BOXING'S WELLS COULD FIRE UP A CROWD, TURN OUT THE LIGHTS
Fort Worth Star-Telegram July 7, 2007 Author: JIM REEVES; Star-Telegram Staff Writer
BURLESON — The hand that held the coffee cup was big and wide and meaty, still strong all these years later. I stared at it, wondering, "How many jaws have felt the wrath of that fist? How many noses broken? How many lights turned out?" That's what Nick Wells did, you know. In the early '70s, when Golden Gloves was in its heyday in Fort Worth, Nick was the guy who turned out the lights at Will Rogers Coliseum. Now, 35 years later and counting, he sat across from me in a back booth at an IHOP on south I-35, and we remembered together what it was like when boxing was king in Cowtown.
Later this afternoon, Wladimir Klitschko will take on Lamon Brewster in a 12-round fight for the IBF and IBO heavyweight championship of the world in Cologne, Germany, and if you weren't aware of that, you're not alone. Not many people care about boxing anymore, and part of the reason is that there just aren't many like Nick Wells anymore.
Nick is 56 now, and he looks more like me without the mustache — short, blocky, gray — than he did when he was the terror of Will Rogers Coliseum and other boxing rings around the world. It still doesn't take a lot of imagination, however, to remember the havoc those fists once wrought. He had phoned a few weeks ago, the first time I'd heard from him in years, wondering if I knew how to reach someone with the AAU, and I suggested we meet — we both live in Johnson County — and talk about the way things were, when the Gloves were something special and unique in Fort Worth.
"Those were the golden years, and not just for the fighters, but for the fans, too," Wells said. "They made the whole thing happen.
"The excitement they brought to Will Rogers Coliseum... the ghosts that were there were phenomenal. I think I speak for all the fighters back then: It was greatly appreciated."
Golden Gloves and amateur fighting aren't the same here now, for a number of reasons. Nick is right: Those were the golden years. If you don't remember Wells or the way Golden Gloves once ruled this city, let me fill you in. You'd pick up a sports section from this newspaper in February in the '60s and early '70s and chances are you'd see an eight-column banner headline proclaiming, "Wells Scores Another First-Round KO." The left-hander out of Polytechnic High became one of the top amateur heavyweights in the world, compiling a record of 189-18 with 110 knockouts. An amazing 72 were first-round KOs. In those days, the Will Rogers crowd was shocked when an opponent lasted past the first two minutes in the ring with Nick.
"I had a lot of fights, but didn't necessarily spend a lot of time in the ring," Wells said. "I'm actually low mileage."
He's in his 29th year with the Fort Worth Fire Department now and works a second job as a security guard at Harris Methodist Southwest, helping put his daughter Hayley through school at UT-Arlington. Like me, he sometimes wonders what might have been if he'd caught the right break, signed up with the right manager, when he turned pro. A single parent, working a fulltime job to support his then 4-year-old son Nickolas, Wells couldn't just concentrate on boxing. He got out of the business with a 15-8 record as a pro, cutting too easily, bleeding too much.
"Maybe I was fortunate," he said. "I got out of it without having my bell rung too much. I didn't take a lot of punishment. I did take some. Everybody does."
Wells was one of those two-fisted fighters — he could hook with both hands — who dealt out a lot more punishment than he ever took. He twice knocked out Larry Holmes, who would go on to become heavyweight champion of the world. The first time came in the finals of National AAU tournament in '72. Wells had won his first three fights by first-round knockout, then stopped Holmes in the third round in the finals. Holmes would write in his autobiography that it was the first time he'd ever fought a left-hander, the first time he was ever stopped in a fight, his first loss. Figuring they might meet again, Holmes concentrated on working against other lefties. Didn't matter. When they met in the '72 Olympic Trials, staged at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in Fort Worth, Wells knocked Holmes out again, this time in the first round.
"He had a lot more want-to the first time I fought him than he did the second time," Wells said.
Wells would go on to meet heavily favored Duane Bobick in the finals of the Trials in a fight few who saw it will ever forget. I was there, doing an unofficial "blow by blow" on the phone for colleagues back in the office. The two swapped tremendous shots. Wells broke Bobick's nose with a devastating right hook. But at the end of the second round, blood was pouring from a two-inch gash in Wells' right eyebrow, the result not of a Bobick right but of a silly accident back at the team hotel before the tournament ever began. The referee stopped the fight. Bobick would go on to represent the U.S. in the Olympics, losing to sensational Cuban heavyweight Teofilo Stevenson in the finals. For a man who has known such violence in his life, Wells' eyes are surprisingly gentle now, especially when he's talking about his fellow firefighters, or his kids, or his wife Denise
"She's the only person in the world I'm afraid of now," he said with a laugh.
He fought in 14 international competitions and traveled the world. He beat the Canadian champ, beat the Polish champ twice, beat the Russian, but he can't remember the name of the toughest man he ever fought. He was an old Navy fighter, in his mid-30s and Nick was only 24 and fighting for the Air Force when they met in the Inter-Service championships.
"I could have knocked out 10 guys with what I hit him with," Wells said, shaking his head. "He just kept coming. I put some wood on him, but he wouldn't go down."
I'd pay to see that fight. I'd pay to see a young Nick Wells fight anytime, anywhere. So would a lot of other people back in the early '70s in Fort Worth. If I sound a little wistful for those times, I am. I'd love to see Nick turn out the lights at Will Rogers one more time.
Jim Reeves, 817-390-7760