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Jimmy Ellis (boxer)

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Jimmy Ellis
Ellis in 1968
James Albert Ellis

(1940-02-24)February 24, 1940
DiedMay 6, 2014(2014-05-06) (aged 74)
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
Height6 ft 0 in (183 cm)
Reach76 in (193 cm)
Boxing record[1]
Total fights53
Wins by KO24

James Albert Ellis (February 24, 1940 – May 6, 2014) was an 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.

Early life[edit]

He was born one of ten children. His father, Walter, was a pastor, and Ellis was brought up as a Christian.[2] As a teenager he worked in a cement finishing factory.[3] 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.[4]

Amateur career[edit]

Ellis got into boxing as a teenager after watching a friend box a fellow Louisville youngster Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) 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.[5]

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.[citation needed]

Professional career[edit]

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."[6]

Ellis wrote a letter to an at first skeptical[7] 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.[8]

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 and Ellis throughout their careers, called Ellis's development from middleweight to heavyweight one of the most dramatic he could recall.[9]

WBA heavyweight title eliminator matches[edit]

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.[10]

WBA heavyweight champion[edit]

In the tournament final, Ellis faced Jerry Quarry, a slight betting favorite, on April 27, 1968, in Oakland, California.[11] Ellis fought what Sports Illustrated called "a tactical masterpiece". A cautious Ellis won a 15-round split decision[12] to capture the vacant WBA Heavyweight Championship.[13] Quarry said, "If they'd given me the decision, I'd have given it back. I didn't deserve it."[14][15]

Title reign[edit]

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.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18][19]

Unification title match with Joe Frazier[edit]

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. At the request of Ellis': trainer Angelo Dundee, the referee stopped the fight before the start of the fifth round.[20] It was the first knockout loss for Ellis.

Ellis vs. Ali[edit]

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.[21]

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 Ali pummelled Ellis.[22]

Diminishing skills[edit]

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 in the first round 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.[23]

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 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 a training injury left him partially blind in his left eye. Ellis finished his respectable career with a record of 40 wins of which 24 of them came by way of knockout, twelve losses and one draw.

Later life[edit]

After retiring from boxing, Ellis trained boxers. Later he worked for the Louisville Parks Department on athletic and recreational projects between 1989 and 2003.[24] In 2004, Ellis told the Washington Times "...All I ever wanted to be was a good fighter and good man.'[25] Brother Jeff gave a tribute on his death saying " He was someone you could model yourself on"[26] Ellis was a reserved family man who shunned flash although had a determined competitive streak in boxing.

With wife Mary he had six children: two sons and four 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.[27]

He lived with dementia pugilistica, for over a decade before his death.[28] It was reported that Ellis's condition was so bad that he believed his deceased wife, Mary who died in 2006, was still alive.[29][30]


Ellis died in Louisville Baptist Hospital, Kentucky at the age of 74 from complications of dementia on May 6, 2014, 39 years exactly after his last boxing match.[31] His funeral was held on 12 May, 2014, at Louisville's Canaan Christian Church and he was buried in Green Meadows Memorial Cemetery.[32][33] On the announcement Ellis's death Muhammad Ali issued the following statement: "In the world of heavyweights I always thought of him as one of the best".[34]

Personal life[edit]

His son Jeff played professional football and confirmed the family were always immensely proud of Ellis's achievements and his World Title.[35] Ellis's family considered that boxing exacerbated the dementia of his later years, but had not necessarily caused it.[36] His younger brother Jerry, who had trained with Ellis, commented that he avoided watching boxing in his later years as he had seen too many people damaged by it.

Professional boxing record[edit]

53 fights 40 wins 12 losses
By knockout 24 4
By decision 16 8
Draws 1
No. Result Record Opponent Type Round, time Date Location Notes
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 and vacant WBC 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

Exhibition boxing record[edit]

9 fights 0 wins 0 losses
Non-scored 9
No. Result Record Opponent Type Round, time Date Location Notes
9 0-0 (9) United States Muhammad Ali ? Dec 1, 1982 United Arab Emirates Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. Non-scored bout
8 0-0 (8) United States Muhammad Ali 5 Jan 31, 1980 India Madras, India Non-scored bout
7 0-0 (7) United States Muhammad Ali 5 Jun 7, 1979 United Kingdom Odeon Theatre, Birmingham, England Non-scored bout
6 0-0 (6) United States Muhammad Ali 5 May 27, 1979 Denmark Randershallen, Randers, Denmark Non-scored bout
5 0-0 (5) United States Muhammad Ali 2 Mar 12, 1979 United States Providence Civic Center, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S. Non-scored bout
4 0-0 (4) United States Muhammad Ali ? Feb 8, 1979 New Zealand Western Springs, Auckland, New Zealand Non-scored bout
3 0–0 (3) United States Muhammad Ali 4 Aug 20, 1965 United Kingdom London, England Non-scored bout
2 0–0 (2) United States Muhammad Ali 2 Aug 16, 1965 Sweden Nya Ullevi, Gothenburg, Sweden Non-scored bout
1 0–0 (1) United States Muhammad Ali 3 Jul 31, 1965 Puerto Rico San Juan, Puerto Rico Non-scored bout


  1. ^ "Boxing record for Jimmy Ellis". BoxRec.
  2. ^ Courier Journal
  3. ^ New York Times
  4. ^ New York Times, 6 May 2014
  5. ^ The Washington Times – July 31, 2004
  6. ^ The Courier-Journal – February 23, 1996
  7. ^ New York Times 6 may 2014
  8. ^ Sports Illustrated – December 11, 1967
  9. ^ Ferdie's book Fight Doctor
  10. ^ Boxing history by Sam Andre, Hamlyn publisher. Fight films
  11. ^ Boxing history by Sam Andre, Hamlyn, & also fight videos
  12. ^ Sam Andre's Pictorial History of Boxing
  13. ^ Miller, Stephen; Henry, David (May 6, 2014). "Jimmy Ellis, former boxing champion, dies at 74". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 18, 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  14. ^ "Forty Years Ago: WBA Launches Heavyweight Tourney" Archived 2009-06-15 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Sports Illustrated – May 6, 1968
  16. ^ The New York Times – September 15, 1968
  17. ^ Washington Afro-American – September 30, 1969
  18. ^ The Montreal Gazette – July 22, 1971
  19. ^ The Age – December 23, 1969
  20. ^ The Independent – May 12, 2014
  21. ^ Muhammad Ali vs. Jimmy Ellis: The Inevitable Fight – 40 Years On
  22. ^ Sports Illustrated – August 2, 1971
  23. ^ Montreal Gazette – June 19, 1973
  24. ^ New York Times, 6 May 2014
  25. ^ New York Times, 6 May 2014
  26. ^ Wiky sports, May 2014
  27. ^ New York Times 6 May 2014
  28. ^ Bloomberg News, May 2014
  29. ^ "Jimmy Ellis: From Ali Sparring Partner To Heavyweight Champion" Archived 2011-07-08 at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ "The Sweet Science: Boxing And Getting One's Head Examined"
  31. ^ Miller, Stephen; Henry, David (May 6, 2014). "Jimmy Ellis, Ali's Friend Who Won Heavyweight Crown, Dies at 74". Bloomberg. Retrieved May 7, 2014.
  32. ^ https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/129313194/jimmy-ellis
  33. ^ TV News report of the Jimmy Ellis's funeral, WLKY News Louisville, published on Youtube 12 May 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltax6sZavyA
  34. ^ New York Times 6 May 2014.
  35. ^ Courier Journal, May 2014.
  36. ^ 'Courier Journal', May 2014.

External links[edit]

Sporting positions
Regional boxing titles
Title last held by
Muhammad Ali
WBA heavyweight champion
April 27, 1968 – February 16, 1970
Succeeded by