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 “I’m proud of what I did, but all I ever wanted was to be a good fighter and a good person.” - Jimmy Ellis

Jimmy Ellis, former WBA heavyweight champion who was also a one-time sparring partner for Muhammad Ali, died yesterday in Louisville, KY. He was 74 years old. 

His brother Jerry stated that he had been treated for Alzheimers. 

Ellis split two amateur bouts with Ali as they both began their careers in Louisville. Upon turning professional, Ellis started in the middleweight division while Ali, known as Cassius Clay back then, won the Olympic gold medal then the heavyweight crown.

Ellis had a turn of fortune when Ali was stripped of the belt for refusing to declare for the Vietnam draft. Joe Frazier declined to take part in the eight man tournament to determine a success so in stepped Ellis, back then a relatively small heavyweight at 185-190 lbs.

Ellis had skills, however...He upset Leotis Martin, Oscar Bonavena then won the crown with a 15 round decision over Jerry Quarry in April 1968.

He defended the belt five months later against Floyd Patterson but then succumbed to Joe Frazier in five rounds to lose the title.

Ellis was the polar opposite of Ali as he was quiet and reserved in manner. He was overlooked during the time period but felt he finally got his due after defeating Quarry.

“I was made out to be nothing but a sparring partner,” Ellis said. “It bothered me to be run down like that. I was more than that. I knew it. I think I’ve proven that now.”

Ali and Ellis fought in 1971 in a fight billed as "The Inevitable." Ali, however, proved to be too much for the smaller man and stopped him in twelve one-sided rounds.

“James Ellis one of the best fighters in the world,” Ali said before their bout. “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 take on Ellis but was initially pessimistic on the skinny Ellis' chances.

“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”. 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.

Interestingly, 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.




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