Kendall Holt was amazed the other day when he saw his likeness adorning the maroon felt of a blackjack table at Planet Hollywood.
The table was part of the hype for Saturday’s WBO junior welterweight title rematch between Holt and Ricardo Torres at Planet Hollywood’s Theater for the Performing Arts. Given his proclivity for trouble as a youngster, Holt figured he had a better chance of having his face on a wanted poster at the Paterson, N.J., police department.
But it’s indicative of how far the 27-year-old has come in life. He survived a broken home, living in an institutionalized environment and avoiding arrest, not to mention bullets from rival drug dealers.
If he defeats Torres, he will be a world champion.
“Not a lot of people get a second chance to fight for a world championship,” said Holt (23-2, 12 knockouts), who lost in an 11th-round technical knockout to Torres (32-1, 28 KOs) on Sept. 1 in Colombia, and with it the opportunity to be the WBO’s junior welterweight champ. “Every day, I thank God for allowing me to be here.”
The odds against him getting to this point were long. When he was 7, Holt’s mother, Debra, was sent to jail for manslaughter. Shortly thereafter, his father, Barry, lost custody for child abuse after the youngster was on the receiving end of several beatings.
Holt spent time bouncing around from foster home to foster home. As he entered his teens, he started to sell drugs and was living on his own. Trouble was his constant companion.
But he always had boxing, waiting to rescue him from Paterson’s mean streets. Holt’s father had introduced him to the sport before he lost custody at age 7. At 16, his dad had come back into his life and with it, boxing.
“I knew I had talent,” Holt said. “But every time I turned away from boxing, I found myself in trouble.”
Fortunately for Holt, Henry Cortes was there to be his guardian angel. Cortes started to train with him in the gym, and he gave him a legitimate job as an electrician’s apprentice. Holt wasn’t crazy about being an electrician.
Boxing? That was something about which he could get excited.
“Growing up on the street, you learn not to trust people. It’s a natural thing,” Holt said. “But I trusted Henry because Henry had nothing to gain by being dishonest.
“He helped me get my life back on track.”
In addition to Cortes, the other reason Holt’s life is where it’s at today is his 4-year-old son, Keshon. He had to win custody of his boy in court, and now that he has him, Holt has his primary motivation for trying to win Saturday’s rematch.
“You really want to know what saved me? Getting custody of my son,” Holt said.
Holt has moved to West Paterson, close to where he grew up. It’s a lot nicer and a lot safer for he and Keshon.
“I’m not living in the ‘hood anymore,” Holt said. “But we go over there a lot.
“My friends are there. His mother’s there. It’s a reminder for me of what I’ve been through.”
Which has been a lot.
• NOTES — The weigh-in will take place at 3 p.m. today on the mezzanine at Planet Hollywood. … Though he is the challenger, Holt is a 3-1 favorite. … Nine fights are on Saturday’s card, scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. The televised portion on Showtime will begin at 8.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.