Death on the Beltway

By Ted Sares on October 14, 2013
Death on the Beltway
The sudden deaths of two Beltway fighters prevented their quest to find a better world.

The once promising lives of Reuben Bell and Jerry Ballard had been snuffed out because bad choices had been made…

The Ratman

“He (Bell) had everything he wanted…He didn’t need money—we gave him money all the time. He didn’t have to do everything he was doing in the street. He had a silver spoon. That’s what really hurts me about it. He had everything better than we did. He didn’t have to be in the street…”—Reuben Bell’s sister Yvette

“Not only was he scoring one-punch knockouts, he was scoring FIRST-punch knockouts as in, the first punch he threw in a bout, he knocked a guy out.”—Gary “Digital” Williams

“I’d heard stories about his background. In the fight in [Atlantic City], he had a lot of his friends up there, [who] came to the fights. His friends were kind of semi-rowdy, probably with a gangster background. I have homeboys, but I just don’t hang around them all the time like he was.”—Paul Vaden

The sudden and tragic deaths of two promising DC fighters, Reuben “Ratman” Bell (13-2) and Jerry “The Technician” Ballard (21-2-1), prevented their quest to find a better world. Bell’s death was particularly tragic, since he was well on his way to recovery from early-stage colon cancer at the time. A junior middleweight and middleweight, he possessed tremendous power. In fact, each of his 21 wins came by way of KO, one coming in just 12 seconds.

Bell’s last fight was against Simon Brown in 1997. After starting fast and having his way with Brown, even registering a punishing knockdown, something suddenly went wrong and Bell retired after the fifth round claiming a broken hand, but his well-known penchant for not being in attitudinal (and physical) shape came to the fore. “Why?” asked the announcer. “Why is the fight over?! This is an unbelievable chain of events….Reuben Bell actually quit! He quit the fight…What I thought was that Bell was giving as well as he was getting…He’s not cut; he’s not bleeding….I had him winning the fight up until that point!”

The Ratman was then floored by illness, but after many treatments, it appeared he might have a good chance at returning to the ring. Sadly, the prognosis was not to be. He was waiting in line to receive radiation treatment at Washington Hospital Center when he was shot and killed on February 5, 1998, by Tomar Locker. The shooter believed Bell had been involved in a 1994 shooting that killed Locker’s girlfriend, 17-year-old high school honor student Keisha Cragg, and a friend, Keith Smith, and left Locker comatose for a month. Locker, 25, was caught on the security-camera videotape in the lobby of the Washington Hospital Center shooting Bell in the back of the head. At least four others reportedly were wounded in the brazen ambush. Some see Locker’s motive as a combination of revenge and jealousy. Locker was later found not guilty by reason of insanity.

At just twenty-four years old, Reuben Bell’s highly promising boxing career had been snuffed out. Perhaps his numerous run-ins with the law had finally caught up with him. While he was never charged in the 1994 Locker case, he did spend two years in jail awaiting a first-degree murder trial in the July 1995 killing of one Jon Buchanan in southeast Washington for which he was later found not guilty. Said Reuben at the time, “I’ve got a new lease on life. When they announced the verdict, I got down on my knees and praised Allah. I also made a vow that I would never do anything that would land me in jail again. The only harm I’d do anybody will be in the ring.”

He also was a suspect in an August 1997 shooting that left a couple dead and a toddler wounded, police said. 

“It’s odd that, with all the legitimate animosity against him from years of unsettled scores on the streets, Bell may have died in an act of vengeance for a crime in which he played no role.”—Jake Tapper

For a derailed and poignant account about Reuben and the circumstances surrounding and leading up to his demise, read Tapper’s outstanding March 27, 1998 article “Sucker Punch”:

The Technician

“I knew Jerry real well. He was a funny man. He could have been a comedian. He was a good buddy of mine, I miss him a lot. The way he left, it was pretty rough to take.”—William Joppy

“I had a friend…from Baltimore called Jerry Ballard who too was killed outside a bar in 2001. Carried demons, and always found trouble unfortunately, a shame…lovely guy with heart of gold.”— ESB Poster named Bigcat

Jerry Ballard compiled an impressive 61-2 amateur record, but on the other side of the ledger, he served two years in prison in the early 1990s. Ballard held impressive stoppage victories over big Corey “T-Rex” Sanders and former cruiserweight contender Vincent Boulware. The Boulware bout was for the NABO heavyweight title. His last win was against journeyman Garing Lane, who he put in the hospital with a savage knockout on the “Triple Jeopardy” card at Washington’s MCI Center on April 24, 1999. He also fought to a draw against former world champion Greg Page prior to going up against future WBA heavyweight champion John Ruiz for the NABF heavyweight title and the vacant NABA title in 1998.

Ballard was a scary looking, well-muscled guy and when he faced Ruiz at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, he seemed poised to add the “Quiet Man” to his astounding streak of KO wins. However, Ruiz surprisingly had other ideas and claimed the vacant championship when he decked Ballard with a solid combination just 2 minutes and 17 seconds into the fourth round. The Technician managed to rise from the canvas but was unable to continue.

Said Jerry to Ruiz after the fight, “Hey, man, you looked so skinny. I felt your jabs in the first round and I thought, No problem. But by the third round they were like cement blocks.” (After The Gloves Came Off by Carlo Rotella, Boston Magazine, November 2007)

On his way to rebuilding his career after the Ruiz loss, The Technician was stabbed to death in a Washington alley on August 3, 1999, at the age of 32. The murder remains unsolved.

And so two Beltway lives had been snuffed out because bad choices had been made— the material rewards of gangsta life and DC street hustle over boxing.

It could have turned out much differently.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Paul Vaden vs. Ruben Bell (Part 1 of 3)

Paul Vaden vs. Ruben Bell (Part 2 of 3)

Paul Vaden vs. Ruben Bell (Part 3 of 3)

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  1. Gary Digital Williams 05:28pm, 11/09/2014

    It may be on youtube but I’m not sure.  By the way, the man who wrote the City Paper,  Jake Tapper, I believe now hosts The Lead on CNN.

    I was not aware they were related to Reuben.  Thank you for the information.

  2. Bells 02:45pm, 11/09/2014

    where can I find the simon brown in Ruben bell fight

  3. The Bells 08:58am, 11/09/2014

    Jason and Justin Bell are related to Ruben Bell because they are his nephews.

  4. Gary Digital Williams 06:27am, 11/07/2014

    I assume you are talking about Jason and Justin Bell.  How are they related to Reuben?

  5. Bell 04:22pm, 11/06/2014

    Ruben Bell was a great was a good boxer if he would have stayed off the street he would have been the best boxer may he rest in peace but the Bell brothers here to finish what he started


  6. Ted 08:27pm, 10/19/2013

    I actually agree with you. I don’t think Bell would ever have been a world champ. Yes,  Joppy did well and basically finished off Duran.

    Ruben had power first and skill second but he fooling around too much outside of the ring and never had the aptitude or attitude for skills training. Why make egg money in boxing when you can make serious money on the street? That’s what did him in.

    Cheers, Jason

  7. Jason 08:22pm, 10/19/2013


    That wasn’t an indictment against your piece, and a very creative piece it was, I just think Bell would have been forgotten.

    But if he didn’t train as you say, it would have been interesting to see if his skill ever caught up to his power. Short middle weights exist. Joppy had a helluva run at it.

  8. Ted 08:18pm, 10/19/2013

    Jason, Vaden was pretty good. Ruben just never trained. But I get your point.

  9. Jason 07:17pm, 10/19/2013

    Reuben Bell, I would say was a [small] b class talent. I seriously doubt he would have ever captured a world title. His record was inflated. Vaden (a poor man’s Terry Norris) beat him. If he was a as good as his record and KO percentage claimed, he should have cut through Vader like wet paper.

  10. Ted 05:31pm, 10/16/2013

    Thanks Todd. Great to hear from you, amigo.

  11. Todd Flick 12:12pm, 10/16/2013

    A truly sad story, so many young men with such potential lose focus and determination for the “THE STREET LIFE ” . Love your writing Ted. keep us up to date and educated loyal fan

  12. Tex Hassler 07:59am, 10/16/2013

    Truly sad endings to the lives of some good boxers. We will pray for their families.

  13. Ted 06:04am, 10/16/2013

    Giorgio, Mon amie. many thanks.

  14. Ted 05:54am, 10/16/2013

    Thanks guys

  15. Peter Silkov 01:52am, 10/16/2013

    Great stuff Ted! moving and riveting, reminds me of the saying that there’s nothing worse than wasted talent!.

  16. raxman 06:21pm, 10/15/2013

    Great read Ted. I love it when you mix your two favourite topics - true crime and boxing

  17. Ted 11:49am, 10/15/2013

    Irish, I’m hearing that Bro

    The scum and slime in D.C. makes me sick to my stomach.

  18. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:50am, 10/15/2013

    Ted Sares-This article made me sad and mad at the same time….“bad choices” on the streets of Washington, D.C., capital of the United States of America….greatest nation on the face of the earth…no that doesn’t quite get it….greatest nation in the history of human civilization and greatest hope for the very survival of mankind….during the 90’s was often described as the “murder capital” of these United States. God rest their souls…Bell and Ballard made their bad choices….but there are literally millions of low information, no information, mouth breathers who are making bad choices in the ballot booth in the present day that put this great nation and all of our future generations at peril.

  19. Ted 09:26am, 10/15/2013

    Gary, great to hear from you. I researched from your articles on these events. I know you were very close to the situation. Very sad stuff.

    For those who may not know, Gary is the foremost authority on Beltway Boxing and also a great guy.

  20. Gary "Digital" Williams 09:15am, 10/15/2013

    Thanks, Ted for this wonderful yet sad reminder.  As you know, I knew both guys well and their passings are still very tough to deal with because you always wonder what might have been.  If Bell had halfway trained for the bout against Vaden (which he didn’t do), Bell would have gotten his shot at IBF champ Vincent Pettway which would have meant back-to-back all-Beltway title bouts as Pettway had just defeated Simon Brown. 

    The night Ballard knocked out Lane, I was getting ready to interview him but the after-card press conference had started and I hoped to get him another time.  That time never came.

  21. BIG WALTER 08:34am, 10/15/2013

    Outstanding article that all young boxers should read.

  22. Mike Casey 08:27am, 10/15/2013

    Don’t underrate yourself, babe - but thanks anyway.

  23. Ted 08:21am, 10/15/2013

    Yeah, but quality (as in yours) trumps quantity as in mine,

  24. Mike Casey 08:08am, 10/15/2013

    He’s quite something when he gets on a roll, Giorgio. Nice one, Ted. I think your total output now exceeds mine by approximately five thousand, but don’t go getting big-headed about it!

  25. Giorgio 06:34am, 10/15/2013

    Another masterpiece ... thanks for writing it Ted.

    It is always nice to read your work

    Keep it up



  26. Ted 06:04am, 10/15/2013

    Thanks Bill and Paul

  27. dollarbond 01:46am, 10/15/2013

    very sobering especially after the Cruz article

  28. Paul Magno 09:53pm, 10/14/2013

    Thanks for writing that, Ted…as always, stellar stuff…

  29. Ted 08:38pm, 10/14/2013

    Gee, thanks Kid. I try. I hate to say it, but I think the stuff I like to do the most is probably the gloomy stuff like this. I hope it brings to the table a bit of balance even if it tends to be a tad dark..

  30. kid vegas 08:17pm, 10/14/2013

    Ted, you have a tremendous range of subjects in your writing. A to Z.  Very impressive.

  31. Djata Bumpus 07:45pm, 10/14/2013

    That was a ridiculous robbery!...Vaden never even fought, nor did he throw many punches…the commentators were frauds, including Sean O’Grady…Dell was the effective aggressor who made the fight…his head movement was beautiful, but he really didn’t know what he was doing…for example, he Punching the guy in the body, instead of alternating between the head and the body, because Vaden would’ve had to pull his hands down from his head, as he did, but Bell wouldn’t work body/had, so Vaden got away with the robbery…nevertheless, I’ll be glad when the day comes, when writers who do a piece on either a boxer or jazz musician focus more on what the fighter or musician did practically and philosophically, as opposed to concentrating on the tragedy of the aforementioned’s life.

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