“He has all of this,” Roach said, jabbing his index finger at his heart.
Ballard, 19, has developed into a national amateur champion inside Roach’s NoXcuse Boxing Club in Capitol Heights. His close-range style, highlighted by a devastating left uppercut, is now supported by a solid defense.
Last month, he was one of three members of the Washington team to capture first place at the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions in Mesquite, Nev. Ballard swept to the 178-pound title, Bowie’s Jerry Odom won at 201 pounds and Baltimore’s Gervonta Davis finished first at 132 pounds. Odom was named the tournament’s outstanding boxer and the D.C. team captured the overall title.
In August, Ballard and Odom will compete in the Ringside World Championship in Kansas City, Mo., and in October they will fight at the Police Athletic League’s National Championship in Toledo. Both have won each tournament multiple times. They aren’t yet ready to turn professional, but expect to in a few years.
“Whenever we go to tournaments, people see ‘No Xcuses’ and they know we’re here to fight,” said Ballard, who is 89-21 as an amateur. “It means by any means necessary, do what you have to do to win. There are no excuses. You come here and you do what you have to do to win.”
Gritty style, gritty gym
Located on an unpaved parking lot behind Walker Mill Baptist Church, the NoXcuse gym lends itself to Ballard’s gritty style. Roach’s old boxing ring, transported from his former gym in Temple Hills, sits in the middle of the gym, which is converted from an old truck garage.
The thumping of heavy bags is audible from outside the thin aluminum walls. Speed bags are attached to welded metal and a row of treadmills and weight benches sit outside the ring. Newspaper clippings are displayed above a wall-length mirror that reflects the images of young boxers jumping rope.
With the blessing of the church’s pastor, Roach and his cousin, Lamont Roach Sr., turned the garage into a gym four years ago.
“It’s like an oven in here,” Ballard said. “If it’s 80 degrees outside, it feels like 100 inside. It keeps everybody focused and everyone going. If you can spar eight rounds in 100-degree weather, then fighting in a regular tournament for three rounds shouldn’t bother you at all.”
Ballard trains at the gym five nights a week and takes classes at Prince George’s Community College. He first took up boxing during high school and didn’t plan on it becoming a lifestyle. It was simply a conditioning tool during the football offseason.
A few years after Roach first saw Ballard’s nose bloodied, the two met again. Spiritual in nature, Roach said he believed it was fate that brought them together.