Ten-Count for Jimmy Ellis

By Robert Ecksel on May 6, 2014
Ten-Count for Jimmy Ellis
Jimmy Ellis turned pro on April 19, 1961, at the Freedom Hall State Fairground in Louisville.

“Great competitors who happen to be great friends are rare. Jimmy Ellis was that to me and I will miss him…”

Former WBA heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis passed away today at Baptist Louisville Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, after suffering from dementia for more than a decade. He was 74.

James Albert Ellis was born in Lexington, Kentucky on February 24, 1940. He first started boxing after watching youngster named Cassius Clay on a local TV show called Tomorrow’s Champions.

“I had a friend of mine named Donnie Hall,” recalled Ellis, “and he fought Ali. Donnie lost, and I thought I could maybe be a fighter then.”

Ellis was a Golden Gloves champ who won 59 of 66 bouts. He went 1-1 with Clay as an amateur.

Jimmy Ellis turned pro as a middleweight on April 19, 1961, at the Freedom Hall State Fairground in Louisville, with a third round TKO over 15-12-1 Arley Seifer. It may have been an inauspicious beginning, but he was soon tangling with the likes of Rory Calhoun, Holly Mims, Henry Hank, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Don Fullmer, and George Benton.

At the end of 1964, after going 15-5, Ellis joined Angelo Dundee and his stable. Ellis became Ali’s sparring partner and fought on his undercards.

Ellis fought everyone there was to fight. He battled Leotis Martin and Oscar Bonavena in 1967, and Jerry Quarry, who he defeated to win the title, and Floyd Patterson in 1968. Joe Frazier stopped Ellis in 1970. Ellis decisioned George Chuvalo and lost to Muhammad Ali in 1971.

Those were the glory years. Ellis had 16 fights in the next four years, going 10-5-1 with losses to Earnie Shavers and Boone Kirkman in 1973, Ron Lyle and Joe Bugner in 1974, and a second loss to Joe Frazier in 1975.

His final fight was on May 6, 1975. Fittingly, he scored a first round KO over Carl Baker and retired with a record of 40-12-1 with 24 KOs.

The Ali Center released a statement on behalf of The Greatest:

“Lonnie and I are very saddened by the loss of our friend, and fellow Louisvillian, Jimmy Ellis. Our friendship began on the local Louisville boxing show ‘Tomorrow’s Champions’ and continued to grow throughout the years. In the ring he was tough. In the world of heavyweights, I have always thought that Jimmy was one of the best. As a former champion, Jimmy was known for exceptional hand speed and a strong chin. He was a master in the ring. Jimmy and I were both trained by Angelo Dundee, who would often say that Jimmy ‘packed more punch’ than he was ever given credit for. Strong chin and punching power aside, it was his gentle manner and the compassion in his heart that I found most worthy of admiration. 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.”

Requiescat in pace.

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  1. Tex Hassler 04:05pm, 05/11/2014

    Jimmy Ellis was a true gentleman and an asset to boxing as well as to the human race. He was a fine fighter and probably would have been a champion if he was in his prime today. I will never forget Jimmy Ellis and neither will boxing fans who know the sport. Mike Casey was right about Ellis.

  2. Joe 01:24pm, 05/07/2014

    This guy was a tough one.  Beautiful left hook, he may have even got an Ali payday on top of all those rounds he sparred witht The Greatest.  RIP Mr. Ellis.

  3. Eric 09:35am, 05/07/2014

    Ellis hit hard enough to floor the granite chinned Bonavena, something that Frazier wasn’t capable of doing in 27 rounds of fighting. Underrated power as a heavweight. Had to stuff himself to even approach 200lbs, and was still able to hang with big legit heavyweights like Ali, Chuvalo, Lyle, Bugner. Would have never guessed that Ellis would have handled Bonavena the way he did, Oscar was also handled by an aging Floyd Patterson. Oscar gives Frazier and Ali hell, and the Argentinian strongman is handled by a couple of blown up light heavyweights, nothing is a safe bet I guess. Always wonder if Patterson would have rightfully received the decision over Ellis, if Floyd would’ve fared any better against Frazier. No way can I see Floyd lasting much longer than Ellis, if he would’ve lasted that long. The Frazier of 1970 was a machine.

  4. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:08am, 05/07/2014

    At the lower weights he didn’t show great power though it’s true he was fighting real fighters right out of the gate. His power and chin didn’t come into focus until he started campaigning at heavyweight,,,,maybe his hand speed enabled him to really land flush on the slower big guys….he certainly hit hard enough to make a much stronger Chuvalo behave. Another top fighter with a good chin that ends up in the fog of dementia.

  5. Mike Casey 06:07am, 05/07/2014

    Great pro, very good boxer and a dangerous hitter with good movement. I liked Jimmy a lot - even though he beat Jerry Quarry!

  6. Eric 07:33pm, 05/06/2014

    Ellis was one skinny looking middleweight. Did remarkably well in the heavyweight division, seeing that Ellis was never really a true heavyweight even back then. He beat some bruisers like Bonavena and Chuvalo, and outpointed the favored Quarry albeit a less than 100% version of Jerry. Had commented earlier on another post how a lot of Ali’s past opponents have died off and Ali is still hanging on, now add another past opponent in Jimmy Ellis. Always wondered why Jimmy completely passed over the light heavyweight division, of course fighting the bigger boys meant more cash. Ellis vs. Foster could have been a good matchup at 175 or at heavyweight. Kind of remarkable that a city the size of Louisville, Kentucky has produced three heavyweight champions. RIP, Jimmy.

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