PLEASANTVILLE — Rishard Muhammad circled the heavy bag inside the Pleasantville Recreation Center, his gloved fists a blur as he fired combinations against it.
Afterward, the 25-year-old Atlantic City native grabbed a towel and wiped the sweat off his glistening arms, then donned a black silk jacket with a handmade button that read “LLQ.”
Off to the side, Rishard’s mother, Teresa Brice, wore the same button over her jacket. She agreed to pose for a photo with her son, but only after fixing her tear-stained mascara.
“LLQ stands for ‘Long Live Qa’id,’” Rishard said. “Qa’id made it himself.”
They have been wearing the buttons for six months, since they got word that Qa’id Muhammad, Rishard’s older brother, had been fatally shot in Henderson, Nevada.
Qa’id, an undefeated boxer, was killed Sept. 12. He had moved to the Las Vegas area two years earlier to train in hopes of resuming his in-ring career.
Qa’id’s death hit the Atlantic City community and his family extremely hard. But no one was more devastated than Rishard. Although Rishard has a twin brother, Lishard, he was especially close to Qa’id, who was four years older.
“He was my idol,” Rishard said while fighting back a tear Friday. “When I was 4 years old, I used to cry when he went to school. We were very close, and it still hurts to talk about it.”
A gunshot ended Qa’id’s dreams of being a champion. Rishard is aiming to win the title in his memory.
Police in Nevada arrested Ryan Small, 38, and charged him with three felonies: murder with use of a deadly weapon, robbery with use of a deadly weapon, and ownership or possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.
Although Small confessed to shooting Qa’id, according to a police report in September, he pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial March 9, 2020.
Qa’id and Rishard were both outstanding amateur boxers.
Qa’id was an alternate on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team before turning professional. He had a pro record of 8-0 with seven knockouts.
Rishard was 65-7 as an amateur. Many in the local boxing community believe he might have more natural talent than his older brother.
“That’s tough to say because Qa’id has the experience,” Atlantic City veteran trainer Bill Johnson said. “Size-wise and skill-wise, Rishard has what it takes to be a champion. In my opinion, he could really make some noise as a pro. But until he actually does it, we won’t know. Qa’id was in there. Rishard hasn’t been in there, yet.”
On the day of Qa’id’s funeral, Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame President Ray McCline presented Qa’id’s family with an honorary championship belt from the World Boxing Council. Rishard slung the belt over his shoulder and insisted he would turn pro and become a champion in his brother’s memory.
“The last time we spoke was two days before he died,” Rishard said. “He told me, ‘You’re better than me, bro. Get in the ring and go get that belt.’”
Rishard’s been trying to climb through those ropes for almost three years. His last amateur fight was in 2016, which he won by first-round knockout. Since he started a comeback in September, however, he has encountered nothing but hardship, pain and disappointment.
For a time, he was homeless and penniless. He was training at the Pleasantville Rec Center while he was living in Mays Landing, but switched to the Atlantic City Police Athletic League upon moving in with a friend in Atlantic City.
Unable to afford the $75 annual membership, he tried to sneak into the third-floor boxing area early in the morning to get in some work on the speed bag and heavy bag while doing some shadow boxing in front of the mirrors that line the back wall.
He has no manager and no trainer.
“Not having a trainer is tough because I’m basically training myself,” Rishard said. “I’ve been boxing since I was 8 years old, so I know what I’m doing in the ring, but I can always learn more. I don’t want to shine my shoes; I want new ones. I want to learn, but I have to find the right people.”
Abdur Rahim Muhammad trained both Qa’id and Rishard during their amateur careers and was Qa’id’s pro trainer for a while but is no longer involved with boxing.
He said he will be there to root for Rishard when he decides to fight again but will not be in his corner once he climbs into the ring.
Like others, he is still grieving the loss of a son.
“I just can’t mentally (be a boxing trainer) right now,” Abdur said. “Just when I think I’m getting over it, something or someone reminds me he’s gone. I drive a transit bus, and every night someone comes up to me and says, ‘Sorry for your loss,’ and I start crying all over again.
“I want to be there for Rishard, and I will support him every step of the way. I just want to make sure he’s doing it for the right reasons. It’s one thing to honor Qa’id’s memory, but he has do it for himself.”
But with his mother, Brice, and girlfriend, Megan Locker, providing emotional support, things are starting to look up for Rishard.
He just landed a job working in the housekeeping department at Tropicana Atlantic City.
And now that he can afford to train again, he hopes to make his pro debut in a few months.
“He’s been through a lot,” Brice said. “You could make a movie about it.”
Qa’id has also been part of the comeback.
On Feb. 8, Rishard visited his brother’s grave for the first time since he was buried. It was a dreary, chilly day. Rain pelted Qa’id’s gravestone.
“I told him I loved him,” Rishard said, “and I asked for a sign that he heard me.”
Just then, the rain stopped, the clouds parted and the sun appeared.
Rishard smiled and began to cry.
“The sun came out for two seconds, and that’s the only time I saw it all day,” Rishard said. “That’s the sign I was looking for.”