1988 Olympian Romallis “Big Shot” Ellis Remembered!
By Ken Hissner (Oct 2, 2010) Doghouse Boxing  
The 1988 Olympic boxing team will be remembered for several things that didn’t always go their way in Seoul, Korea. Not that should have shocked anyone back then or even today. One was Roy Jones, Jr. losing a disputed decision to a South Korean and Riddick Bowe losing in the finals to Lennox Lewis.

One of the highlights was the Bronze medalist on the team at 132 was Romallis “Big Shot” Ellis, of Ellenwood, GA, who was referred to me by John “Iceman” Scully who participated in the Olympic Trials. He got the nickname “Big Shot” from his father when at birth his mother lost a kidney. He was so small his father gave him that nickname. Ellis compiled a 120-19 amateur record. In 1985 he won the Australia Game Day Gold medal. Two weeks later he won the Presidents Cup in Indonesia. “Of the twenty-two countries I fought in Indonesia was the poorest country I was ever in” said Ellis. Next it was off to fight the Yugoslavia team where he won his match. In nine months he won three international fights. In 1986 he won a Silver medal at the Goodwill Games in Moscow. In 1988 he won the US Amateur Nationals and the Olympic Trials to represent team USA in the 132 division.

At the Goodwill Games Ellis was losing weight due to the type of food served dropping down to 129 from his fighting weight of 132. “I asked Ted Turner whose TBS was televising the Games for some American pizza and he had it brought in to Moscow. In the quarter finals Ellis defeated Jose Perez 5-0, of VZ. In the semi-finals he defeated Yuri Savochkin 4-1, of the URS. In the finals he lost to Orzubek Nazarov 4-1, of the URS, to receive a Silver medal. Just when he beat one Russian didn’t another one show up!

“At the nationals in 1988 I fought Lyndon Walker of DC where I was originally from. I had to fight him again in the trials and the box-off. They were three of the toughest fights I had up until then.

“Kelcie Banks and I were roommates at the Olympics. If one of us messed up on the doing the ropes together the other one had to do 50 push-ups,” said Ellis. In the Olympics he drew a bye in the first round and defeated South Korea’s Lee Kang-Su 5-0 in the second round. “I set the record for the most punches in an Olympic fight with the South Korean,” said Ellis. Then he stopped Kassim Traore of Mali in the third round. In the quarter finals he defeated Emil Chuprenski of Bulgaria 3-2. In the semi-finals he lost to Andreas Zulow of East Germany 5-0, to earn a Bronze medal. “What I remember most about the German was how tall he was and fighting that European style,” said Ellis.

“I remember seeing Muhammad Ali back in 1976 running around a track even sometimes backwards with a mouthpiece. I ran home peeled off the skin from an orange the shape of a mouthpiece and put white tape on it and ran around that same track,” said Ellis. Ali was training for his bout in Landover with Jimmy Young, from Philadelphia. “Another time we would play football at the Royal Gardens field in Landover and afterward fight each other and along comes “Sugar” Ray Leonard from nearby Palmer Park. He told us if we wanted to fight we should go to a gym and learn the right way,” said Ellis. At the age of 11 he did and he felt this was for him.

Ellis had a mother from South Carolina and a father from Alabama so they settled in between in Georgia. It was 1979 and Ellis found his way into a gym in Atlanta. He started his amateur career in 1981 through 1988. “I had an amateur fight and knocked out Jimmy Jakes with one punch. I was about sixteen at the time. My coach told me to sit down and watch the rest of the fights. This fighter in the next bout was bigger than me and he beat his opponent so bad they had to rush him to a hospital. It was Evander Holyfield. I asked him if I could train with him and I did,” said Ellis. He and Holyfield would spar on occasions though there was a weight difference. “I would see Evander beat up on guys his size but never did that to me. I asked him why he held back,” said Ellis. The obvious answer was Ellis was much smaller. “Thank God I’m smaller,” said Ellis.

Ellis talked about his 1988 Olympic teammates: Riddick Bowe: He was always “doing Ali”. Ray Mercer: This was our team leader. If he said run more we all followed him. Andrew Maynard: At the Olympics we discovered we grew up one mile from each other. Anthony Hembrick: Good friend. He ended up marrying my first girl friend. Roy Jones, Jr.: We’ve been friends since 1985. His dad helped me prepare for my last fight in 2001. He is a good trainer for endurance. Roy won the Val Barker award for best fighter in the Olympics after getting robbed in his fight in the finals. Kenneth Gould: He and Todd Foster were cool. Kelcie Banks: The man had over 500 amateur fights. We both won in Australia and Indonesia. He should have turned pro in 1986. He’s a good friend of mine. Kennedy McKinney: He was very outgoing. Arthur Johnson: Good people. Visited me in Atlanta and is a Christian and I believe a pastor. Michael Carbajal: A good guy. The team coaches were Kenny Adams and Hank Johnson, brother of Marvin Johnson.

Teammate Andrew Maynard had this to say about Ellis. “I like the hell out of him. He had that crooked like from a difficult angle style,” said Maynard.

Upon turning professional in February of 1989 in Hampton, VA, on the undercard of Pernell Whitaker and Greg Haugen for the IBF Lightweight title, Ellis scored a first round knockout over Albert Clowney. “Holyfield’s manager Ken Sanders handled me in the beginning,” said Ellis. Ellis would appear on undercards of Holyfield, Whitaker and others winning his first eleven fights. In August of 1990 he would appear in the main event of a three bout card at Smyrna, GA, with all three bouts ending in second round giving Ellis a 12-0 record with ten knockouts.

“There was a time I was training at Champs Gym in Philly. I was on my toes boxing for four rounds because the sparring partner was so big. In the fifth round we opened it up a little. The next day I was asked to go five rounds again. Just before the fifth round my trainer told me the guy I was sparring with was Bernard Hopkins. I knew I had to be careful with this guy even before I found out who he was. After the last round I knew I could say I went ten rounds with Bernard Hopkins,” said Ellis. He also worked with Meldrick Taylor and Pernell Whitaker. “Pernell was so slick and smooth you couldn’t hurt the guy,” said Ellis.

In his fourteenth and fifteenth fights he would headline in his first eight rounder’s stopping both opponents in Smyrna, TN, and Smyrna, GA. “I was tired of fighting on everyone else’s cards and wanted to be the main event of one myself,” said Ellis.

Ellis opened 1991 winning a ten rounder by decision over Marco Antonio Lizarraga, 36-1, the Mexican light welterweight champion who was making his US debut, in Las Vegas. It would be thirteen months before Ellis would fight again. His return was on the undercard of former WBO light heavyweight champion Michael Moorer defeating Everett “Big Foot” Martin in Auburn Hills. Ellis stopped Abraham Martinez, 23-14, of Mexico in five rounds.

In July of 1992 Ellis would face Darryl Lattimore, 19-6, of MD, in New York, heading a card of six bouts all six rounds. Ellis would suffer his first defeat after posting seventeen wins. It would be eleven months before he fought again and it was on the undercard of a James “Bonecrusher” Smith headliner at the legendary Blue Horizon in Philadelphia. Ellis won a six round decision over Juan Carlos Romero. Eight months later he was on a fifteen bout Don King card in Charlotte, NC, stopping Tim Scott. At 154 it was the heaviest he had ever fought at. Bobby Czyz headlined in a non-title bout.

In a main event bout in Davenport, IA, Ellis defeated Mexican Jesus Mayorga, 19-8-1 over ten rounds. He would finish the year in Quito, Ecuador, underneath the Hopkins-Mercado vacant middleweight title fight that ended in a draw. Ellis stopped his Ecuadorian opponent Jose Olivio in the third round.

“I had signed a one year contract with Arnie Rosenthal. As it turned out I only had one fight with him,” said Ellis. That was on St. Patrick’s Day in 1995 in Worcester, MASS, he won in ten rounds over Humberto Aranda, 13-2, of Costa Rica.

While doing road work in Florida for his next fight what seemed like a drunk driver was trying to run him down while running across a street. “When I saw him coming he seemed to speed up more. I tried jumping to avoid a direct hit when my feet hit the windshield and I landed on my head,” said Ellis. He asked the doctor if he would be able to fight again and was told he should concentrate on living. He had his head stapled and a steel bar put into his leg. He was determined to train even though he couldn’t lift one of his arms fully and kept going and going.

“My cousin Rev. Walter Ellis came in from Alabama for a visit to Atlanta. I thought he was talking about me when he talked about an old man from the East who had lived a fast life on his own whose wife and mother died. He came home to his castle and saw the scavengers eating out of the garbage pales outside as happy as can be. The old man had lived a life of sin with women, money and any fool thing that was to make him happy. The only thing was the old man was empty. He realized the scavengers were at peace with the world,” said Ellis. This is the type of story that turned Ellis and many others around to accepting the Lord. He now attends the Mount Welcome Baptist church in Decatur, GA. Charles W. Grant is the pastor there and had Ellis’ cousin speak there.

“I remember being on crutches standing on the track talking to John Smith, my trainer in Atlanta asking for a fight. He worked with all the new guys in the gym when I arrived. I also had help from Ronnie Shields in Houston and George Benton in Philly in the past,” said Ellis.

It would be nineteen months since Ellis had his last fight when he asked for a contender in his first fight back. Pedro Sanchez, 31-2-2, of DR/NY, was ranked No. 5 in the welterweight division and ended up as the opponent. “I didn’t have any sparring for this fight. I fought him on faith and heart, but wanted to fight so bad I was just using an old punching back at my house having been off so long to stay in shape waiting for the call. My trainer (John Smith) called me and said I had a fight in a week,” said Ellis.

“My daughter’s mother and I were dating back in 1987 and she became pregnant. One day when I was training for the Olympic Trials the mother called me. I decided to go over there and there she had another man over the house, so I got mad and left. Eight years later my uncle Charles said to me you better come see your baby. I had called my girlfriend up at the time and asked her if she had the baby. That was in 1998 the same year I had my accident. I go to Alabama to see her and I knew that was my baby. She was seven years old. I went back to Atlanta and told my mother I want to fight again because I have a daughter now and I want to give her everything. My mother told me if you want to fight again put the Lord first. I said mom, I go to church. She said I know but when you put the Lord first you can’t go wrong. I did and the rest is history,” said Ellis.

“I had sparred with Sanchez in the gym once and he asked me to go easy on him the next round. That is something you never tell someone. Before the fight I was so positive about myself I said if Pedro beats me I will go back to his country and help him raise chickens,” said Ellis. Romallis was falling off the stool by the fifth round. His trainer urged him to get back into the fight. He hadn’t gone through all he had to lose on the stool. “I did that on the stool to deceive my opponent hoping to draw him inside,” said Ellis. Sanchez fell into the trap that Ellis set for him. By the tenth round Sanchez was out of steam and Ellis stopped him with ten seconds to go. The fight was shown on the USA network.

One of the drawbacks for Ellis was he would fight anyone. “I was 132 in the amateurs and felt I could take anyone up to 160,” said Ellis. Sometimes it is not good to have too much heart. He had all the skills to go along with it. In looking at his record he was not “groomed” with the future in mind. Put on too many undercards when he should have been fighting the main events himself and not waiting until his fourteenth fight in an eight rounder in some small town.

In January of 1997 Ellis was lined up to fight Vince Phillips, 35-2, in Boston. This was the co-feature to the Wayne McCullough-Daniel Zaragoza WBC Super bantamweight title bout. Phillips was a welterweight title challenger the year before even though most of his career was as a light welterweight. This fight went down to the wire and could have gone either way. Phillips got the first vote 96-94 while Ellis got the next vote 97-93 and the final vote went to Ellis 97-93 giving him a split decision win. This fight was shown on HBO.

The odd part about this fight was that both fighters fighting at 147 would get title bouts in two different divisions. In May Phillips dropping back to 140 stopped Kostya Tszyu, 18-0, for the IBF title. In July Ellis challenged Raul Marquez, 26-0, for his light middleweight title. He had no reason to be in a fight at that weight. He insisted he was fine and no one was going to change his mind. Marquez had been fighting at this weight his entire career since leaving the Olympics in 1992. Ellis had only fought over 150 twice in his twenty-six fights. It had been six months since the Phillips fight. He had to come down in weight with only two weeks notice to make 154. Marquez it wasn’t the same making 154 and was probably around 164 by fight time. Marquez would retain his title in his first defense in the fourth round. “He was simply too big for me,” said Ellis. This fight was shown on ABC.

Three months later Ellis returned to his birth place of DC, facing local boxer Derrell Coley, 30-1-2, in October of 1997, in defense of his NABF welterweight title. “I made the mistake of sparring with Reggie Green who I knew. What I didn’t know was he had the same manager as Coley. He told Coley to run on me and not mix it up,” said Ellis. He would lose the decision over twelve rounds. “Coley ran all night. There was no way Coley should have gotten the decision,” said Johnny Gant. Gant trained Ellis for this fight.

Next up six months later in April of 1998 was former Olympian Fernando Vargas, 10-0, in Foxwoods Resort, CT. Ellis was one of three 10 rounder’s on the card. It was the end of the line when the referee stopped it in the second round. “Once again I took on someone too big for me. He hit harder than Marquez,” said Ellis. Vargas would go onto win the IBF light middleweight title at the end of the year.

Out of the ring over three years Ellis decided to come back in Miami and fight Vincent Harris, 8-4-1, in a 6 rounder. The fight ended in a draw bringing his final record to 24-4-1, with seventeen knockouts. After his boxing career was over he would go onto teach at Ramsey Student Center in Georgia and as a boxing instructor at the Athens Arena. “I train a kid named Q Staples at the Knuckle-up Fitness Center who won the Junior Worlds. Paul Eisner, Jr. now living in Boston had met Ellis at the gym early in his professional career. “When he came into the gym he raised the bar. His fight with Pedro Sanchez was a classic. The look on Ellis’ face was so determined it was scary,” said Eisner.

A book on this Olympic medal winner and world title challenger as a professional is in the making. “I want people to know about The Big Shot Step,” said Ellis. From our conversations I think there is going to be quite a few eye opening events revealed that will give people a better idea of the corruption of the game. How a fighter shed’s his blood inside the ring while the vultures are holding the money he’s earned only giving it up piece by piece and claiming it’s gone long before it should have. Don’t ever under estimate the determination of the “Big Shot”!

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