Jimmy Ellis, former W.B.A. (World Boxing Association) heavyweight champion and title contender passed away Tuesday from complications due to dementia, He was 74 years old. Best known for battling boxing heavyweight greats of his era such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Floyd Patterson and perennial contenders Oscar Bonavena and Jerry Quarry. Ellis was managed and trained by the legendary Angelo Dundee who guided him to the W.B.A. Heavyweight title on April 27,1968 against Jerry Quarry. He successfully defended the belt once before being knocked out by Joe Frazier in a heavyweight title unification bout on 02/16/1970.
Born on February 24, 1940 in Louisville, Kentucky. Ellis fought as an amateur and won the 1961 Golden Gloves titles in the 160 lbs division. He turned pro shortly there after and fought as a middleweight where he maintained a 15-5 record. Wanting to make the move to heavyweight and in need of a new manager, Ellis wrote to Angelo Dundee (who was Ali's trainer) asking him to help guide his career. Under the legendary trainer's tutelage, Ellis became part of Ali's camp and the two would often spar with each other in training camp and they became very good friends.
Ellis' career took off in 1965 as he began to rise in the Heavyweight boxing ranks. He often fought on the undercard of Ali's fights. When Ali was stripped of his Heavyweight title in 1967, Ellis became part of the eight man boxing tournament that was held to crown a new champion. He fought and defeated former amatuer rival Leotis Martin and decisioned Oscar Bonavena to face Jerry Quarry in the finals. Ellis surprised the boxing World by outboxing Quarry and defeating the favored fighter by a majority decision. He would make one successful title defense before being knocked out Joe Frazier.
After losing the title, Jimmy Ellis would win three more fights before facing sparring partner Muhammad Ali for the N.A.B.F. (North American Boxing Federation) heavyweight title in the Houston Astrodome on July 26, 1971. Ali dominated the fight before the fight was stopped by the referee in the 12th round. The loss was a major set back but Ellis continued to box and won eight straight fights by knockout before being kayoed in the first round by heavyweight rising star Earnie Shavers in a May 5, 1973 contender's bout. Ellis would bounce back with a win but would lose five out of his last six matches to the likes of Ron Lyle, Joe Frazier and Joe Bugner.
Jimmy Ellis would try to make another comeback but he suffered a career ending injury in a sparring session. After retiring from the ring, he would continue to train young and up in coming fighters. In the latter years of his life, Ellis' in-ring boxing career would come back to haunt him as he suffered from pugilistic dementia. His disease had gotten so bad that he believed his deceased wife Mary Etta (who died in 2006) was still alive. Ellis is survived by his son James Ellis Jr. and daughters Jamesetta Wells, Inez Ellis, Mary Ellis and Sonya Ellis.
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