Remembering a true champion: Ernie Terrell
Ernie Terrell was born in Belzoni, Mississippi in 1939; he turned professional in the spring of 1957 at the age of 18 in Chicago and would fight out of “The Windy City” for the majority of his career. He went on to have a great career as a heavyweight contender facing some outstanding fighters throughout his 55-fight career.
While he defeated some very good fighters like Zora Folley and future light heavyweight champion Bob Foster, Terrell is best remembered for his heated battle with heavyweight champion and legend Muhammad Ali. Terrell had refused to call Ali by his new name, referring to him by his given name of “Cassius Clay.” This incensed Ali and made for some very heated pre-fight press conferences.
After turning pro, Terrell would go 18-2 over his next three years as a professional. During this run, both his losses came via close split decisions against Johnny Gray. Over the next four years, he fought another 20 times, logging another impressive 18-2 mark. His only losses during that time were to Wayne Bethea in Dec. 1960 in Chicago and Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams in the spring of 1962 in Houston. Williams is considered one of the best fighters to never win a world title. However, Terrell avenged the Williams loss a year later in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, winning a 10-round split decision. After this second 20-fight stretch, he also chalked up wins against notables Foster and Folley.
In his first fight of 1965, Terrell defeated Eddie Machen in Chicago to win the vacant WBA heavyweight title. He would defend the title in Canada at Maple Leaf Gardens in November of 1965, defeating legendary iron man George Chuvalo, then defended it in June of 1966 against Doug Jones in Houston, Texas.
In February of 1967, Terrell would lose his title to all-time great Muhammad Ali back in Houston at the Astrodome, losing a one-sided decision over 15 rounds. Later that year, he returned to Houston to fight Thad Spencer in a WBA elimination bout but, again, lost over 12 rounds by decision. Terrell would lose his third fight in a row when he dropped a decision two months later, in October of 1967, to Manuel Ramos over 10 rounds in Mexico City.
Terrell would leave boxing for three years before returning at the end of 1970. Over the next three years he would fight nine times. During this final run of his career, he would go 7-2 (3). In his penultimate bout, Terrell lost a 12-round decision to legendary brawler Chuck “The Bayonne Bleeder” Wepner in Atlantic City, NJ. He fought once more, losing to Jeff Merritt in the fall of 1973 by first round TKO at Madison Square Garden in New York, to close out his career. He would retire from the game with an impressive record of 46-9 with 21 knockouts.
After retiring from the fight game as a boxer, Ernie promoted club shows in the Chicago area for 20 years. He also worked in the music industry and dabbled in politics. Terrell was a solid fighter and a top contender who won a portion of the heavyweight title during his era. He also proudly owns a résumé that boasts going the distance with the great Muhammad Ali.
Sadly, Ernie Terrell passed away on Tuesday, Dec. 16 at the age of 75. Gone but never forgotten.
Rest in Peace, champ!