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Kendall Holt: “This fight is a fight that can change my whole life.”


This week’s edition of ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights from the D.C. Armory, former world champion Kendall Holt will try and regain his former glory by entering the lion’s den and taking on Lamont Peterson, 30-1-1, 15 knockouts, for the IBF junior welterweight title of the world. Not much about this fight will be easy for Holt. Not the year layoff, returning from shoulder surgery, the home canvas advantage Washington-native Peterson enjoys or being 31 in a weight class that is harsh on the aging.


None of that seemed to give Holt any pause as we spoke to Monday night. Relaxed, affable and straight forward in his answers, Holt is a man who understands that at his age and career stage, the time is now for the proud single father from Patterson, New Jersey to get a title and make another run at the top. A win over Peterson puts Holt in one of the world title driver seats in a division that features Danny Garcia, Zab Judah, Peterson, Lucas Matthysse, Amir Khan and more. There are fights and large purses to be potentially had.


If there is an advantage Holt enjoys, it’s the timing of the bout.

Holt has been off since stopping Tim Coleman in two rounds last March. Peterson has been off following his December 2011 title win over Amir Khan. The rematch was cancelled due to a positive test for synthetic testosterone by Peterson. The quality and effect of each man’s layoff could be a major factor in the fight especially if it goes late.


Holt had been preparing for a fight following the Coleman win but continued wear and tear injuries on his right shoulder finally came to a head.


“My rotator cuff was torn and my labrum was torn and I had scar tissue. So I had to get all that repaired,” Holt said. “I was rehabbing and rehabbing and rehabbing and going to the gym. So there is no rust. I was preparing for a fight a few months ago then I had a couple months off with the surgery.”


Holt is a tall junior welter at 5’9” with a record of 28-5 with 16 wins by knockout. He is at once one punch dangerous and vulnerable, having been stopped three times. If there is a knock on his game it’s that Holt doesn’t let his hands go enough in combination, often waiting for the perfect shot. Holt explained that he had a tendency to wait because his shoulder had been fighting with his injured shoulder for years.


“Since 2005,” Holt said. “First I had calcium deposits. Then I had to deal with strains. Then I had minor tears. Then I checked out and everything just went to hell. Everything got torn.”


Before surgery, the injury caused him to alter his approach.


“The surgery has given me a lot of confidence. I used to second guess myself when I threw the right hand and fear that I was going to hurt it worse,” Holt explained. “I’ve been dealing with different shoulder injuries for years. I am trying to hurt this guy but at the same time not hurt my shoulder. So I would throw punches with the right hand, a lot of times, not every time but a lot of times, I would feel the pain. So a lot of times I would try and throw a punch when I know 100% it is going to land. So that might be a way or a reason why my punch output isn’t what people expect it to be or isn’t what they are used to seeing.”


Free of pain when he punches, Holt expects us to be a bit surprised by the result. This is the first time he has fought close to healthy in years.


“In YEARS,” emphasized Holt. “I was still able to become champion of the world. I was still able to become number one in the world. What does that tell you? A healthy guy that’s fighting consistently is going to be a long night for anybody that it’s in there.”


Styles make fights. That’s what they say. And in this fight, you have a boxer-puncher in Holt vs. a pressuring volume puncher who loves to kill the body to get the head out of there later. It’s a classic match-up. Holt is at his best with an aggressive opponent that will force him to string together combinations. Peterson will do exactly that.


“It’s always about the guy who is able to fight their own fight,” said Holt. “It just so happens that in this fight, me letting him fight his fight is actually fighting my fight. It is going to be interesting in this one.”


Holt acknowledged Peterson’s habit of tipping off he is about to wing his right hand over the top. A lot of times it happens sans jab. Beyond that, Holt wasn’t giving up any strategy.  


“Yep. It’s hard not to miss,” said Holt of Peterson’s right hand.  “It’s just so obvious; he just wings it up there. Don’t worry. That’s one of the things I am aware of that he does.”


The road to a title is never easy. Holt’s is no exception. He lost his first title bid in an exciting war with Ricardo Torres back in 2007. They fought a second time in July of 2008 in a fight that is arguably the best 1:01 second of pure violence you may ever see in a ring.


Holt was down twice just moments into the fight. With Torres all over him, Holt’s back was to the ropes. But then either a head butt or a punch or both backed up the Colombian champion. He moved to the ropes and Holt absolutely iced him with a right hand. Torres hung on the ropes like a rag doll and Holt was crowned for the first time.


What followed was a short-lived reign. Holt defended successfully just once, a split decision over Demetrius Hopkins in late 2008. The near fight Holt lost his title to Bradley. Losses to Kaizer Mabuza and Danny Garcia mixed in with wins over Julio Diaz and Coleman last year; the typical ups and downs of a professional boxer with a lot of talent but who hadn’t fully put it together. That is, according to Holt, until now.


“I didn’t know a lot [early on in my career],” said Holt. “Me and my trainer, we both came into the pro game together. We both didn’t have a ton of experience. He fought amateur and pro but we didn’t have anyone kind of holding our hands. So our whole career, I’ve been losing seven, eight, nine pounds the day of the weigh-in because we felt like alright, this is an easier way than starving ourselves all week and drying out. Let’s just do it one day and we would be good. So that’s what I been my career and I didn’t know that that was wrong. Later I learned how to lose the weight, step by step, gradually. Then that was cool.”


The learning didn’t stop there.


“Then a couple years later I learned that having a Gatorade isn’t rehydrating myself. Losing weight the way I was doing, I had to put everything back into my body. So basically it was last year I found out,” Holt said. “So basically I been winning these fights and competing at a top level out of talent and heart. I’ve never known any of this stuff. It’s all new to me. So with my newfound knowledge and everything like that, that people are saying that ‘You’re at the tail end of your career’ but winning this world championship with these things that I now know will extend my career.”


On the phone, you could hear at once Holt’s ease with himself as a man and fighter but at the same time, his eagerness to show the fruit of these career lessons. I could almost hear the light bulbs that have popping on for Holt.


“I mean, I have been up and down and I have learned so much about how to make myself better. How to stay focused in this roller coaster career of mine,” said Holt. “To be honest, I don’t feel like I was ever world champion. This [camp] feels to me like the way a world champion prepares. It feels like I am heading into my first world championship fight and I’m not. But it feels that way. And I have that excitement I had the first couple of times.”


As for the fight itself, Holt knows what he is in for.


“I expect Lamont to be down but he gets back up. He’s resilient. He gets up and continues to fight. Victor Ortiz, he went down twice and was still able to get up and pull out a draw. What that tells me is the guy is in shape, he is determined, is strong, and is resilient. So I expect him to be there all twelve rounds.”


One issue heading into this fight is the cleanliness of Peterson. While he appears a forthright and honest man, the fact remains Peterson now has a PED history in one of the world’s most dangerous sports. On that note, Holt asked Peterson to undergo testing to be handled by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, (VADA), the same testing program that Peterson tested positive under. Team Peterson, who is a co-promoter of this event, intimated that the purse for this fight and potential revenues generated by it make it difficult to pay for the testing this time out. Peterson has stated he fully intends to undergo VADA testing in fights with larger purses [i.e. fights televised by HBO or Showtime].  


Holt, who came off very much a gentleman about the issue as opposed to an irresponsible, angry fighter looking to ruin a name for no reason, decided to fight anyways.


“If a team says they weren’t using steroids, they weren’t using PEDs to gain [an advantage] then why not for the next fight prove what you were saying and have the testing?” Holt said when asked to explain his reason for asking for the tests. “But I don’t want to harp on the testing because no matter what I am going to beat Lamont Peterson. No matter if he is on performance enhancing drugs or not. I don’t think about it. I just think of the Lamont Peterson that is going to be coming at me, going to the body and trying to wear me down.”


While the fighter-driven testing movement in boxing rolls along with Floyd Mayweather, Nonito Donaire, Holt, Tim Bradley and others demanding extensive testing be conducted on their opponents, the bottom line is it’s the commission’s job to protect the fighters. That duty includes upgrading testing and/or imposing stricter penalties for using PEDs in their respective states. For this fight and every other, a fighter who admits or caught using a banned substance for any reason in a fight should have to undergo testing year round for the duration of their career. That should be policy. But it isn’t. As this fight and the D.C commission lack of action shows, leaving better testing and stricter penalties to commissions can be more often than not a futile proposition.


Ultimately this is about the fighters’ safety in the long term.


“I think mandatory testing should be done throughout boxing,” Holt said. “I think that mainly because we’re not throwing a ball, we’re not hitting baseballs. We’re not running down a track. We’re not riding bicycles. We’re hitting other people and other people are hitting us. I have kids. I want to grow older and I want to be able speak intelligently to my kids and my grandkids. So I think it should be mandated all throughout the world, the sport. Period.”


The key to a kingdom where Holt can make some big fight money heading down the stretch of his career lies in lifting that belt from around Peterson’s waist. Holt will have to be better than he was versus Bradley or Garcia. He’ll have to fight like a champion to become one again.


“This fight is a fight that can change my whole life,” said Holt. “The whole thing with that is that having accepted this fight, Peterson brings a lot of mental pressure with him. I have buckled down in training. I have had to fly across the country to leave my family, leave my kids and just mentally prepare for this fight which I haven’t always done because I am a single father. What he brings to the table is the opportunity for me to become two–time champion of the world.”

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