Sunday, March 27, 2016

TBG Book Review: Thinkin Big: The Story of James "Quick" Tillis, the Fightin Cowboy

Review by Peter Silkov

Thinkin Big: The Story of James "Quick" Tillis, the Fightin Cowboy

By James ‘Quick’ Tillis and J. Engleman Price

“Thinkin Big: The Story of James "Quick" Tillis, the Fighting Cowboy” is the quirky and entertaining autobiography of former heavyweight boxing contender, James ‘Quick’ Tillis, which comes at you as fast and snappy as one of ‘Quick’s left jabs.

Tillis was one of top contenders in the heavyweight division during the 1980s, a time when the division, and boxing as a whole, was still enjoying the after effects of the Muhammad Ali-inspired golden era of the 1970s. This was a time when the heavyweight division was still full of talent and distinctive characters. A contest for the World heavyweight title was still able to spark the kind of buzz and interest that is all too absent today. Yet, is was also a bittersweet time, which saw the various world boxing bodies begin their steady erosion of the sport’s credibility with their multiple world titles. The 1980s would also see a number of the sport’s top names fall victim to drugs, alcohol, corrupt managers, and promoters. The heavyweights of the 1980s are often referred to as the ’lost generation’ due to so many of them seeing their careers derailed by a mixture of self-indulgence and managerial and promotional corruption.

After he was inspired to take up boxing after watching a young Muhammad Ali win the World heavyweight title from Sonny Liston, Tillis compiled a 92-8 amateur record, before turning professional in 1978.  ‘Quick’ would model his style on his hero, Ali, and become a slick, hit and move boxer, with a good punch ,and a sturdy chin.

In a era that was populated by heavyweights who had been inspired by ‘The Greatest,’ Tillis did not always receive the praise and recognition that his talent deserved.

James Tillis, was born James Theodore Tillis, on July 5, 1957, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Descended from Choctaw Indians, Tillis is as much at home on a horse, as he is in a boxing ring, hence his second ring name of ‘Cowboy.’ Tillis comes across as having more than a little of the swash buckling gunslinger in his autobiography. 
In “Thinking Big” Tillis gives us an engaging recollection of his boxing career; a career, which saw him rise to the heights, and come within touching distance of the World heavyweight championship.  Unfortunately, Tillis’ rise to the title would end in a disappointing defeat, and after that, his career would become a roller coaster ride of highs and lows, triumphs, and defeats.  Tillis’ ring form became erratic, with flashes of brilliance being interspersed with patches of laziness, and a lack of stamina, that all too often, saw him lose fights that he seemed capable of winning. 

Later he would find out that there was a medical reason for his lack of stamina in some of his key fights.
 Tillis recounts how ill health, poor management, and bad luck hampered his career.  James’ story is about fighting for survival in one of the toughest and most unforgiving of professions. Boxing is still seen as a sport by many, but it is a sport that is run by some very ruthless and unforgiving businessmen.  It is a profession where a fighter, if not careful, can be ate up and spat out, when they are no longer useful.

Despite his defeats and setbacks, Tillis never falls into self-pity, he always seems to be ready to laugh at his own misfortunes, and admit to his own mistakes.

During his career ‘Quick’ fought many of the best heavyweights of his generation, including, Mike Weaver, Ernie Shavers, Pinklon Thomas, Greg Page, Gerrie Coetzee, Tim Witherspoon, Marvis Frazier, Tyrell Biggs, Carl Williams, Mike Tyson, Joe Bugner, Frank Bruno, Gary Mason, and Evander Holyfield.  Tillis fought the four biggest punchers of his era in Weaver, Shavers, Coetzee and Tyson, and his detailed accounts of his fights with Weaver, Shavers, and Tyson are amongst the highlights of the book.

Tillis was the first man to take Tyson to the 10-rounds distance, and to also give a glimpse of how ‘Iron Mike’ would eventually be defeated…by a mobile heavyweight with a good jab.  Indeed, many people felt that Tyson was lucky to get the point’s verdict in his fight with ‘Quick.’

“Thinking Big” is a very visceral account of James’ ups and downs in life, both inside, and outside of the ring, and despite the ups and downs, he always retains a sense of humour that fills, and lights up the book. You really do feel, when reading this book, that you are sitting with ‘The Fighting Cowboy’ beside a burning campfire, listening to him tell you the story of his fighting career.  It is a colourful and exuberant ride, and you will finish the book wishing that we could get back to the days when the heavyweight division was populated by colourful fighters such as James ’Quick’ Tillis.  This is a book, which is quick on the draw, and doesn’t slacken its pace until the final bell.

*The book contains many photographs, the photos on this page are not from the book.

Copyright © 2016 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to

1 comment:

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