Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
July 5, 1957
6’1” / 80” reach / 186 – 261lbs
42-22-1-1(31) from 11/18/1978 to 4/13/2001(22y5m)
0-8-0-0 against the top ten
0-2-0-0 against linear champions
0-2-0-0 against hall-of-famers
no fights for the linear championship
Top ten opponents: L-UD-15 Mike Weaver, L-TKO-8 Pinklon Thomas, L-TKO-8 Greg Page, L-TKO-1 Tim Witherspoon, L-UD-10 Gerrie Coetzee, L-TKO-5 Frank Bruno, L-TKO-5 Evander Holyfield, L-UD-10 Adilson Rodrigues
-8 total score (0 top ten + -8 top ten plus/minus + 0 top 10 draw score + 0 everything else)
James “Quick” Tillis was a career fringe contender and later gatekeeper who managed to sneak into the top ten in 1981, and fought against some of the best heavyweights of the 1980s.
He won his first 20 fights, before being matched up against top ten contender (and WBA titlist) Mike Weaver. Tillis lost a competitive 15 round decision to Weaver, but showed heart and skill in the close loss. He came back with a decision win over faded puncher Earnie Shavers, surviving a brutal 9th round knockdown in the process. From there, he faded from elite contention, losing competitive 8th round TKOs to Pinklon Thomas and Greg Page.
Tillis picked on journeymen for a time, before being obliterated in one round by rising star Tim Witherspoon in September 1983. Boxing can be forgiving to skilled losers, however, and Quick had another shot at a rising contender in Carl “The Truth” Williams, losing a wide 10 round decision. Tillis continued losing to contenders and prospects, dropping four straight decisions starting in May 1985, culminating in a May 1986 fight against Mike Tyson.
Despite being a heavy underdog, Tillis fought maybe the best fight of his career, moving and boxing, and sometimes trading with the young Tyson. Mike landed some big punches, but other than a flash knockdown in the 4th, Tillis managed to avoid punishment and became the first man to take Tyson the distance. A small but vocal contingent even argued that Tillis deserved the nod. This moral victory would be the last meaningful one of his career.
After the loss to Tyson, Tillis went 11-11-1-1(7) to finish out his career, which stretched into the late 1990s and even one fight in 2001. His losses included Evander Holyfield, Tommy Morrison, Frank Bruno, and Alexander Zolkin, but eventually included the likes of Cliff Couser and Tim Puller, ending his career on a sad note.
Nonetheless, for several years in the 1980s, James Tillis was a fast, skilled, and tough fighter who gave great fighters hell and often beat good ones.