Rhoshii Wells relied on fast feet, speedy hands and a powerful punch to escape threatening situations in the boxing ring.
But the one-time Olympian never had a chance Monday afternoon when a gunman approached him near Nellis Boulevard and Bonanza Road and fired a shot into his torso.
Wells, a bronze medalist at the 1996 Olympics, died a few hours later at University Medical Center.
Wells was striving to re-emerge in the boxing world after fighting alongside American teammates Floyd Mayweather and Fernando Vargas more than a decade ago.
A 31-year-old father of five, Wells pounded punching bags at Johnny Tocco’s Boxing Gym with one goal: to move his family out of a dangerous neighborhood on Nellis.
“He’d say, ‘Man, if I just get this fight, if I just get this fight, I can get out of this place,’ ” Wells’ trainer, Reggie Jackson, said Wednesday from Johnny Tocco’s.
That fight never came.
Jackson has spoken to Wells’ girlfriend and acquaintances at their apartment complex about the shooting.
He has learned a few things.
Jackson said Wells had an argument with the man police believe is the gunman a few weeks ago, although neither his trainers nor fellow fighters at the 55-year-old Charleston Boulevard gym know what it was about.
On Monday, the two bumped into each other again.
Jackson said the suspect, who goes by the nickname “Tallulah,” threatened Wells.
“The guy told him, ‘This is your last day. I will put you six feet under,’ ” Jackson said, quoting friends at the apartment complex.
Fellow fighters and trainers sparred in the hot, muggy gym Wednesday. Other than grunts that echoed off the concrete walls, speed bags vibrating and the whir of an oversized fan, the place seemed quiet for a hard-core training facility.
When Wells’ name came up, everyone stopped their workout, willing to speak about their friend.
Michael Williamson, shadowboxing in one of the gym’s two rings, remembered sparring with Wells. The 22-year-old Williamson said he never would have guessed by Wells’ attitude that he was a former Olympian with a professional record of 18 wins, 2 losses and 10 knockouts.
“He wasn’t trying to take my head off,” Williamson said with grin. “He was a real inspiration. He had great character. He was a great person.”
Lesli Casal, manager of Johnny Tocco’s, said Wells went out of his way to give pointers to younger boxers. The minute he stepped into the gym with his cheerful attitude, the environment changed.
“He always had a smile and a twinkle in his eyes,” said Casal, who proudly serves as a mother figure to the boxers. “He’d help the younger guys, get them into shape.”
Tyrone Boone acknowledged that one no-no in the boxing world is for a fighter to offer tips to another trainer’s boxer. But Boone never minded when Wells offered advice, because it was always sound.
“He had a very mild, sincere, honest, passive personality. The only time he looked down on a person is when he was picking them up.”
Boone knew Wells for more than 10 years and remembered him as a quiet man with close family ties.
“Every time he came into the gym, you know who would be with him? His daddy,” Boone said.
Boxing interest started early
Wells was raised in a sports- loving family. His name was derived from his father’s favorite athlete, star Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Ahmad Rashad.
Jackson said Wells was drawn to boxing at a young age after watching Rocky movies with his father, Ricco.
In his teens, he caught the eye of Evander Holyfield, who, according to several boxing Web sites, funded Wells’ traveling and training expenses as he prepared for the Olympics.
After the 1996 games, Wells watched a handful of his teammates soar to stardom. Wells also was a success, winning 17 straight matches and earning a chance at the light middleweight title. He was given the nickname “The Great One.”
Friends claim Wells’ career began to fade after he hooked up with eccentric boxing promoter Don King after the Olympics. Many of King’s fighters were controversial figures who made headlines by jawing with opponents during pre-match press conferences.
Wells was mild-mannered.
“He (King) liked the big story, the big controversy,” Casal said. “Rhoshii didn’t fit the bill.”
Trainers at the gym said Wells was “shelved.” He struggled to land on a card after 2003, when he lost his second title bout to Alejandro Garcia. His last professional fight was in 2005 in Chicago. Two years later, he earned a spot on ESPN’s boxing reality show, “The Contender.” Wells was eliminated early after judges criticized his reflexes.
Reporters bashed him, saying he was washed up, a claim Jackson said was not true. Jackson believed that with Wells’ strength and work ethic, he could have won a title.
“Promoters get fighters and keep them on the shelf,” Jackson said. “How are you going to provide for your family when all you can do is fight? He was blackballed. This boxing game can be real nasty.”
Bobby Goodman, vice president of Don King Productions, said Wells left on good terms.
Goodman said Wells had good boxing skills and was a top contender who just couldn’t get over the hump. He remembered Wells as a religious man.
Struggling financially, Wells moved in with his girlfriend’s mother and four of his five children.
Jackson said Wells recently signed on with a promotion company owned by former World Boxing Organization heavyweight champion Lamon Brewster and planned to fight again in November.
Metropolitan Police Department Homicide Lt. Lew Roberts said concerned citizens have been helping police track down their suspect, who spoke with a Louisiana accent.
“We have some leads we are tracking as we speak. We hope that in the next day or so we have somebody in custody.”
Before Wells was shot, he and the suspect argued, Roberts said.
“They had words the night of the shooting, and the suspect threatened to come back and kill him.”
Police don’t believe Wells and “Tallulah” knew each other, and Roberts is unaware of a motive other than the verbal altercation they had.
He said there’s no indication Wells was involved in any wrongdoing but was just a father trying to reignite his boxing career.
Review-Journal writers Antonio Planas and John L. Smith contributed to this report. Contact reporter Adrienne Packer at email@example.com or 702-384-8710.