FORMER heavyweight boxing champion Jimmy Ellis has passed away in the United States at the age of 74.
The son of a Baptist minister, Mr. Ellis was a close friend and contemporary of Muhammad Ali. Both had developed their skills in the same gym in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, before going on to be trained by the renowned Angelo Dundee.
When Ali was stripped of the WBA heavyweight title for refusing to be drafted into the US Army to serve in the Vietnam War, it was Ellis who boxed Jerry Quarry in 1968 for the Crown (see below). He won on points after a 15-round battle.
Mr. Ellis, who at 6ft. 1in. and weighing-in at just over 14 stone, was regarded as being one of the smaller heavyweight fighters. But he had what Ali called “exceptional hand speed and a strong chin”. His brother Jerry was also clear why Jimmy had been able to take-on heavier opponents: “He was always the smaller guy fighting a bigger guy, but he was always determined. He didn’t always come out successful, but he was very competitive. He was a proud winner and he was a proud loser as well.”
Having won the WBA title in what was to be regarded as one of the greatest eras for heavyweight boxing, it was perhaps inevitable that his reign would be relatively short.
His defence of the title had included a points win over Floyd Patterson, but defeat came at the hands of Joe Frazier in a fight staged in New York’s Madison Square Garden in February 1970 (see below). After being knocked down twice in the fourth round, Mr. Ellis remained in his corner at the beginning of the fifth.
The following year he took on his friend and old sparring partner Ali. The fourth round again proved to be a problem time for Mr. Ellis. He suffered an injury during the round but managed to struggle on, although the referee halted the fight in the twelfth round. The fight was one of the rare occasions when Angelo Dundee was not in Ali’s corner. Although Dundee trained both men, he was also Ellis’s manager so had opted to remain with him.
Mr. Ellis retired from the ring in 1975 after a disappointing spell in which he had suffered a number of defeats, including a fight against Joe Bugner.
In his 14-year professional career, Mr. Ellis won 40 fights, 24 of which were knockouts. He lost 12.
Following retirement, he trained boxers in his hometown of Louisville, but in recent years Mr. Ellis had suffered from a form of dementia.
Among the many tributes was one from Muhammad Ali who described his friend as having been a “master of the ring”. The former world champion added: “I had a kinship with Jimmy and felt like he and I were of the same cloth. He was a great athlete and a caring man. Great competitors who happen to be great friends are rare. Jimmy Ellis was that to me and I will miss him.”
To view an excerpt from footage of Mr. Ellis’s fight with Jerry Quarry, click here.
To see Mr. Ellis in action against Joe Frazier, click here.
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