Rest In Peace Jimmy Ellis
Former WBA Heavyweight Champ Passes
Another Loss From The Era Of Competitive Boxing
The boxing world was saddened by the recent death of former WBA Heavyweight Champion Jimmy Ellis. Ellis passed after a long battle with dementia pugilistica. For years Jimmy was best known for being Muhammad Ali’s sparring partner, but it is unfair to remember him for that. Jimmy Ellis was a superb boxer puncher who rose through the ranks beginning his professional career as a middleweight.
Jimmy Ellis fought in what was probably the most competitive era in heavyweight boxing.
Ellis and Ali were both from Louisville, Kentucky and began as boxing as amateurs under the tutelage of Officer Joe Martin. They fought twice before turning pro with the young Clay winning their first encounter, and Jimmy taking the decision in the rematch.
Ellis turned pro under the management of Bud Bruner with whom he compiled a record of 15-5 with 6 knockouts. Jimmy’s losses were to Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, George Benton, Henry Hank, Don Fullmer, and Holly Mims, whom he defeated in a rematch. All of these opponents were top rated contenders, and many of the losses were by very close decision.
Jimmy left Bruner and began training with his old friend Ali under the tutelage of Angelo Dundee. He also put on weight moving up to light heavyweight and then heavyweight. Ellis scored a spectacular one round knock out of Jimmy Persol in 1967. This win catapulted him onto the world stage and earned him a berth in the WBA Heavyweight Tournament to find a successor to Ali who had been wrongfully stripped of his title for refusing to be inducted into the Army.
Ellis was considered a long shot to win the title, but he surprised everyone by stopping Leotis Martin, winning a decision over Oscar Bonavena in a fight where he dropped the tough Argentinean twice, and then defeating Jerry Quarry over fifteen rounds to win the title in 1968. Later that year he would successfully defend his crown against Floyd Patterson.
In the meantime, Joe Frazier, who had chosen not to enter the WBA tournament, defeated Buster Mathis in a fight recognized by the New York State Athletic Commission as being for the World Championship. It was just a matter of time before the two would meet to unify the title.
On February 2, 1970 Frazier and Ellis stepped into the ring at Madison Square Garden to decide who the better fighter was. Ellis was coming off a layoff of a year and a half, while Frazier had remained active and was at the peak of his ability. Jimmy put on a valiant effort landing a number of strong right hands on Joe, but Frazier was unstoppable that night. After decking Ellis twice in the fourth round, Angelo Dundee stopped the fight before the bell rang for round five.
Ellis would never again challenge for the title, but he did fight his old friend Muhammad Ali in a twelve round bout in 1971, with Ali stopping him in the final round.
Jimmy Ellis fought in what was probably the most competitive era in heavyweight boxing. There were many exciting bouts at that time with so many of the contestants being evenly matched. Also, the top fighters did not duck each other. When the public clamored for a unification bout between Ellis and Frazier, both men agreed to fight. What a contrast to today when fight fans have been waiting years for Mayweather and Pacquiao. In the 70s just about every top fighter met at some point. Ron Lyle, Jerry Quarry, George Chuvalo, Earnie Shavers, Jimmy Young, and many others were in the mix. Many, if not most of the matches then were highly competitive as the fighters were evenly matched. Before these fights, fans would argue for hours over who would win, and no one could be sure. It was a very exciting time for boxing.
Jimmy Ellis was not a big heavyweight, but his years working his way up from middleweight to heavyweight were a time when he learned his craft.
Jimmy Ellis was not a big heavyweight, but his years working his way up from middleweight to heavyweight were a time when he learned his craft. Even though he had a number of losses, he was learning his trade, and he learned it well. He had a tremendous right hand, which he combined with great footwork and speed. This combination allowed him to defeat much stronger fighters such as George Chuvalo and Oscar Bonavena while also outspeeding Floyd Patterson, and outsmarting slick counter punching Jerry Quarry.
Jimmy’s career came to an end in 1975 after he was poked in the eye during a sparring session. The accident caused him to lose the sight in that eye. His career was now over, but unfortunately, it was too late. The years in the ring both in matches and the thousands of rounds of sparring in the gym had already taken their toll. For a number of years before his death he suffered the effects of dementia pugilistica, an Alzheimer’s type of disease that is the result of repeated blows to the head. Jimmy’s former rivals Jerry Quarry and Floyd Patterson suffered the same fate.
For years Jimmy Ellis lived under the shadow of having been Ali’s sparring partner, but make no mistake about it; Jimmy was a world class boxer puncher who fought and beat many of the top contenders of his day, and that was quite a day. Ellis was also a deeply religious man who sang Gospel along with his wife Mary Etta, who passed away in 2006.
Jimmy Ellis was a gentleman who never spoke a bad word about anyone.
Jimmy Ellis was a gentleman who never spoke a bad word about anyone. He never gave less then one hundred percent when he stepped into the ring. He always carried himself with dignity, and was a true Champion in the ring and out. He will be missed. Rest In Peace Champ.
Rest In Peace
Former light heavy weight contender and long time Ring 4 member Jordan Tinker Picot passed away recently. Tinker was one of the hardest punching fighters to come out of the New England area with a pro record of 17-3-1 with all of his wins coming via knock out. At Ring 4 events Tinker was always one to elicit laughter and he will be missed by all of us.
Rest in Peace Brother.