(Interbox president Eric Lucas flips a hockey puck to see who walks in first, with Timothy Bradley, left, and Kendall Holt, right. Holt won; he’ll enter second and be introduced first. Credit: Tom Casino/SHOWTIME)
I’m crossing my fingers for a thriller Saturday night on Showtime from junior welterweights Timothy Bradley and Kendall Holt. By that I mean, similar to the genre of film, not necessarily a thrill ride at a theme park. The cast is good — two young men in the top 10 of their division who are making a play for “next American superstar” — and the set-up is such that it should be a tense, taut drama with bursts of action. Bradley and Holt themselves are both proclaiming it’s going to be the Fight of the Year, and I suppose it’s possible it goes to that zone, but I don’t see it, and that’s fine. I’m the kind of boxing fan who enjoys a well-fought contest between quality fighters. It doesn’t have to be a brawl — just lots of good exchanges, an exhibition of skill and some strategic maneuvering will do the trick for me.
On the other hand, as good as both fighters are, they do both have a tendency to get sloppy or otherwise less aesthetically pleasing in stretches, so they may or may not mesh so well. We’ll see. Either way, it’s a very nice, slightly under-the-radar fight that has real potential, both for the two men in the ring and the outcome for the fans. Like I said recently, with a tremendous April-May stretch of boxing about to begin, you couldn’t ask for a better appetizer to kick things off than Bradley-Holt. (I previewed the other big event of the night, “Lightweight Lightning,” here.)
Showtime and HBO are both trying their hands at social network-style marketing, commendably so, and Showtime’s latest move is the advent of very short profiles that give fighters’ back stories. It’s a good move, and Bradley and Holt both have compelling back stories and personalities. So before I delve into what each boxer brings to the table and how I see the fight playing out, I offer the “I Am A Fighter” segments for both.
Of the two, Holt is a little bit more of a known quantity. He’s been fighting on Showtime, ESPN2 and Versus for at least five years, whereas Bradley got his first televised bout in 2006.
That’s not to say being known translates into consistency. What we know about Holt is that he can be electrifying, as he was in the 2008 Round of the Year against Ricardo Torres, or he can be tedious, as he was against Ben Tackie earlier in the year. He finished 2008 somewhere in between, with a performance against Demetrius Hopkins that won him mixed reviews. He has another kind of versatility besides how much he awes or bores; his default mode is to counter-punch, but he can box cautiously or be the aggressor. And he has considerable speed and power. His record of 25 wins with 13 knockouts doesn’t tell the story of that power, because of his tendency to avoid mixing it up at times. But if you want to see that power on display, check out his knockout of Torres in the rematch, or the combo he dropped on David Diaz, or the highlight reel knockout of Gilberto Reyes that put him on the map.
As I said in the Showtime poll of boxing writers, Holt has a lot of “As” in the categories that make a fighter what he is. He also has a few “Cs.” One is consistency. Sometimes he looks like a superb talent with star potential. Other times he looks all too vulnerable and/or disinterested. He clearly has some skills in the ring, but when he’s swinging for the fences, he appears as though he’s off balance a fair amount, and he has defensive lapses. His biggest flaw is, of course, his chin. I’ve lost track of how many times Holt has hit the floor, but it’s a pretty regular visit he makes. He was knocked out in the 1st round of one loss when he just got caught, and his other loss was a stoppage loss to Torres in Colombia that was questionable. I suspect that’s why he sometimes boxes so cautiously. If you got knocked down all the time, how aggressive would you be?
Bradley is more straight “Bs” across the chart. He’s been more consistent, although he also doesn’t have the breadth of experience Holt does. He’s fast, but I don’t know if he’s faster than Holt. He’s got a powerful right hand, but more a “I’m going to knock you down a couple times” right hand than a “I’m going to knock you clean out” kind of right hand. He’s physically strong, and particularly well-conditioned. I hate it when a commentator says a boxer is “fit,” because they’re all pretty fit, but Bradley is exceptionally so. His chin is reliable, unlike Holt’s. I’ve only even heard of Bradley being buzzed once. Like Holt, he can be aggressive And there’s never any let-up in his focus or effort. That sounds like a fighter who has a lot of “As,” and maybe he’ll prove over time that he’s an A-level fighter. But there are some asterisks to most if not all of them; as another for instance, he has good defense but he often leads with his head and gets wild.
One of the asterisks is that experience level. It’s hard to say how good he is until he proves himself repeatedly against top competition. Holt has fought five or six name fighters, while Bradley has fought exactly two. One was in his last outing, a defeat of Edner Cherry. Granted, Bradley’s defeat of Junior Witter trumps any single win on Holt’s resume. And I’m not trying to take that away from him. It was a very good win against the #2 man in the division, on his home soil no less. By itself, though, it doesn’t prove as much as some think it did. At least, it doesn’t with me. Witter was terrible that night, whether it was because he is aging or because of the outside-the-ring distractions he claimed afterward. Surely Bradley’s athleticism was part of the reason Witter looked bad. I just don’t think it was the only reason.
There are a couple ways this could play out. You can go with the better all-around fighter, as most have, or you could go with the more experienced fighter who’s really good in some areas but not others. I know there are people who don’t agree with that choice. Some people think Bradley’s the faster of the two. This is just the way I see it.
I don’t have any questions about Holt’s focus for this fight. Both men seem to think the winner will be in line for a megabucks bout with the winner of Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton on May 2. I think they’re off their rockers. Both, by the way, have sanctioning organization title belts, but the
real, lineal Ring champion of the division is Hatton. That’s why
it ticked me off the other day when George Kimball, a very good boxing
writer, took them to task for not showing much interest in those belts
and instead talking about big money bouts. What’s wrong with that? The
belts are virtually meaningless, and making money is no doubt one of the main reasons they fight. But at best, maybe the winner of Bradley-Holt gets a shot at the loser of Pacquiao-Hatton as credible bounce back opposition. Maybe, if the winner continues to succeed in a relatively deep junior welterweight division, he or she will someday get a shot at the big bucks instead of fighting in boxing’s “middle class,” as a writer somewhere observed of Bradley. I don’t even think the winner takes a massive step forward in the “next American superstar” sweepstakes — a nice, solid one, is more like it. If it happens for them, this may be the moment we knew they could make it there. Word is the fight may not do too well at the gate, albeit in Canada with fans that don’t have that much familiarity with either fighter and have a competing card they might prefer. But if they can’t sell tickets, they can’t get bigger fights. (Canadian fans do know super middleweight Librado Andrade, fighting on the undercard against Vitali Tsypko in what could be a real nice bout, because has fought some Canadians and consequently won the fans’ admiration there.) The point of all this, though, is that Holt thinks the fight is a big deal, and it kind of is. He should be at his best.
And when I imagine Holt at his best, at this point in their careers, I see him beating the always-steady but still green Bradley. I’m not as sold on Bradley as some are. I’m not opposed to him, either. Whoever wins this fight, good on him, because I think both could be very good representatives for the sport. I’m more sold on Holt, the focused version. I liked his performance against Hopkins — it showed he could be aggressive while also keeping a tight defense, and he withstood what did land. He’s also the taller fighter, which could prove important in a battle of jabs, and if Bradley makes the mistake of charging in blind to close the distance. And if Holt hits the deck a couple times, that’s par for the course. What matters, as he told Bradley in an amusing press conference trash talking exchange, is that you get back up. And I think Holt will get back up if he needs to, then go on to win a very close decision.
P.S. I’d earlier said the show would start at 9 p.m. It will now start at 10:45 p.m.so as not to conflict with NCAA Final Four action.