There have been some notable deaths in the boxing business this year, with two heavyweight world champions, a notorious killer and Britain's greatest promoter all hearing the final bell.

Jimmy Ellis and Ernie Terrell both held versions of the world heavyweight title during the troubled years of Muhammad Ali's first reign, Rubin Hurricane Carter was convicted of a triple murder and sentenced to life in prison when he was a leading contender for the middleweight championship, and Mickey Duff fought 69 times, then made fights happen for nearly 50 years.

Ellis won and lost to Ali when they were amateur boys in Louisville, the town where they were born, but lost the decider one night in front of 32,000 in Texas when they were professionals; Ali seemed to show some pity for his old, old friend that night in 1971, holding back before the fight was halted in round 12.

"Jimmy was not in Ali's shadow," insisted George Foreman. "He was a natural boxer, a good fighter."


Big Ern, as Terrell was known, met a very different Ali. It was 1967 and Ali had sworn his hatred for Terrell. Inside the ring he was brutal for 15 rounds, giving Terrell a fearsome beating; Terrell, you see, had called Ali by his former name, Clay.

Both Terrell and Ellis were friends with Ali once their ring careers were over. "We were friends, good friends and always friends," said Ellis.

The Hurricane was sentenced in 1967 for a triple murder in a bar and was finally released, a free man, in February 1988. He was, as he had always insisted, innocent.

Carter narrowly missed the death penalty and was amazed he had not been given the electric chair: "They had the power to kill me and if they for just one second believed that I killed those people they would have burned me to death," he said in 1997.

Duff and Carter knew each other well and on one occasion Duff unwittingly, helped Carter smuggle a gun through customs at Heathrow.

Carter was a tough man back in New Jersey, and travelled armed like most of his associates. He came to London to fight in 1965 and Duff, who had considerable influence, met him and took his bag.

The pair slipped out of Heathrow, jumped in a taxi and Duff dropped Carter at a Park Lane hotel. A few hours later, Duff received a call at his Soho office and it seems that Carter had found some company, and a few shots were fired in the hotel. Duff fixed the whole thing, which is what he was good at; it needed to be done because he had carried the gun in Carter's bag.

This year also saw the death of Matthew Saad Muhammad, known as Miracle Matthew, who was dumped as a child on the streets of Philadelphia and raised by nuns. Nobody ever came forward to claim the 5-year-old boy and the nuns named him Matthew, after the apostle, and Franklin, after the street he was found on. The boy went on to win the world title in 1979 and is considered one of the best light-heavyweight champions.

- Independent