Louisville native Jimmy Ellis will be buried Monday.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The funeral service for former heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis will be Monday at 11 a.m. at Canaan Christian Church, 2840 Hikes Lane. Visitation has been scheduled from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday at Canaan Christian.
Ellis, 74, died early Tuesday morning. For several years Ellis had been treated for Alzheimer’s disease.
Ellis, who attended Central High School, won an eight-fighter tournament to earn the World Boxing Association heavyweight title in 1968. He remained the champion for nearly two years, defending the crown against Floyd Patterson before losing to Joe Frazier. He finished his career with 40 victories in 53 bouts, usually as an undersized heavyweight.
Ellis started his boxing career as a teenager after watching a friend lose a bout to a teenager named Cassius Clay. Ellis split two bouts with Clay as an amateur. They became sparring partners as professionals. Clay later changed his name to Muhammad Ali and became the heavyweight champion. When Ali refused induction to the military because of his objection to the Vietnam War, he was stripped of the title in 1967. That led to the eight-man tournament that Ellis won, defeating Leotis Martin, Oscar Bonavena and Jerry Quarry.
"I was made out to be nothing but a sparring partner," Ellis told Sports Illustrated after he defeated Quarry. "It bothered me to be run down like that. I was more than that. I knew it. I think I've proven it now."
"Jimmy always made Louisville his home," said Jerry Ellis, the fighter’s brother. "Always been proud of Louisville. Always represented Louisville in a professional way."
"Being a smaller guy, he wasn't afraid of anything," said Ellis' son, Jeff. "He actually wasn't even afraid of getting knocked out. That right there is what makes a fighter a true fighter.
"He can mix it up with you when he wants to. He can dance around you when he wants to. That right there.When he got in the ring and was in a fight, he wasn’t afraid."
Ellis is survived by two sons, Jeff and James Jr., as well as four daughters – Jamesetta Wells; Inez Ellis; Sonya Ellis and Mary Ellis – and 10 grandchildren. His wife, Mary Etta Williams, died in 2006.