Remembering a True Champion: Jimmy Ellis


By Bill Tibbs: The boxing world took one on the chin on Tuesday (May 6) when word spread of the passing of former heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis at age 74 from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease.


Ellis, 40-12-1 (24) was born and lived his whole life in Louisville, Kentucky, where he rose through the amateur ranks with lifelong friend, Muhammad Ali. To say Ellis fought some good opponents in his career would be a monumental understatement. He fought in what many boxing historians consider to be one of - if not the - greatest heavyweight eras of all time. During his 14-year, 53-bout career, Ellis fought from middleweight all the way up to heavyweight. But it was as a heavyweight in which he left his mark on the game. Some of the Hall of Fame names Ellis faced during his outstanding career were Wilf Greaves, Rubin Carter, Don Fullmer, George Benton, Oscar Bonavena, Jerry Quarry, Joe Frazier, Floyd Patterson, George Chuvalo, Ali, Earnie Shavers, Ron Lyle and Joe Bugner.


Ellis won the World Boxing Association (WBA) heavyweight title in the spring of 1968, beating Jerry Quarry via 15-round majority decision in Oakland, California. He defended the title in September of 1968, defeating Floyd Patterson in a 15-round points decision in Stockholm, Sweden. In February of 1970, he would lose his WBA title, along with a chance to add the World Boxing Council (WBC) and New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) heavyweight titles to his collection when “Smokin” Joe Frazier stopped him in five rounds at Madison Square Garden in New York. Jimmy fought Muhammad Ali 17 months and four fights later for the North American Boxing Federation (NABF) title in Houston, Texas but was stopped in the final round. He would never contest for a title again in his remaining 16 fights. In May of 1975, Ellis stopped club fighter Carl Baker in the first round in his final bout. He retired after suffering a training injury that left him partially blind in his left eye.


After retiring from boxing, Ellis trained boxers and worked for the Louisville Parks Department. Jimmy Ellis should be remembered as a great heavyweight who fought in an incredible era of heavyweights. His wife, Mary, with whom he had raised six children, preceded Jimmy in death. When all-time-great Muhammad Ali learned of Ellis’ passing, he released the following statement to the press: “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. But Ellis’ greatest qualities were his gentle manner and the compassion in his heart.”


A great tribute from “The Greatest.” You simply can’t ask for more. Gone but never forgotten.


Rest in peace, champ!


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