Elliott – bravest of the brave
It’s been 55 years since Jimmy Elliott died the morning after his fight against Pat McAteer. But memories of the bravest of brave fighters live on.
After that fatal fight on May 4, 1957, Hank Margolies wrote in Fight magazine: “Whenever the name of Jimmy Elliott is mentioned in the years to come boxing fans will say it is a synonym of courage. They will talk of the scientific skill, the classic style he had, but most of all they will talk of his great heart.”
No truer words were ever written to describe Elliott, an outstanding fighter and wonderful human being.
He was born in Port Elizabeth in 1930 and attended Kingswood College, growing into a handsome, well-built man who sometimes posed as a model at art schools.
After a short amateur career, he turned professional in July 1952 and stopped Johnny Roberts in the second round of a fight in Durban.
Elliott then beat Smiler Viljoen, Danny Nel, Dawie Fourie, Tienie Viljoen, Marcel Lips of Belgium, Teddy Quinn, Shorty Smook, Johnny McCoy, Joe Munro and Billy Peters of Australia. He won seven of those fights inside the distance.
In his twelfth professional outing he took on a 51-fight veteran, Duggie Miller, for the vacant SA middleweight title.
Muller had been in with world-class fighters such as Dave Sands, George Angelo, Randy and Dick Turpin, Bobby Dawson and Johnny Sullivan. But Elliott showed his boxing skills and beat Miller on points in the Feathermarket Hall in Port Elizabeth on June 27, 1953.
SURGERY IN NETHERLANDS
Only a few months later it was discovered that he had a detached retina in his left eye and he had to relinquish the title.
Elliott was sent to the Netherlands when a professor Weve operated on the eye. But when he returned, the SA Boxing Board of Control refused to renew his licence.
Only after several specialists said he had recovered well enough to continue boxing his licence was renewed by provincial boxing authorities, with the exception of the Cape Board of Control.
After being out of boxing for 14 months, Elliott stopped Johnny Roberts in three rounds, followed by victories over Chris van Rooyen, Alex Weiss, Stoffel du Plessis, Jan Scheepers and Howard Fraser.
CHALLENGING MIKE HOLT
Then he challenged Mike Holt, the new SA middleweight champion. They met in June 1955 and Elliott won the first round, appearing to be well in control.
But in the second round Holt hurt him with a big left hook. Elliott’s fitness and courage saved him from a knockout, but he absorbed a lot of punishment as he was outpointed over 12 rounds.
Elliott returned to beat a Frenchman, Gaston Meulenbrouck, and Cecil Bredenkamp before losing on points to Martin Hansen of Denmark and Chris van Rooyen on a disqualification.
He stopped Van Rooyen in the fifth round of a rematch before going to London, where be beat Les Allen and Pat McAteer.
He also outpointed world-rated Italian Tiberio Mitri in Salisbury before meeting Holt in a return match on July 21, 1956. They met over 12 rounds at the Olympia Ice Rink in Johannesburg and it turned out to be a gruelling and dramatic fight.
When the bell was rung at the end of the second round, Elliott relaxed and dropped his hands as he turned to go to his corner. To the disgust of the spectators Holt hit him with a crushing sneak right that left Elliott stiff-legged as he wobbled to his corner.
Elliott recovered and by the start of the final round he was well ahead on points. He only had to stay on his feet to win.
Just before the final bell Holt connected with a thunderous right to Elliott’s jaw but he managed to return to his corner. As the decision was announced, in favour of Elliott, he collapsed and fell backwards to the canvas.
He was rushed to hospital, suffering from exhaustion and lameness in one of his legs. It was reported that a brain specialist said he should give up boxing.
BRITISH EMPIRE TITLE
But four months later he was back, beating Frenchman Henri Entringer on points over ten rounds. In February 1957 he lost on points to a cagey American, 115-fight veteran Jimmy Martinez. And only 26 days later, in a return match, Martinez beat Elliott again.
Elliott appeared sluggish, unable to avoid his opponent’s rights hooks and crosses to the head. But his victory over Holt had earned him a chance to meet Pat McAteer for the British Empire middleweight title. They met at the Wembley Stadium in Johannesburg.
The South African trained hard was confident of beating the Englishman, whom he had defeated a little more than a year before.
Going into the fight with a record of 26-5, including 13 knockouts, Elliott looked in good condition. He boxed cleverly and probably won the first two rounds.
The fight changed halfway through the third round when it seemed Elliott had no defence against McAteer’s right, which caught him time and again. In the fourth round, McAteer landed more rights and Elliott’s legs were clearly shaky.
However, he backed up the champion against the ropes and wobbled him. When the bell rang, they were standing toe-to-toe, trading punches.
Going into the sixth round, Elliott attacked McAteer’s body in another exchange of blows but a left hook, one minute and 21 seconds into the round, sent him down, his head hitting the canvas with a thud.
Elliott hardly moved as referee Cyril Baynes started counting. At “eight” he tried to get up but he just rolled over and was counted out.
His seconds dragged him to his corner and tried to revive him but soon afterwards he collapsed. He was taken to the Johannesburg General Hospital and then transferred to the Princess Nursing Home.
Surgery was performed but at 7.50 am that morning he died of extensive cerebral injury associated with a blood clot.