TIME SPENT WITH LATE CHAMP JIMMY ELLIS

May 6th, 2014 By Pedro Fernandez

JIMMY ELLIS WAS ALWAYS GOOD TO PEOPLE

"Prime" Jimmy Ellis

“Prime” Jimmy Ellis


San Francisco, CA- It has been about 12 or so years since the boxer born James Ellis aka Jimmy Ellis and I spent an hour together at the International Boxing Hall of Fame. A one-time alphabet heavyweight titleholder, Ellis died yesterday after battling Alzheimer’s disease for years.

BOXERS DYING FROM ALZHEIMER’S QUITE COMMON

That last talk with Ellis was a conversation you could identify with if you knew how the residual effects of boxing reduce great men to the point of needing someone to feed them. Like a ball flying around a pinball machine, Jimmy was all over the place. We covered a variety of subjects regarding boxing, his ending up punch drunk was not one of them.

JIMMY YEARNED TO BE BLACK TONY BENNETT

With a microphone and some taped music, Ellis sang at an outdoor Hall of Fame event for about an hour. Although it wasn’t bad, the record moguls that Jimmy said were interested in his album were not as Ellis struggled through some songs. It was watching him try real so hard to remember some words that I knew Jimmy Ellis, whom longtime friend Muhammad Ali always called “James Ellis” was showing early signs of Alzheimer’s.

GREAT ALEXIS ARGUELLO NOTICED ELLIS IN EARLY STAGES

The late great Alexis Arguello sat with us as Ellis took a jaunt down memory lane. When it was all said and done, James Ellis had sung for an hour that was easily forgettable if this were not Jimmy Ellis. The writing was on the wall! Never grasping my name, Ellis would Alexis “Alex” and myself, “Little Alex.”

ARGUELLO FELT PROMOTERS SHOULD DO MORE!


When Jimmy was putting away his musical charts and the like, Alexis looked over at me and said, “He was a good fighter and now he has serious health conditions. Hockey, baseball, all the sports take care of their own, but not boxing. I once looked into starting a pension plan for fighters, but for it to work promoters have to be involved and no major promoter I ever approached was really interested.”

ALEX BEAT BOTH COCAINE & LIQUOR

Arguello had kicked the Crack pipe and hard booze a few years earlier after I went to Nicaragua when I played Alexis’ appearance on “Ring Talk Worldwide,” where he said, “I just want to die.” When the late WBC Prez Jose Sulaiman picked up the phone in Mexico City that early August 1999 day, he got an earful from me as I reminded him that he told Alexis he would be stripped of the WBC belt, “If he did not resign with promoter Don King.”

WBC PREZ SULAIMAN FLEW ME TO NICARAGUA

My goal was to make Sulaiman feel crummy enough to where his conscience would take over and it did. “Will $40,000 (US) be enough?” asked Sulaiman as he sent me to Nicaragua to stage a “drug intervention” with Arguello’s family and get him into a San Francisco based rehabilitation treatment center. Alex refused, got in trouble three months later and when faced with jail time over a New Year’s Eve 1999-2000 accident, “AA” checked into a version of “Alcoholics Anonymous” and apparently stayed clean until his mysterious death a few years ago.

ALEXIS STILL HOOKED ON CIGARETTES

Back to Jimmy Ellis. At Graziano’s pub that night, with Alexis having kicked every bad habit but cigarette smoking, something he did everyday of his boxing life, Jimmy was again singing. With the also gone Bert Sugar throwing them back and poking fun at Jimmy, we just all sat there respectfully as the one time WBA champ finished his set. Arguello told me, “It won’t be long before he will need to be taken care of.” To an extent, the hurting sport of boxing did this to him as Jimmy didn’t become a boxer with the goal of Alzheimer’s.

NOTHING LEFT BUT FADING MEMORIES

Some boxers have great memories to look back on. Lucid until the day he passed, ex-welterweight (147 lb.) and middleweight (160) champ Carmen Basilio took some horrific lickings, but they never merged into Pugilistic Dementia or Alzheimer’s. Like George Chuvalo, the Canadian heavyweight who is brilliant speaker still today, Basilio had the right genes. Guys like Jerry Quarry and Jimmy Ellis did not.

THE HISTORIC RUN OF JAMES ELLIS

In a WBA elimination tournament put together after the stripping of Muhammad Ali, Jimmy beat the man who years later would knockout Sonny Liston, Leotis Martin, this before besting the departed Oscar Bonavena and finally Jerry Quarry to win the belt on a Don &b Lorraine Chargin card in Oakland, CA, by outpointing Quarry over 15 rounds. Ellis beat ex-two time champ Floyd Patterson in his only title defense before dropping the belt to by TKO 4 to then unbeaten 1964 Olympic champ Joe Frazier in February 1970.

FUNERAL PLANS PENDING FOR JAMES “JIMMY” ELLIS

James Ellis died at the age of 74, not knowing even who Jimmy Ellis was. In that light, you as fans need to recognize that the entertainment you draw from professional boxing is at the same time robbing men of their faculties and then their life. James Ellis, you were always cool with me and I had a ton of respect for you.

Pedro Fernandez

COMMENTS

  1. Pedro, I am simply amazed at the number of pugilists you have crossed paths with!

    I am going to go out on a limb here…I cannot be the first guy to suggest you would author a great book if you ever had the interest in capturing your personal travels and insights in boxing circles.

    Phil on May 7th, 2014 at 7:09 AM
  2. Football does not take care of their own after players retire as wealthy as these owners are. Some commit suicide like the late Junior Seau. To these promoters and owners, your just a commodity.

    David on May 7th, 2014 at 12:02 PM
  3. Nice story,JE RIP

    one eye on May 7th, 2014 at 3:25 PM
  4. Yes, nice story. Another one gone. Unfortunately, Wilfredo Benitez probably isn’t that far behind.

    Uppercut on May 7th, 2014 at 9:17 PM
  5. What an outstanding fighter Ellis was! A blown-up middleweight who was very skilled and a sharp puncher. What’s really strange is that I was thinking about him last week (before he died), and I watched a few rounds of his middleweight contest against Hurricane Carter. Even though Ellis lost the decision, he demonstrated great skills, fast hands, a great chin and a big heart.

    In retrospect, Ellis probably should’ve retired after his 1 round K.O. loss to Earnie Shavers in ’73. In his fight for the unified title against Frazier in ’70, he took horrendous punishment. He was almost too brave for his own good.

    Thank you again, Pedro, for having the integrity to consistently discuss the topic of brain damage with fighters. This must be seriously reckoned with as it’s undeniable. Donny “Golden Boy” LaLonde (former WBC Lightheavyweight Champion) is making efforts to help damaged ex-boxers with alternative medicine. He suggested that even someone as disabled/damaged as Benitez might get some relief from such methods. I hope something can be done to improve the lives of these ex-fighters (both famous and obscure).

    Geoffrey Sadao Prenter on May 8th, 2014 at 10:01 AM
  6. Pedro…

    What Phil says is 110% true… You SHOULD author a book, based on your boxing life interactions…

    May I suggest a title… The Good, Bad and The Ugly

    Jack Dunne on May 9th, 2014 at 7:53 PM

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