Jimmy Ellis
Ellis in 1968
Real nameJames Albert Ellis
Height6 ft 0 in (183 cm)
Reach76 in (193 cm)
Born(1940-02-24)February 24, 1940
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedMay 6, 2014(2014-05-06) (aged 74)
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
Boxing record
Total fights53
Wins by KO24

James Albert Ellis (February 24, 1940 – May 6, 2014) was a mid-20th century 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

He was born one of ten children. His father, Walter, was a pastor, and Ellis was brought up as a Christian.[1] As a teenager he worked in a cement finishing factory.[2] 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.[3]

Amateur career

Ellis got into boxing as a teenager after watching a friend box 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.[4]

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.

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."[5]

Ellis wrote a letter to an at first skeptical[6] 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.[7]

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 & Ellis throughout their careers, called Ellis's development from middleweight to heavyweight one of the most dramatic he could recall.[8]

WBA heavyweight 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 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.[9]

WBA heavyweight champion

In the tournament final, Ellis faced Jerry Quarry, a slight betting favorite, on April 27, 1968 in Oakland, California.[10] In a dull fight, Ellis fought what Sports Illustrated called "a tactical masterpiece". A cautious Ellis won a 15-round split decision[11] 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."[12][13]

Title reign

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.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16][17]

Unification title match with Joe Frazier

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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. [18] It was the first knockout loss for Ellis.

Ellis vs. Ali

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.[19]

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 remained on his feet. No knockdowns were recorded throughout the fight.[20]

Diminishing skills

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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 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 in the first round.[21]

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 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 suffering a training injury that left him partially blind in his left eye. Ellis finished with a record of 40–12–1 (24 KOs).

Later life

After retiring from boxing, Ellis trained boxers. Later he worked for the Louisville Parks Department on athletic and recreational projects between 1989 and 2003.[22] In 2004, Ellis told the Washington Times "...All I ever wanted to be was a good fighter and good man.'[23] He seemed to achieve it. Brother Jeff gave a tribute on his death saying " He was someone you could model yourself on"[24] Ellis was a reserved family man who shunned flash although had a determined competitive 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 friend. Ellis wasn't always pleased by the sparring partner tag but felt he had proved himself above that.[25]

He suffered from dementia pugilistica, for over a decade before his death.[26] It was reported that Ellis' condition was so bad that he believed his deceased wife, Mary who died in 2006, was still alive.[27][28]


Ellis died at the age of 74 from complications of dementia on May 6, 2014, in Louisville Baptist Hospital, Kentucky.[29] On 12 May 2014 a funeral for his body was held at Louisville's Canaan Christian Church,[30] which was afterwards buried in the city's Green Meadows Memorial Cemetery.[31]


On the announcement Ellis' death Muhammad Ali issued the following statement: "In the world of heavyweights I always thought him one of the best".[32]

Personal life

Ellis was survived by three brothers and a sister.[33] His son Jeff played professional football and confirmed the family were always immensely proud of Ellis's achievements and his World Title.[34] Ellis's family considered that boxing exacerbated the dementia of his later years, but had not necessarily caused it.[35] His younger brother Jerry, who'd trained with Ellis, commented that he himself now avoided watching boxing as he'd seen too many damaged by it.[36]

Professional boxing record

Professional record summary
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 Trinidad and Tobago Carl Baker KO 1 (10), 2:48 May 6, 1975 United States Sports Stadium, Orlando, Florida, U.S.
52 Loss 39–12–1 United States Joe Frazier TKO 9 (12), 0:59 Mar 2, 1975 Australia Junction Oval, Melbourne, Australia
51 Loss 39–11–1 Australia Joe Bugner PTS 10 Nov 12, 1974 United Kingdom Empire Pool, London, England
50 Loss 39–10–1 United States Ron Lyle UD 12 Jul 16, 1974 United States Denver, Colorado, U.S.
49 Draw 39–9–1 Trinidad and Tobago Larry Middleton SD 10 Mar 4, 1974 United States Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland, U.S.
48 Loss 39–9 United States Boone Kirkman SD 10 Dec 12, 1973 United States Center Coliseum, Seattle, Washington, U.S.
47 Win 39–8 United States Al Jones TKO 7 (10) Oct 23, 1973 United States Municipal Auditorium, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
46 Loss 38–8 United States Earnie Shavers KO 1 (10), 2:39 Jun 18, 1973 United States Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.
45 Win 38–7 United States Rico Brooks KO 5 (10), 0:48 May 5, 1973 United States Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.
44 Win 37–7 United States Joe Tiger Harris KO 2 (10) Apr 14, 1973 United States Huntington, West Virginia, U.S.
43 Win 36–7 United States Charlie Harris TKO 1 (10), 1:48 Mar 6, 1973 United States Municipal Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.
42 Win 35–7 Canada Bob Felstein KO 2 (10), 2:48 Feb 21, 1973 United States Sports Stadium, Orlando, Florida, U.S.
41 Win 34–7 United States Harold Carter TKO 7 (10), 0:37 Oct 26, 1972 United States Raleigh County Armory, Beckley, West Virginia, U.S.
40 Win 33–7 United States Ollie Wilson TKO 6 (10) Sep 21, 1972 United States St. Josaphat Auditorium, Parma, Ohio, U.S.
39 Win 32–7 United States Rico Brooks KO 2 (10), 2:50 Jun 13, 1972 United States Marine Stadium, Miami, Florida, U.S.
38 Win 31–7 United States Dick Gosha TKO 6 (10), 2:55 May 16, 1972 United States Center Arena, Seattle, Washington, U.S.
37 Loss 30–7 United States Muhammad Ali TKO 12 (12), 2:10 Jul 26, 1971 United States Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S. For vacant NABF heavyweight title
36 Win 30–6 Canada George Chuvalo UD 10 May 10, 1971 Canada Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
35 Win 29–6 United States Tony Doyle KO 10 (10), 2:42 Mar 2, 1971 United States Municipal Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.
34 Win 28–6 Peru Roberto Davila TKO 7 (10), 2:26 Nov 10, 1970 United States Municipal Auditorium, Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.
33 Loss 27–6 United States Joe Frazier RTD 4 (15), 3:00 Feb 16, 1970 United States 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 United States Floyd Patterson PTS 15 Sep 14, 1968 Sweden Råsunda Stadium, Stockholm, Sweden Retained WBA heavyweight title
31 Win 26–5 United States Jerry Quarry MD 15 Apr 27, 1968 United States County Coliseum Arena, Oakland, California, U.S. Won vacant WBA heavyweight title
30 Win 25–5 Argentina Oscar Bonavena UD 12 Dec 2, 1967 United States Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
29 Win 24–5 United States Leotis Martin TKO 9 (12), 1:43 Aug 5, 1967 United States Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S.
28 Win 23–5 United States Johnny Persol KO 1 (10), 2:44 Mar 22, 1967 United States Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.
27 Win 22–5 United States Tommy Sims KO 1 (6), 2:38 Nov 14, 1966 United States Astrodome, Houston, Texas, U.S.
26 Win 21–5 United States Eddie Dembry KO 1 (8), 2:18 Oct 27, 1966 United States State Fairgrounds, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
25 Win 20–5 United States Billy Daniels PTS 6 Sep 10, 1966 Germany Waldstadion, Frankfurt, West Germany
24 Win 19–5 Fiji Leweni Waqa KO 1 (10) May 21, 1966 United Kingdom Arsenal Stadium, London, England
23 Win 18–5 United States Hubert Hilton PTS 8 Mar 29, 1966 Canada Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
22 Win 17–5 United States Chuck Leslie UD 10 Nov 15, 1965 United States Hacienda, Paradise, Nevada, U.S.
21 Win 16–5 United States Joe Blackwood KO 1 May 25, 1965 United States Central Maine Youth Center, Lewiston, Maine, U.S.
20 Loss 15–5 United States George Benton MD 10 Nov 30, 1964 United States Philadelphia Arena, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
19 Loss 15–4 United States Don Fullmer SD 10 Oct 21, 1964 United States Convention Center, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
18 Win 15–3 United States Joe Spencer KO 1 (8), 1:49 Apr 21, 1964 United States Phoenix Hotel Ballroom, Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.
17 Loss 14–3 United States Rubin Carter UD 10 Feb 28, 1964 United States Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.
16 Win 14–2 Nicaragua Luis Gutierrez PTS 10 Sep 27, 1963 United States Convention Center, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
15 Win 13–2 Tonga Johnny Halafihi KO 1 (10) Jun 18, 1963 United Kingdom Wembley Stadium, London, England
14 Win 12–2 United States LeRoy Green UD 10 Dec 3, 1962 United States Columbia Gym Arena, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
13 Loss 11–2 United States Henry Hank UD 10 Sep 1, 1962 United States Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
12 Win 11–1 United States Charlie Glover PTS 4 Jun 13, 1962 United States Phoenix Hotel Ballroom, Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.
11 Win 10–1 United States Sammy Poe PTS 4 Jun 13, 1962 United States Phoenix Hotel Ballroom, Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.
10 Win 9–1 Belize Rudolph Bent TKO 2 (10), 1:17 Jun 7, 1962 United States State Fairgrounds, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
9 Win 8–1 United States Holley Mims UD 10 May 4, 1962 United States Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
8 Win 7–1 United States Johnny Alford MD 6 Feb 17, 1962 United States Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.
7 Win 6–1 United States Rory Calhoun KO 1 (10), 1:47 Jan 11, 1962 United States Jefferson County Armory, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
6 Loss 5–1 United States Holley Mims UD 10 Nov 29, 1961 United States Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
5 Win 5–0 United States Clarence Riley RTD 1 (8), 3:00 Oct 7, 1961 United States Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
4 Win 4–0 Canada Wilf Greaves MD 10 Aug 22, 1961 United States Fairgrounds Stadium, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
3 Win 3–0 United States Johnny Morris SD 6 Jul 22, 1961 United States Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
2 Win 2–0 United States Gene Leslie UD 8 May 6, 1961 United States Jefferson County Armory, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
1 Win 1–0 United States Arley Seifer TKO 3 (6), 1:15 Apr 19, 1961 United States Freedom Hall, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. Professional debut


  1. ^ Courier Journal
  2. ^ New York Times
  3. ^ New York Times, 6 May 2014
  4. ^ The Washington Times – July 31, 2004
  5. ^ The Courier-Journal – February 23, 1996
  6. ^ New York Times 6 may 2014
  7. ^ Sports Illustrated – December 11, 1967
  8. ^ Ferdie's book Fight Doctor
  9. ^ Boxing history by Sam Andre, Hamlyn publisher. Fight films
  10. ^ Boxing history by Sam Andre, Hamlyn, & also fight videos
  11. ^ Sam Andre's Pictorial History of Boxing
  12. ^ "Forty Years Ago: WBA Launches Heavyweight Tourney" Archived 2009-06-15 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Sports Illustrated – May 6, 1968
  14. ^ The New York Times – September 15, 1968
  15. ^ Washington Afro-American – September 30, 1969
  16. ^ The Montreal Gazette – July 22, 1971
  17. ^ The Age – December 23, 1969
  18. ^ The Independent – May 12, 2014
  19. ^ Muhammad Ali vs. Jimmy Ellis: The Inevitable Fight – 40 Years On
  20. ^ Sports Illustrated – August 2, 1971
  21. ^ The Montreal Gazette – June 19, 1973
  22. ^ New York Times, 6 May 2014
  23. ^ New York Times, 6 May 2014
  24. ^ Wiky sports, May 2014
  25. ^ New York Times 6 May 2014
  26. ^ Bloomberg News, May 2014
  27. ^ "Jimmy Ellis: From Ali Sparring Partner To Heavyweight Champion" Archived 2011-07-08 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ "The Sweet Science: Boxing And Getting One's Head Examined"
  29. ^ Miller, Stephen; Henry, David (May 6, 2014). "Jimmy Ellis, Ali's Friend Who Won Heavyweight Crown, Dies at 74". Bloomberg. Retrieved May 7, 2014.
  30. ^ TV News report of the Jimmy Ellis' funeral, WLKY News Louisville, published on Youtube 12 May 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltax6sZavyA
  31. ^ Entry for Jimmy Ellis' grave in Findagrave website (2019). https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/129313194/jimmy-ellis
  32. ^ New York Times 6 May 2014.
  33. ^ Courier Journal, May 2014.
  34. ^ Courier Journal, May 2014.
  35. ^ 'Courier Journal', May 2014.
  36. ^ New York Times, 6 May 2014.
Sporting positions
Regional boxing titles
Title last held by
Muhammad Ali
WBA heavyweight champion
April 27, 1968 – February 16, 1970
Succeeded by
Joe Frazier