Kendall Holt has lost before, but not the way he did on Saturday night.
On Saturday in Atlantic City, the former junior welterweight titlist Holt was beaten so badly that he didn't come out for the seventh round. Facing unknown Kaizer Mabuza in what appeared on paper to be a fairly easy IBF title eliminator, Holt (25-4, 13 KO) seemed unprepared for the South African's aggression and power. He was overwhelmed and took a thrashing.
Kendall didn't talk to the press after, and neither did trainer Aroz Gist. Top Rank's Carl Moretti, who has seen plenty of fights, did talk to the AP, and his words were bold.
"I thought Kendall won the first round, but after that, it was the fastest downhill (slide) in the ring that I’ve ever seen. After a while, it was like (Holt) was a heavy bag and (Mabuza) could hit him whenever he wanted. I know 20 junior welterweights that could beat (Holt) right now."
Considering Holt was a world-ranked contender who in his last fight gave Timothy Bradley the toughest battle of his career, the result of this fight and Moretti's words are flat-out stunning. In short, this wasn't supposed to happen.
And now, at 28, Holt is at square one.
A loss like this can ruin a fighter. It can also inspire one, and Holt will get his chances to come back strong, to wipe this loss out, and to rebuild his career. Moretti's last statement sticks out, and could mean that Holt is now going to be seen as damaged goods, a name mark for up-and-coming junior welterweights or welterweights. All it takes is one good win to drop the stigma that he's down and out.
The talent is there. I don't think anyone questions that. But Holt's had a bit of an odd career overall. He was once stopped by Thomas Davis in the first round. Ricardo Torres won a very controversial TKO-11 over him, and then in their jaw-dropping, one-minute rematch, a massive headbutt from Holt set up a knockout victory. He decked Timothy Bradley two times, but for the rest of the fight was outboxed and outmaneuvered.
He's also dominated Isaac Hlatshwayo and Mike Arnaoutis, and stopped David Diaz. But he also had too tough of a time back in 2005 with Jaime Rangel, who lost to every good fighter he ever fought, and was in the middle of a career-ending, six-fight losing streak at the time.
It's always been hard to figure out which Kendall Holt was showing up for any given fight. When he's good, he can be really good. When he's off, he doesn't look like much of a contender at all. On Saturday, he was the absolute worst he's ever been.
It likely didn't help that he'd been out of the ring for about 10 1/2 months. Now managed by New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, Holt's inactivity might have played a major role in his poor performance, and it's worth wondering if he really took Mabuza (23-6-3, 14 KO) as seriously as he obviously should have, not that anyone was taking the fight too seriously going in (well, except Mabuza).
Right now, Kendall Holt is a fighter on the brink. This loss could send him barreling down to journeyman status. Better fighters than Holt have suddenly lost whatever "it" they had and become gatekeepers and professional opponents. And worse fighters than Holt have bounced back and clawed their way back to the top.
It'll be a measure of his tenacity and desire to see which way he goes. Because right now, it's anyone's guess.