LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Former heavyweight champion and Louisville boxing legend Jimmy Ellis has died at the age of 74.

His son Jeff Ellis tells WDRB that his father passed away at the hospital early Tuesday morning.

Ellis was the WBA heavyweight champion from 1968 to 1970 before losing to Hall of Fame boxer Joe Frazier in the World Heavyweight Championship at Madison Square Garden.

Born in 1940, Ellis grew up in Louisville and trained at Columbia Gym under Louisville Police officer Joe Martin, who is best known for introducing Muhammad Ali to the sport.

Ellis fought his friend and sparring partner Ali in two amateur bouts, and early in his pro career sought out Ali's trainer, Angelo Dundee, who agreed to handle Ellis' career.

In 1968, Ellis won the WBA world title in a 15-round split-decision against Jerry Quarry. His lone successful title defense came against Floyd Patterson in Stockholm, Sweden.

In 1971, Ellis faced Ali in their lone professional bout, but lost the fight after injuring his right hand.

Although he won his next eight matches, Ellis lost five of seven bouts from 1973 until his rematch with Frazier in 1975.

Ellis retired in 1975 with a record of 40-12-1 (24 KOs).

After his professional boxing career, Ellis moved back to Louisville and worked for the Louisville Metro Parks department, where he organized softball leagues.

Tuesday afternoon, Ali Center officials released the following statement from Muhammad Ali:

"Lonnie and I are very saddened by the loss of our friend, and fellow Louisvillian, Jimmy Ellis. Our friendship began on the local Louisville boxing show 'Tomorrow’s Champions' and continued to grow throughout the years. In the ring he was tough. In the world of heavyweights, I have always thought that Jimmy was one of the best. As a former champion, Jimmy was known for exceptional hand speed and a strong chin. He was a master in the ring. Jimmy and I were both trained by Angelo Dundee, who would often say that Jimmy “packed more punch” than he was ever given credit for. Strong chin and punching power aside, it was his gentle manner and the compassion in his heart that I found most worthy of admiration. 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."

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