, Chicago, Illinois, U.S. Referee stopped the bout at 1:40 of the fourth round.
Win 18–0 United States Mike Koranicki UD 10 Aug 14, 1980 United States International Amphitheatre, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 17–0 United States Eric Sedillo TKO 4 Jun 12, 1980 United States Hilton Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 16–0 United States Walter Santemore UD 10 May 15, 1980 United States Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 15–0 United States Frank Schram TKO 2 Apr 17, 1980 United States Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, Illinois, U.S. Referee stopped the bout at 1:54 of the second round.
Win 14–0 United States Ron Stander TKO 7 Mar 3, 1980 United States International Amphitheatre, Chicago, Illinois, U.S. Stander did not come out of his corner for the eighth round.
Win 13–0 United States Roy Wallace UD 10 Feb 1, 1980 United States International Amphitheatre, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 12–0 United States Al Jones KO 4 Dec 13, 1979 United States Tulsa Civic Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
Win 11–0 United States Harry Terrell KO 1 Nov 20, 1979 United States Circle Arena, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 10–0 United States Bob Whaley TKO 1 Oct 19, 1979 United States Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 9–0 United States Jimmy Cross TKO 2 Sep 7, 1979 United States Circle Arena, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 8–0 United States Charles Anderson Atlas TKO 2 Jul 30, 1979 United States International Amphitheatre, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 7–0 United States Henry Porter TKO 6 Jul 20, 1979 United States University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 6–0 United States George Gofarth TKO 5 Jun 11, 1979 United States Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 5–0 Rocky Lane KO 1 Mar 31, 1979 United States Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 4–0 United States Sylvester Wilder TKO 3 Feb 28, 1979 United States DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 3–0 United States Dave Watkins KO 1 Feb 2, 1979 United States Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 2–0 United States Al Bell TKO 1 Dec 15, 1978 United States Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Win 1–0 United States Ron Stephany KO 1 Nov 18, 1978 United States Alumni Hall, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.

Exhibition boxing record[edit]

1 fight 0 wins 0 losses
Non-scored 1
No. Result Record Opponent Type Round, time Date Location Notes
1 0–0 (1) United States Mike Tyson 4 Nov 12, 1987 United States DePaul University Alumni Hall, Chicago, Illinois, U.S. Non-scored bout

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. ^ "CatBOX Entertainment".
  4. ^ "James 'Quick' Tillis Day | Tulsa Beacon". Archived from the original on April 21, 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2011.
  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]