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Jimmy Ellis-The Unwanted Heavyweight Champ

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A super-slick heavyweight, one of the slickest ever, however not slick enough to beat Ali. Jimmy Ellis was briefly the WBA heavyweight champion, but lost the title in brutal fashion to Joe Frazier, who dismantled him in 4 rounds. Originally a middleweight, Ellis was simply not heavy or strong or hard-hitting enough to compete with the late 60's and early 70's heavyweights, which were increasingly getting bigger, meaner and harder-hitting. He was also knocked out by Earnie Shavers in 1 round and stopped in 12 by Ali. Before all that however, his career seemed to be on the right trajectory as he beat some fine fighters such as Floyd Patterson and Jerry Quarry. 

James Albert Ellis was born 24 February 1940 in Louisville, Kentucky-same town as his future rival Ali. He even beat Ali in the amateurs, winning 59 out of 66 fights there. He however lost in the Olympic trials to Wilbert McClure, competing as a light middleweight. Ellis stood 6'1, though it has also been reported he was 6'0, and had a reach of 76 inches. He won the 1961 Chicago Golden Gloves against Leotis Martin (who would later famously ko Sonny Liston), after losing to him the previous year, at middleweight. He turned professional in April 1961, trained by Bud Bruner. He fought as a middleweight and lost his sixth fight to veteran Holly Mims by UD10, 29 November that year. He avenged the loss on 4 May next year, winning by UD10 also. He would again lose on 1 September that year, fighting against the hardy Henry Hank, a future light heavyweight contender. Ellis bled from the mouth from round 4 till the end of the 10-round bout and Hank's punishing body attack threw him off his game, but he lasted the distance and lost by UD. After that, he had a couple fights at 175, but returned to 160 to fight Rubin Carter and once again lost by UD10, getting dropped once. 

After also dropping decisions to Don Fullmer (SD10) and George Benton (MD10), Ellis decided his middleweight days were over and became a light heavy. He also changed trainers and started training under the great Angelo Dundee from 1965. After only 2 fights at 175 however, he suddenly moved up to heavyweight. He won 6 fights there first, before being enrolled into an 8-man tournament by WBA to determine who would be the new champion after Ali was stripped and confined to house arrest. On 5 August 1967, Ellis faced his old amateur rival Leotis Martin in the first round of the tournament, at the Astrodome in Houston. Ellis was impressive as he gave Martin a thorough beating and cut him up so badly the fight had to be stopped in round 9. On 2 December same year, he faced the strong Argentinian brawler Oscar Bonavena in the second round of the tournament and once again impressed by outboxing Bonavena for a large part of the fight and dropping him twice, before Bonavena closed strong but too late to make an impact on the scorecards. Ellis won by a somewhat close but still clear unanimous decision. In the final, he faced the hard-hitting "Irish" Jerry Quarry, who was about the same height and weight as Ellis. The fight happened on 27 April 1968 at the Coliseum Arena in Oakland and Quarry, having suffered a back injury previously that slightly affected his movement, was outboxed for most of the fight (which many called dull) but in the end, the result was a majority decision for Ellis and thus, the former unsuccessful middleweight was now the new WBA heavyweight champion! 

For his first defense, Ellis faced Floyd Patterson, another small heavyweight who weighed in at only 188 while Ellis weighed in at 198. Patterson was also listed at 6 feet but was likely shorter. The fight happened at Råsunda stadium in Stockholm, probably because Patterson was good friends with Ingemar Johansson, 14 September '68. Ellis was a 2 1/2 to 1 favorite and justified that by outboxing Patterson enough to win in a competitive fight where the Swedish spectators were rooting for Floyd. The referee and sole scoring judge had it 9 rounds to 6 for Ellis while the spectators protested the decision. Ellis was now pitted in a unification fight against the NYSAC (New York State) champion Joe Frazier, with also the vacant WBC title at stake-a fight to crown the new undisputed champion, in other words. Frazier was slightly shorter than Ellis at 5'11 but built like a bull and with the same fighting style, pretty much. He weighed in at 205 to Ellis' 201. The fight took place at Madison Square Garden on 16 February '70 and both fighters were guaranteed a pay of 150 K and 30 percent of gate and ancillary rights. It was shown on closed circuit television in 120 locations. It was by far the greatest exposition and fight for Ellis yet and he started the fight well, winning the first two rounds as he was able to maneuver the distance he needed for his sharp punches. Frazier got more aggressive in the third and started closing that distance. In the fourth, he landed several left hooks which dropped Ellis. As he got up, he was hit with another big left hook which again put him down. He barely made the count at nine and the bell rang, depriving Frazier of a chance for a knockout-but it didn't matter, as Ellis was not able to come out for the fifth round. His championship reign thus ended disappointingly quick and in devastating fashion. 

He bounced back by stopping the fringe-contender Roberto Davila of Peru by TKO7 and also knocking out Tony Doyle in 10, before fighting the Canadian toughman George Chuvalo on 10 May '71 and beating him by UD10. Ellis proved to be too quick and slick for the strongman from Toronto and also cut him around the eye. The fight was in Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, and was a part of a closed-circuit heavyweight triple-header with George Foreman fighting in the final. This victory propelled Ellis towards a fight against his fellow Louisville-resident Muhammad Ali. Ali had just come off his first career loss to Frazier himself and was looking to fight for a title, which turned out to be the vacant NABF one, which was considered probably the second best thing after the world title in America. The two had fought each other twice in the amateurs, each guy winning once. Since they were both trained by Angelo Dundee, but Dundee also managed Ellis, Dundee chose to be in Ellis' corner, while Ali got Harry Wiley as his trainer, a legend who trained Sugar Ray Robinson and Henry Armstrong. The fight was staged at the Houston Astrodome on 26 July '71  and the first 3 rounds were even, but in the fourth Ali hurt Ellis with a right hand and after that, according to Ellis, he was so hurt he just couldn't do his best. It went to the 12th round, when the fight was stopped with Ellis taking too much punishment, after 2 minutes and 10 seconds of it. It is a bit strange, since that WAS also the FINAL scheduled round, but anyway-Ellis now had another stoppage loss on his record. 

He continued fighting and won 8 straight easy fights by stoppage, before fighting the hardest puncher in the game (probably ever), Earnie "The Acorn" Shavers. That fight happened at Madison SG on 18 June '73 and Ellis came out flying at Shavers, who was physically very strong as well and weighed 6 pounds more before the fight. Ellis started punishing Shavers with right hands and Shavers looked hurt, but he managed to fight back and suddenly dropped Ellis with a big right uppercut to the jaw. Ellis tried but just could not get up in time and he was counted out after 2 minutes and 39 seconds of round 1. That was pretty much the beginning of the end of Jimmy Ellis as a serious contender. On 12 December that same year, he dropped a SD10 to Boone Kirkman, even though he also dropped Kirkman once with a left-right combination. Afterwards, Kirkman praised his performance and said: "Anybody who says he's washed up...they are wrong." In his next fight on 4 March '74, he drew in a tough fight against Larry Middleton, who at 6'5 was significantly taller and drew blood from Ellis' nose in the last 2 rounds of the scheduled 10 rounds, but in the end the verdict was a split draw. Afterwards, Ellis complained Middleton had butted him, even though he said it was likely unintentional, while Middleton felt he had won. Angelo Dundee, ever so amusing, said: "My man could slip the punches, but he couldn't slip Middleton's head". Ellis then fought the hard-hitting 6'3 Ron Lyle and went the distance against him, but lost by clear scorecards in a fight that was fought in Lyle's hometown of Denver, 16 July. 

Ellis then went to Wembley, London, to fight Joe Bugner, another tall guy at 6'4, on 12 November. Ellis got a beating from the 10 years younger Bugner, who also dropped him in the fifth with a body shot, but could not put him away and so Ellis lost by a clear as a day UD. On 2 March '75, he got his very belated rematch with Joe Frazier, in Melbourne, Australia. It was billed as a world title eliminator and indeed, Frazier would go on to fight Ali for the world title later that year in "Thrilla in Manilla". Ellis again did well early on, but was then beaten up and cut over the eye in round 7 with a punch. In round 9, Dundee asked the referee to stop the fight as he saw Ellis was not doing well and there were 3 more rounds to go. The fight got stopped at 59 seconds of the round and that was pretty much it for Jimmy Ellis and his career. He only had one more fight on 6 May that year, fighting the 18-24-1 Carl Baker and easily winning by KO1, before retiring at the age of 35, after a training injury left him partially blind in his left eye. His record is 40 (24)-12(4)-1. 

After retirement, Ellis briefly worked (between 1979 and 1980) as a coach at the "Muhammad Ali Boxing Club" in Santa Monica, one of the most prestigious in the country. He later worked for the Louisville Parks Department on athletic and recreational projects between 1989 and 2003. In 2004, he told Washington Times: "All I ever wanted was to be a good fighter and a good man." And he obviously was. He had 6 children, 4 sons and 2 daughters. Despite their ring-rivalry, he and Ali were great friends. Unfortunately, he developed "dementia pugilistica" and finally died from it on 6 May 2014 (ironically the same date as his last fight), at the age of 74. He has been inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame. After his death, Muhammad Ali stated:" In the world of heavyweights I always thought him one of the best." And he probably was, but he never quite got his due. 



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  • 3 weeks later...

- - Jimmy a light swatter/pure boxer type as opposed to a boxer/stinker of JimmyYoung was quite popular though as well as a better boxer.

Good write up, but what with his class in and out of the ring, there were no shortage of admirers for Ellis who was usually giving up size, strength, and power.

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