Jimmy Ellis, the onetime sparring partner for Muhammad Ali who captured the heavyweight boxing championship after it had been stripped from Ali for his refusing induction into the armed forces, died on Tuesday in Louisville, Ky. He was 74.
He had been treated for Alzheimer’s disease, his brother, Jerry, told The Associated Press in confirming the death.
Ellis and Ali began their boxing careers in Louisville as amateurs, and they split two bouts as teenagers. But Ellis gained little attention early in his professional career, when he was a middleweight, while Ali, known as Cassius Clay at the time, became the charismatic undefeated heavyweight champion.
Ellis grew into an undersize heavyweight, at 190 pounds or so, and then had an unexpected shot at boxing glamour when he was named the eighth and final entrant in a 1967-68 tournament to crown a successor to Ali for what had become the vacant World Boxing Association heavyweight championship.
Joe Frazier, who was recognized as the heavyweight champion only by New York and several other states but was considered the best of the heavyweights, declined to take part in the tournament. Red Smith, sports columnist for The New York Times, later characterized it as “a series promoted by the World Boxing Association and Roone Arledge of American Broadcasting Company to keep Howard Cosell busy.”
But Ellis, a fine boxer with quick hands, made the most of his opportunity.He defeated Leotis Martin and the Argentine Oscar Bonavena and then won a 15-round decision over Jerry Quarry in the championship tournament final in April 1968.
Ellis successfully defended his W.B.A. title by outpointing the former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson in a 15-round bout in Stockholm in September 1968. He lost his title to Frazier in February 1970, when he did not come out for the fifth round after being knocked down twice.
A reserved family man who shunned flash, Ellis was overshadowed by Ali and other great heavyweights of his time, but maintained his pride. In capturing the W.B.A. championship in 1968, he said he thought he had shed his image as a training-camp underling for Ali.
“I was made out to be nothing but a sparring partner,” he told Sports Illustrated after beating Quarry. “It bothered me to be run down like that. I was more than that. I knew it. I think I’ve proven that now.”
Ellis fought Ali in July 1971 at the Astrodome in Houston for a minor heavyweight title after Ali’s conviction for draft evasion was overturned by the Supreme Court. It was promoted as “the inevitable fight” in view of their past relationship, but it was not much of a contest. Ali battered Ellis into the 12th and final round, until Ellis was helpless against the ropes and Ali shied from punishing him any further. The referee stopped the fight.
In the buildup to the bout, Ali could not resist giving Ellis a backhanded compliment. “James Ellis one of the best fighters in the world,” he told The Times. “To be my sparring partner, you got to be good.”
James Albert Ellis won born in Louisville on Feb. 24, 1940. He worked with his father, Henry, in his cement-finishing business as a teenager. But one day, while watching amateur boxing on television, he saw a friend lose to Ali. Ellis thought that with some coaching, he could beat Ali, who was two years younger, and he began taking lessons at the Louisville gym where Ali trained.
He turned pro in 1961 as a middleweight and also worked as Ali’s sparring partner while fighting on his undercards. With his career stalled three years later, Ellis wrote to Ali’s renowned trainer, Angelo Dundee, asking if Dundee could take him on.
Dundee agreed to handle Ellis while continuing to work for Ali but was skeptical of his prospects.
“The first time I laid eyes on Jimmy, there wasn’t much to look at,” Dundee said in his memoir, “My View From the Corner” (2008), written with Bert Randolph Sugar. He viewed Ellis as “a skinny kid who weighed close to 150 pounds” and had various ailments but thought he could eventually become a good light-heavyweight. Ellis, in turn, eyed the heavyweight division, where the biggest purses were.
Dundee was in Ellis’s corner when he fought Ali, because as Ellis’s manager, as well as his trainer, he stood to receive a much larger share of the purse than he would have solely as the trainer in Ali’s corner.
Ellis’s last major fight was in March 1975, when Frazier stopped him in the ninth round. Ellis retired that year after a sparring partner partly blinded him with a poke to his left eye.
Ellis had a 40-12-1 record, with 24 knockouts.
In addition to his brother Jerry, Ellis is survived by his sons Jeff and James Jr.; his daughters Jamesetta Wells, Inez Ellis, Mary Ellis and Sonya Ellis; and 10 grandchildren, WDRB-TV in Louisville reported. His wife, the former Mary Etta Williams, died in 2006.
After retiring from boxing, Ellis worked for the Louisville Parks and Recreation Department, and he and his wife were active in the Riverview Baptist Church of Louisville, where they sang in the choir.
“I was a smaller heavyweight, but I could fight the big guys,” Ellis told The Washington Times in 2004. “I’m proud of what I did, but all I ever wanted was to be a good fighter and a good person.”
James Albert "Jimmy" Ellis (February 24, 1940 – May 6, 2014) was an American boxer from Louisville, Kentucky in what many call boxing's golden era. Fellow top heavyweights included Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, Floyd Patterson, Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonavena, George Chuvalo, Jimmy Young, Ron Lyle, Buster Mathis, Cleveland Williams, and Earnie Shavers, among others.
Ellis held the WBA World Heavyweight Championship from 1968 to 1970. He was a skilled boxer with a good chin and much better punching power than many expected.
James Albert "Jimmy" Ellis (February 24, 1940 – May 6, 2014) was an American boxer from Louisville, Kentucky in what many call boxings golden era. Fellow top heavyweights included Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman,Ken Norton, Floyd Patterson, Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonavena, George Chuvalo, Jimmy Young, Ron Lyle, Buster Mathis,Cleveland Williams, and Earnie Shavers, among others.
Ellis held the WBA World Heavyweight Championship from 1968 to 1970. He was a skilled boxer with a good chin and, as manager and trainer Angelo Dundee always stated, much better punching power than many expected.
Birth and early years
He was born one of ten children. Father Walter was a Pastor and Jimmy grew up a devout christian. As a teenager Ellis worked in a cement finishing factory.. He also had an interest in music and became a good singer in the local Church choir, years later wife Mary would join him. He continued the Church involvement all his adult life. He also admirred Joe Louis.
Ellis got into boxing as a teenager after watching a friend box fellow Louisville youngster Muhammad Ali 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.
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.
Early professional career
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."
Ellis wrote a letter to an at first sceptical 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 his early pre-Liston undercards. Six of his first eight fights with Dundee were on an Ali undercards.
Buy the mid 1960's Ellis was fighting heavyweights. Being a tall natural athletic build he'd had increasing trouble keeping down to middleweight. Ferdie Percheco MD, who worked with both Ali & Ellis throughout their careers, called Ellis's development from middleweight to heavywweight one of the most dramatic he could recall.
WBA world title eliminator matches
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 the iron-jawed Bonavena with a right once in the third round and once in the ninth from a truely wicked left hook. After twelve rounds, Ellis was awarded a clear unanimous decision. He controlled the match throughout with perhaps the best display in his career. He made Oscar look basic and was only really in trouble himself in the ninth. But ironically, he turned the ninth around with a split second counter catching Oscar wide open and decking him badly. Ellis advanced to the tournament final.
Wins WBA world title
In the tournament final, Ellis faced Jerry Quarry, a slight betting favorite, on April 27, 1968 in Oakland, California. In a dull fight, Ellis fought what Sports Illustratedcalled "a tactical masterpiece". But he was very cautious and won a fifteen-round split decision  to capture the vacant WBA Heavyweight Championship. Quarry said, "If they'd given me the decision, I'd have given it back. I didn't deserve it."
In his only successful title defense, Ellis defeated Floyd Patterson by a controversial fifteen-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.
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. 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.
Unification title match with Joe Frazier
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (May 2014)|
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, and Angelo Dundee stopped the fight before the start of the fifth round. It was the first knockout loss for Ellis.
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 understood completely and got Harry Wiley, who had worked with Henry Armstrong and Sugar Ray Robinson, to be his trainer for the Ellis fight. It was one of the few fights in Ali's career in which Dundee was not in his corner.
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 Ellis, who remained on his feet. No knockdowns throughout the fight.
After the loss to Ali, Ellis won his next eight fights by knockout. But on June 18th, 1973, he fought Earnie Shavers, who was 44–2 (43 KOs), at Madison Square Garden. Ellis, ranked fourth by the WBA, stunned Shavers 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 wickedly powerful single right uppercut to the chin. The time was 2:39 in the first round. It was a stunning win for Shavers.
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 Joe Frazier took place in Melbourne, Australia on March 2, 1975. 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 suffering a training injury that left him partially blind in his left eye. Ellis finished with a record of 40–12–1 (24 KOs).
After retiring from boxing, Ellis trained boxers. Later he worked for the Louisville Parks Department on athletic and recreational projects between 1989 and 2003.
Life outside boxing
In 2004 Ellis told the Washington Times "...All I ever wanted to be was a good fighter and good man.' He seemed to achieve it. Brother Jeff gave a tribute on his death saying " He was someone you could model yourself on" Ellis was a reserved family man who shunned flash although had a determined competitve streak in boxing.
With wife Mary he had six children,2 sons and 4 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 freind. Ellis wasn't always pleased by the sparring partner tag but felt he had proved himself above that.
He suffered from dementia pugilistica, for over decade before his death. It was reported that Ellis' condition was so bad that he believed his deceased wife, Mary who died in 2006, was still alive.
Ellis died of complications from dementia on May 6, 2014, in Louisville, Baptist Hospital, Kentucky.
A tribute came in from Muhammad Ali; 'In the world of heavyweights I always thought him one of the best. Ellis's family considered that the boxing exacerated the demenia but didn't necessarily cause it. His younger brother Jeff, who'd trained with Ellis in years past, commented that he himself now avoided watching boxing as he'd seen too many damaged by it. Ellis was survived by three brothers and a sister. Son Jeff payed professional football and confirmed the family were always immensely proud of Elli's achievements and world title. 
Ellis will be remembered as a top boxer and part title holder who battled both Frazier and Ali. Not withstanding his contests with Quarry, Patterson and Bonavena however. It was perhaps boxings peak era and he was a crucial major figure.
Professional boxing record
|40 wins (24 knockouts, 16 decisions), 12 losses (4 knockouts, 8 decisions), 1 draw |
|Win||21–22–1||Carl "The Tank" Baker||KO||1||06/05/1975||Orlando, Florida|
|Loss||31–2||Joe Frazier||TKO||9||02/03/1975||St. Kilda Junction Oval, Melbourne, Victoria||The referee stopped the bout at 0:59 of the 9th round.|
|Loss||48–6–1||Joe Bugner||PTS||10||12/11/1974||Empire Pool, Wembley, London||The referee's score: 0–8–2|
|Loss||27–1–1||Ron Lyle||UD||12||16/07/1974||Denver, Colorado||Scores: 55–59, 52–58, 52–59|
|Draw||21–4–1||Larry Middleton||PTS||10||04/03/1974||Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland||Scores: 46–44, 45–46, 47–47|
|Loss||30–2||Boone Kirkman||SD||10||12/12/1973||Seattle Center Coliseum, Seattle, Washington||Scores: 93–97, 95–98, 98–97|
|Win||5–20–2||"Memphis" Al Jones||KO||7||23/10/1973||Atlanta Municipal Auditorium, Atlanta, Georgia|
|Loss||44–2||Earnie Shavers||KO||1||18/06/1973||Madison Square Garden, New York City||Ellis was knocked out at 2:39 of the 1st round.|
|Win||10–13–2||Rico Brooks||KO||5||05/05/1973||Phoenix, Arizona||Brooks was knocked out at 0:48 of the 5th round.|
|Win||4–5–1||Joe Tiger Harris||KO||2||14/04/1973||Huntington, West Virginia||Carmen Basilio was the referee.|
|Win||8–16–1||Charlie "Emperor" Harris||TKO||1||06/03/1973||Miami Beach Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida||The referee stopped the bout at 1:48 of the 1st round.|
|Win||16–11–1||Bob Felstein||KO||2||21/02/1973||Orlando, Florida||Felstein was knocked out at 0:48 of the 2nd round.|
|Win||13–21–2||Harold "70's Version" Carter||TKO||7||26/10/1972||Raleigh County Armory, Beckley, West Virginia||The referee stopped the bout at 0:37 of the 7th round.|
|Win||21–41||Ollie Wilson||TKO||6||21/09/1972||St. Josaphat Auditorium, Parma, Ohio||The referee stopped the fight after the 5th round.|
|Win||10–11–1||Rico Brooks||KO||2||13/06/1972||Miami Marine Stadium, Key Biscayne, Florida||The fight took place on a barge.|
|Win||10–13||Dick Gosha||TKO||6||16/05/1972||Seattle Center Arena, Seattle, Washington||The referee stopped the bout at 2:55 of the 6th round.|
|Loss||31–1||Muhammad Ali||TKO||12||26/07/1971||Astrodome, Houston, Texas||NABF Heavyweight Title. The referee stopped the bout at 2:10 of the 12th round.|
|Win||63–16–2||George Chuvalo||UD||10||10/05/1971||Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario||Scores: 48–46, 48–44, 49–43|
|Win||36–8–1||"Irish" Tony Doyle||KO||10||02/03/1971||Miami Beach Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida||Doyle was knocked out at 2:42 of the 10th round.|
|Win||21–20||Roberto Davila||TKO||7||10/11/1970||Miami Beach Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida||The referee stopped the bout at 2:26 of the 7th round.|
|Loss||24–0||Joe Frazier||TKO||5||16/02/1970||Madison Square Garden, New York City||WBC/WBA/NYSAC World Heavyweight Titles.|
|Win||46–6–1||Floyd Patterson||PTS||15||14/09/1968||Solna Stadion, Stockholm||WBA World Heavyweight Title. The referee's score: 9–6.|
|Win||26–1–4||Jerry Quarry||MD||15||27/04/1968||Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland, California||WBA World Heavyweight Title. Scores: 10–5, 7–5, 6–6–3.|
|Win||31–3||Oscar Bonavena||UD||12||02/12/1967||Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky||WBA Heavyweight Elimination Tournament. Scores: 56–53, 59–53, 55–54|
|Win||24–1||Leotis Martin||TKO||9||05/08/1967||Astrodome, Houston, Texas||WBA Heavyweight Elimination Tournament. The fight was stopped on cuts.|
|Win||17–3–1||Johnny Persol||KO||1||22/03/1967||Madison Square Garden, New York City||The fight was on the undercard of Muhammad Ali vs. Zora Folley.|
|Win||35–29–4||Tommy "Hurricane" Sims||KO||1||14/11/1966||Astrodome, Houston, Texas||The fight was on the undercard of Muhammad Ali vs. Cleveland Williams.|
|Win||10–2||Eddie Dembry||KO||1||27/10/1966||Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky|
|Win||20–14–1||Billy "The Barber" Daniels||PTS||6||10/09/1966||Waldstadion, Frankfurt, Hesse||The fight was on the undercard of Muhammad Ali vs. Karl Mildenberger.|
|Win||19–4–1||Leweni Waqa||KO||1||21/05/1966||Arsenal Stadium, Highbury, London||The fight was on the undercard of Muhammad Ali vs. Henry Cooper II|
|Win||13–3–2||Hubert Hilton||PTS||8||29/03/1966||Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario||The fight was on the undercard of Muhammad Ali vs. George ChuvaloI.|
|Win||11–7–1||Chuck Leslie||UD||10||15/11/1965||The Hacienda, Las Vegas, Nevada||Scores: 49–43, 48–43, 48–43|
|Win||66–23–9||Joe Blackwood||KO||1||25/05/1965||Saint-Dominic Academy, Lewiston, Maine||The fight was on the undercard of Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston II.|
|Loss||52–9–1||George Benton||MD||10||30/11/1964||Philadelphia Arena, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania||Scores: 45–46, 45–46, 46–46|
|Loss||32–11–2||Don Fullmer||SD||10||21/10/1964||Louisville Gardens, Louisville, Kentucky|
|Win||5–2||Joe Spencer||KO||1||21/04/1964||Lexington, Kentucky|
|Loss||18–4||Rubin Carter||UD||10||28/02/1964||Madison Square Garden, New York City||Scores: 2–7, 3–6, 3–7|
|Win||54–5–5||Lou Gutierrez||PTS||10||27/09/1963||Louisville Gardens, Louisville, Kentucky|
|Win||31–11–5||Johnny Halafihi||KO||1||18/06/1963||Empire Exhibition Stadium, Wembley, London||The fight was on the undercard of Cassius Clay vs. Henry Cooper I.|
|Win||20–15–2||LeRoy Green||UD||10||03/12/1962||Columbia Gymnasium Arena, Louisville, Kentucky|
|Loss||52–16–3||Henry Hank||UD||10||01/09/1962||Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky||Scores: 45–47, 46–47, 44–47|
|Win||2–2||Sammy Poe||PTS||4||13/06/1962||Phoenix Hotel Ballroom, Lexington, Kentucky|
|Win||14–10–1||Charlie Glover||PTS||4||13/06/1962||Phoenix Hotel Ballroom, Lexington, Kentucky|
|Win||34–27–4||Rudolph Bent||TKO||2||07/06/1962||Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky||The referee stopped the bout at 1:17 of the 2nd round.|
|Win||57–22–6||Holly Mims||UD||10||04/05/1962||Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky|
|Win||14–3–3||Johnny Alford||MD||6||17/02/1962||Madison Square Garden, New York City||The fight was on the undercard of Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Denny Moyer II.|
|Win||45–14–2||Herman Calhoun||KO||1||11/01/1962||Louisville Gardens, Louisville, Kentucky|
|Loss||56–22–6||Holly Mims||UD||10||29/11/1961||Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky||The fight was on the undercard of Cassius Clay vs. Willi Besmanoff|
|Win||18–24–5||Clarence Riley||TKO||2||07/10/1961||Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky||The fight was on the undercard of Cassius Clay vs. Alex Miteff.|
|Win||34–19–1||Wilf Greaves||MD||10||22/08/1961||Fairgrounds Stadium, Louisville, Kentucky|
|Win||21–4||Johnny Morris||SD||6||22/07/1961||Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky||The fight was on the undercard of Cassius Clay vs. Alonzo Johnson.|
|Win||11–3–1||Gene Leslie||PTS||8||06/05/1961||Louisville, Kentucky|
|Win||15–12–1||Arley Seifer||TKO||3||19/04/1961||Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky||The fight was on the undercard of Cassius Clay vs. LaMar Clark.|