Death on the Beltway
The once promising lives of Reuben Bell and Jerry Ballard had been snuffed out because bad choices had been made…
“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”: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/articles/14723/sucker-punch
“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.