Exclusive Interview by “Bad” Brad Berkwitt (Conducted in August 2000 – Copyrighted from the boxing book, Boxing Interviews Of A Lifetime)
October 3, 1981, the words, “Son do you want to be a bum all your life?” rang out in the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago, Illinois. Angelo Dundee was hollering at his young protégé James “Quick” Tillis who was facing then WBA Heavyweight Champion, Mike Weaver. “Quick” was ahead on points, but seemed to burn out in the later rounds dropping a 15 round unanimous decision to Weaver.
I remember “Quick” well, since he trained for that fight at the same gym where I was training in North Miami Beach, Florida called Allen Park. At that time, he was working with Johnny Lira, Young Joe Louis, and of course the legend, Angelo Dundee. Tillis would go on to have several big fights, but never reached the same success he had early in his career.
However, all these years later, he still remains just as funny and outgoing as he was to a young amateur fighter named Brad Berkwitt.
For the readers, what are you doing today?
Well my autobiography is just out called “THINKING BIG”. I am looking into doing a feature film on it. I am still a cowboy and into the rodeo, very deep.
What inspired you to get into boxing?
Cassius Clay in 1964 when he fought Sonny Liston. I got into boxing nine years later. But he left a mark on me that I still have to this day.
What was it like being in the ring challenging for the Heavyweight Championship of the World?
Brad, it was amazing to be there. My dear sweet mother was there along with Muhummad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Don King, Larry Holmes and many others. I felt like a million dollars having my idols watching me. I was on top of the world.
In your hey day, you faced many tough opponents. Who do you feel was your toughest opponent and why?
Hands down, Earnie Shavers. Earnie hit so hard, that he could turn goat piss into gasoline. Brad, it was a 120 degrees in the ring and he dropped me like a brick in the ninth round. I am still amazed I was able to get up. In the tenth, I had him out on his feet but the bell saved him. I took the decision.
Were there any matches that you really wanted but were unable to get the opponent to the table?
Gerry Cooney was someone I really wanted to fight.
You and I trained at the same gym in the early 80’s called Allen Park in North Miami Beach, Florida. Angelo Dundee was your trainer at that time. Give me your observations about Angelo.
I really liked Angelo, but he was better as a businessman than as my trainer. He really moved me along, but I needed Drew Bundini Brown who was with Muhammad Ali.
Being the first opponent to go the distance with Mike Tyson, could you tell that night that Mike had the potential to go on and clean out the heavyweight division?
I thought he had great potential but with that said, if you boxed him, you could beat him. So many of his opponents stood right in front of him and he will beat you to death when you do that.
I always heard you had a breathing problem which was at the root of your getting so tired in many fights where you were ahead. Can you clarify this?
Brad it wasn’t a breathing problem, but a problem I had with citric acid that was making me very tired in the majority of my fights. I went to a doctor and he diagnosed me, and I didn’t believe it. However, I changed my diet and it sure worked.
What are your thoughts about the current heavyweight division?
Lennox Lewis is a bad boy. My hat is off to him. I still believe that a true championship fight was back in the days when you fought 15 rounds and, since they don’t fight that today, they are not getting the real deal.
If you could pick a heavyweight from any era to face in the ring at your prime, how would it be and what would the outcome be?
Floyd Patterson. I would have outboxed him.
Do you favor a mandatory retirement fund for all boxers and if so, how would you like to see it accomplished?
Brad, I love the idea. They should put money away from day one along with the promoters. Right now, I am actively involved at looking at avenues to help out fellow boxers who are in dire need of assistance. I am looking at setting up a foundation for ex-fighters.
When you finally hang up the boxing gloves, how do you want your fans to remember you?
As the “Fighting Cowboy”, who is still riding to this day!
Finally, what is the saying you live your life by?
“I live my life by Jesus Christ”.
“Quick” wanted to add the following to our interview:
I am actively being called to fight in the Legends series where you just saw Larry Holmes knock out Mike Weaver this past month.
So look forward to me cleaning out the old guys.
Born in Tulsa (Oklahoma) Jul-5-1957
6 ft. 1 in.
Professional Record: 65 fights; 42+ (31 KO), 1=, 21-, 1 N.C.
– 1978 –
+ (Nov-18-1978, Chicago) Ron Stephany ko 1
+ (Dec-15-1978, Chicago) Al Bell kot 1
– 1979 –
+ (Feb-2-1979, Chicago) Dave Watkins ko 1
+ (Feb-28-1979, Chicago) Sylvester Wilder kot 3
+ (Mar-31-1979, Chicago) Rocky Lane ko 1
+ (Jun-11-1979, Chicago) George Goforth kot 5
+ (Jul-20-1979, Chicago) Henry Porter kot 6
+ (Jul-30-1979, Chicago) Charles Atlas kot 2
+ (Sep-7-1979, Chicago) Jimmy Cross ko 2
+ (Oct-19-1979, Chicago) Bob Whaley ko 1
+ (Nov-20-1979, Chicago) Harry Terrell ko 1
+ (Dec-13-1979, Tulsa) Memphis Al Jones ko 4
– 1980 –
+ (Feb-1-1980, Chicago) Cookie Wallace 10
+ (Mar-3-1980, Chicago) Ron Stander kot 7
+ (Apr-17-1980, Chicago) Frank Schramm kot 2
+ (May-15-1980, Chicago) Walter Santemore 10
+ (Jun-12-1980, Chicago) Eric Sedillo retiring 4
+ (Aug-14-1980, Chicago) Mike Koranicki 10
+ (Nov-13-1980, Chicago) Domingo D’Elia kot 4
– 1981 –
+ (Mar-9-1981, Chicago) Tom Fisher 10
– (Oct-3-1981, Rosemont) Mike Weaver 15 (W.B.A., Heavyweight)
– 1982 –
+ (Mar-13-1982, Las Vegas) Jerry Williams ko 3
+ (Jun-11-1982, Las Vegas) Earnie Shavers 10
– (Aug-14-1982, Cleveland) Pinklon Thomas kot 8
– (Nov-26-1982, Houston) Greg Page kot 8 (United States, Heavyweight)
– 1983 –
+ (Mar-28-1983, Chicago) Leroy Boone 10
+ (Apr-25-1983, Chicago) Grady Daniels kot 4
+ (May-22-1983, Chicago) Larry Givens kot 2
+ (Jul-9-1983, Chicago) Lynwood Jones ko 4
– (Sep-23-1983, Richfield) Tim Witherspoon kot 1 (North America, Heavyweight)
– 1984 –
+ (Feb-9-1984, Tulsa) Otis Bates ko 2
+ (Apr-26-1984, Tulsa) Bobby Crabtree ko 3
+ (Jul-10-1984, Tulsa) Billy Joe Thomas ko 3
+ (Aug-20-1984, Miami Beach) Michael Bennett ko 1
– (Oct-23-1984, Atlantic City) Carl “The Truth” Williams 10
+ (Dec-15-1984, Waukegan) Bashir Wadud 10
– 1985 –
– (May-20-1985, Reno) Marvis Frazier 10
– (Sep-7-1985, Johanesburg) Gerrie Coetzee 10
– 1986 –
– (Jan-25-1986, Lancaster) Tyrrell Biggs 8
– (May-3-1986, Glenn Falls) Mike Tyson 10
+ (Jun-17-1986, Tulsa) Mark Young ko 8
+ (Jul-29-1986, Lexington) Art Terry 8
– (Sep-15-1986, Sydney) Joe Bugner 10
+ (Oct-18-1986, Mesquite) Eddie Richardson 10
+ (Oct-28-1986, Pittsburgh) Lorenzo Boyd ko 3
= (Nov-11-1986, Las Vegas) Avery Rawls 10
– 1987 –
– (Jan-8-1987, Houston) Mike Williams kot 8
+ (Mar-6-1987, Fort Smith) Ronnie Douglas kot 5
– (Mar-24-1987, London) Frank Bruno kot 5
– (Jun-23-1987, Johanesburg) Johnny Du Plooy kot 10
+ (Oct-16-1987, Atlantic City) Dennis Jackson ko 5
– 1988 –
+ (Apr-9-1988, Las Vegas) Rodney Smith ko 2
– (Jul-16-1988, Stateline) Evander Holyfield retiring 5
– (Nov-30-1988, Southwark) Gary Mason kot 5
– 1989 –
– (Jan-14-1989, Auburn Hills) Arthel Lawhorne 10
– (Mar-20-1989, Toledo) Adilson Rodrigues 10
– 1990 –
+ (Dec-7-1990, Crystal City) Carlton West kot 3
– 1991 –
– (Jan-11-1991, Atlantic City) Tommy Morrison kot 1
+ (Nov-22-1991, Peoria) Danny Blake 10
– 1992 –
+ (Feb-28-1992, Countryside) Jack Jackson kot 3
– (Oct-8-1992, Columbus) Alexander Zolkin 10
– 1993-1994: inactive –
– 1995 –
N.C. (Dec-7-1995, Denver) Will Hinton 3
– 1996 –
+ (Jun-21-1996, Vancouver) Craig Payne 8
– (Aug-31-1996, Vancouver) Cliff Couser kot 6
– 1997-1998: inactive –
– 1999 –
– (Oct-16-1999, Issaquah) Tim Puller 10