He’s a tantalizing talent, a well-schooled amateur with pop in both hands, and when he unleashes a shot from deep down, and fires with all his might, even if he misses, the crowd will oohhhh and ahhh.
Paterson, New Jersey’s Kendall Holt may well break through, to bigger and better things and titles and paydays. But, he could also be one of those guys that didn’t quite put it all together, who at the end of the pro road, didn’t live up to his vast potential.
If that happened, we could nod our heads and understand why.
Growing up in the hood in Paterson, NJ, getting bounced from his mom’s house, to his dad’s house to the foster care system, it says something about the kid that he’s made it this far. On Saturday, Holt (22-1, 12 KOs), age 26, will be in a ring in Colombia, attempting to snatch the WBO 140 pound belt from Ricardo Torres (31-1, 27 KOs), a Colombian.
That Holt didn’t succumb to the temptation of the easy money in the streets and build up his business as a crack dealer, is reason enough for the kid to celebrate. That he cares for his 4-year-old son, Keshon, by himself, as he looks to secure money fights, is reason enough to celebrate. That his momma, who spent 15 years in prison for manslaughter, after she stabbed a dude who was trying to rob her stash, is out, and has seen her boy fight, is reason enough to celebrate.
But since he has that potential, that smoothness in the ring, that ability to rev it up, and toss a bushel of shots, and give a crowd a lift, Holt won’t be accepting of merely making it this far.
And we spend lots of time critiquing the sport, and diagnosing its ills, but Holt is a prime example of someone who would have fallen through the cracks, to jail, or an early dirt nap, if he didn’t step into a gym with his pop at age 7.
Before boarding a plane to Colombia, Holt talked to TSS, and showed a respect for the sport.
“When I was tempted to go to the streets, and deal, because the dealers were my role models, I stayed in the gym, because I knew boxing could provide,” he said.
Holt has a backstory that is typical boxing, the boilderplate up from-the-mean-streets recitation. But his deal is even a step above the usual roug-road tale. For instance, Holt recalls being kidnapped at age 6.
“I don’t remember the details, but I remember a guy walking up to me, at a church, and taking me.” How long he was away from his family, he doesn’t recall, but the shock still remains.
Holt walked into Lou Costello’s gym in Paterson with his dad not long after that, and found role models that he could look up to, different ones than the track-suit wearing, bling covered track suit set.
“Frankie Toledo was there, and Bramble, and Gatti would come in,” he said. “But I did start hanging out more in the street come high school.”
He started dealing, and only quit that after his third pro fight. He got tipped off that he was going to be raided, and handed off his stash, and stepped away from that scene for good.
Things were chugging along nicely, as Holt signed on with Dino Duva. A picture perfect KO of Gil Reyes made SportsCenter, and Holt was on track as one to watch. But things turned. He was on the other side of that KO deal when he met Thomas Davis three months after the ESPN effort. And he got cracked.
“I just got caught,” he said. “He feinted with a jab and I came with an overhand right and he came with a straight right.”
The loss didn’t deter Holt, “it pissed me off,” he said. Two weeks later, he was in camp with Popo Freitas, but his career went off the rails a tad.
In Holt’s eyes, Duva was concentrating on other members of his stable, and forgot about him.
“I went to promoters to get on their shows and they said they didn’t have the money, so I told them just to give me tickets for my purse,” he said.
Duva, Holt maintaisn, “just did the bare minimum for me.”
Holt’s career defining fight came when he met 1996 Olympian David Diaz in Connecticut in 2005. Even that, he said, came only after Demetrius Hopkins didn’t take the bout. “I was the fallback guy,” he said. He snagged a TKO8 win, after going down in the 7th. (The prospect that either Holt, or his foe, or both, is likely to hit the deck in his fights makes him an appealing TV fighter.)
Two stinkers followed, against Jaime Rangel and Vlad Khodokovski. Holt explains the efforts.
“In a basketball game, every game you’re not going to get excited for,” he said. “For me to get up for a fight I need someone to pose a threat.”
The journeymen didn’t scare Holt, he said, so he fought down to their level. He now understands that to command a decent purse, he can’t have that mindset, he maintains.
“This last camp, I was practicing power boxing, mixing it up more. I know turning it up will help my earning power. And it will increase my fanbase. I’m a fan, too. When I see a tape of myself, I look for action, from myself. Torres I know can’t hit me. He needs to be set before he punches.”
There is drama, surprise surprise, going in to the Torres fight, on the managerial/promotional side. Holt says that his contract with Duva has lapsed. Duva disagrees. The promoter didn’t bid on this fight, in fact, and the squabble between the two men may well end up in court.
Duva told TSS that Holt was injured frequently, and turned down fights, and thus wasn’t able to fulfill his end of the deal. He’s put in between $100,000-$150,000 to Holt since signing the boxer in 2001, and would like to recoup some of that as Holt moves into meaningful fights. He is, in fact, somewhat bitter, and feels Holt has forgotten where he came from.
“It’s not very good between us,” he said. “I have a contract with him, he’s hired an attorney to break it. We have to go to court to find out who’s right. I brought him back from the dead, and in 2006, he thought of retiring. He had chronic injuries. It’s one of those things, people try and screw you. Kendall’s still young, he’s had mental ups and downs, and confidence problems. But he has the potential to be one of the best junior welterweights.”
In his last outing, Holt did what he had to do to get this title shot. He met Mike Arnaoutis on Showtime, and took a decisive UD12. “The last two fights (the one before was against Isaac Hlatshwayo), he’s put it all together,” Duva said.
So, I asked, is he still rooting for Holt to win?
“Kendall and I got along very well personally, I’m very upset about what he’s trying to do to me,” he said.
Holt counters that Duva didn’t return phone calls or emails while he was in a lull, from 2005-2006, and that he called Duva from a different phone number so he’d pick up the phone. He said Duva didn’t get him the promised four fights a year, either. There is no chance, he said, that he and Duva will iron things out.
In Colombia, Holt will be with his trainer, Aroz Gist, a former amateur who has overseen Holt for four years. Holt is Gist’s first pro client. “I offered him his first chance,” the fighter said, proudly.
After he beats Torres, Holt said, he is hoping a bidding war will ensue for his services. He’s also angling to win an ESPY before he’s finished, for Fighter of the Year.
It seems like Holt is maturing, and gets it, understands that he can’t coast, and take fights off, that to get ahead and make the real money, he needs to push himself every outing. The promotional squabble, well, I’m rooting for him and Dino to hug it out, they’ve been together for a long time, and it would be nice for them to have a reunion. A prediction: Holt has already emerged as a winner for spurning the easy road. I say he does what he says he’ll do in Colombia, and outbox the dangerous banger Torres, and stop him.