“The Star Spangled Banner” probably will never sound sweeter to Kendall Holt than Saturday night, because the alternative, from the first time he fought Ricardo Torres, is drunken Colombians pelting him in the back of the head with full beer bottles, showering him in brew and even grabbing at his ankles. All that and more allegedly happened to Holt when he challenged for Torres’ 140-pound belt in a 2007 visit for the American to Torres’ homeland. The worst of it was that the referee stopped the fight prematurely as Holt, after suffering an 11th round knockdown, slipped and slided around the ring on beerslick and foggy brains. Holt got jobbed in a fight he was winning on the scorecards before, although after the knockdown he would have had to pull out the 12th just to score a draw. He had to wait until Saturday to get Torres on U.S. soil for a rematch of the controversial bout, one day after Holt’s motherland celebrated its birthday.
It’s an intriguing fight, and an important one to people who like fights to answer more questions than they raise. From what I’ve seen of the first, it was entertaining in spots. The combatants themselves have been shaky at times. Of one, boxing writer Michael Woods offered this last year: “On a good night, Holt can show a talent base that’s in the top 10 percentile in the sport.” The other is a wild-swinging, hard-hitting Colombian whose power can change any fight he’s in. That kind of combination is often a recipe for a good fight.
That may not be the case here, though. Holt has hit the deck plenty of times in his career, although all but two fights have turned into wins. So, for all his skill and hand speed, he fights quite cautiously. And, really, he’d rather counter-punch anyway. He’s not comfortable creating the action. It’s really frustrating, because when Holt lets his punches fly, he’s a flashy boxer whose blows draw “oohs” and “aahs.” But what else can he do but fight cautiously? Risk getting knocked out? Fight out of his comfort zone? It’d be nice to see, if not unrealistic. If Holt can win the majority of his fights by boxing and staying away, and if he’s prone to spending his riskier moments flat on his back, the choice he makes is gonna tend toward not getting all risky. Holt has one of the coolest nicknames in the biz, “Rated R,” but one of the ways you get rated “R” is for violence. Against Mike Arnaoutis and Ben Tackie, the Holt bouts before and after the Torres debacle, Holt demonstrated little violence. Against David Diaz and Isaac Hlatswayo, he showed just the right amount in performances that made him a hot up-and-comer. I’d be surprised if he exerted more than the bare minimum against Torres.
The reason is because Torres can punch the way a donkey kicks. You think someone would make this a mandatory rule in boxing promotion: “Avoid exposing unknown Colombian knockout artists to hot prospects.” Fortunately for us, nobody was following that rule when they dragged Torres to the United States as a late replacement to fight Miguel Cotto, then a prospect turning into a contender. In what was the runner-up for 2005 Fight of the Year, Torres and Cotto traded knockdowns before Cotto finished Torres off in the end. It was a trial by fire for Cotto, one that made people wonder about his future but that, in retrospect, forged him into the strong force he is now. Things have been rockier for the somewhat one dimensional Torres since. In a fight with common Holt opponent Arnaoutis, he is said to have showed improved boxing technique, but many in the boxing press scored it differently than the judges who gave the victory to Torres. Obviously, there are critics of his win over Holt, too.
There’s a chance this one gets exciting. Both guys can punch. Both guys have been knocked down and out. My strong fear is that it doesn’t get exciting. We probably have to settle for intriguing. It’s got ramifications for the arms race in the junior welterweight division, where the title of “best of the bunch” is up for grabs and the distance between #1 and #10 isn’t all that far, even though Ricky Hatton’s sitting at the top for now.
My prediction: Holt by close decision. In the Arnaoutis fight that Showtime replayed this week, Holt demonstrated that when he pumps his jab, he sets up his offense well enough to keep from being a predictable run-away fighter. Holt has said he concentrated on his jab for this fight. Holt is also prone to lapses in motivation, but it’s hard to imagine how he could lack motivation to avenge a controversial loss. Better fight conditions, a jab and serious motive are enough to put Holt over the top in a do-over of what was a close fight last time.
Confidence: 55%. Torres, of course, could alter any fight with one punch, just as he did against Holt. He also could out-aggressive the passive American. It’s not an easy one to call, this Torres-Holt II.
My allegiance: Ergh, I guess Torres. Holt’s more my style of fighter, but his boring deployment of exceptional skill annoys me more every time I see him. At least with Torres you get the idea he’s maximizing his talents, minimal as they are, and trying to make it fun for the audience.