By Keith Idec
BARRANQUILLA, Colombia - In what rapidly turned into a dangerous environment for virtually everyone inside the Jumbo Saloon Country Club early Sunday morning, Kendall Holt's championship dream was washed away amid a downpour of beer, soda and water.
Holt was ahead of World Boxing Organization junior welterweight champion Ricardo Torres on two of three scorecards entering the 11th round, but Torres dropped Holt near Holt's corner with a right hand that gave the hometown hero a chance to complete a remarkable comeback. What transpired thereafter, though, is open to interpretation.
As Holt tried to use his legs and held to avoid another powerful punch from Torres (32-1, 28 KOs) in the 11th round, he continuously slipped on what was an extremely slick surface caused by fans hurling innumerable full beer cans and bottles and cans of soda and water into the ring. With flying ice cubes, liquids, plastic and aluminum seemingly endangering the safety of Holt and Torres, referee Genaro Rodriguez, who also appeared to stand directly in harm's way, declined to halt the action so that the surface could be dried and order could be restored around ringside.
The Chicago-based referee instead stopped the fight with a tiring, retreating Holt (22-2, 12 KOs) still on his feet late in the 11th. Holt, his manager/assistant trainer, Henry Cortes, and head trainer Aroz Gist all attempted to protest the stoppage, but Rodriguez dismissed their complaints in the ring, which quickly filled with fans security personnel couldn't stop.
"(Rodriguez) didn't say anything (in the ring)," Holt said. "He said, 'Move. It's over. You were hurt.' "
Their exchange was much more heated in the lobby of the Barranquilla Plaza Hotel once Holt arrived from the nearby arena. While walking past Rodriguez, who was talking with other WBO officials, an emotional Holt screamed obscenities at Rodriguez for actions Holt believes cost him the WBO's 140-pound crown. Rodriguez responded by telling Holt, "F*ck you!," and then moved toward Holt, before bystanders intervened.
Moments earlier, Rodriguez acknowledged near ringside that the slippery surface might've warranted a break in the action.
"It could've been slippery enough," Rodriguez said, "but the action of the fight was more important at that time."
Rolando Marcos-Hermoso, the WBO's rules supervisor for the fight, contradicted Rodriguez moments later, stating that WBO rules require a stoppage when a surface is that slippery.
"That's what the rules state should've happened," Marcos-Hermoso said. "I don't want to step ahead of myself, but I do want to have a conversation with Rodriguez about the situation."
Marcos-Hermoso seemingly dismissed any responsibility for the chaos that unfolded during and after the fight, too.
"At the moment it was happening," Marcos-Hermoso said, "there was a lot of aggression and the crowd was getting crazy and there was a lot of emotions going on. The local authorities never guaranteed protection for the event here."
Colombia's Billie Chams, a respectable man who had conducted a smooth, first-rate promotion prior to fight night, admitted afterward that he was embarrassed by the actions of many of the roughly 1,600 in attendance. "I am not proud of the crowd, just because that never happens here," Chams said. "In this place, the crowd is always perfect. And tonight, I don't like the things that I saw. ... I never expected that to happen because I've promoted (21 previous) world title fights and it never happened."
When the scary scene unfolded early Sunday morning, no one seemed safe.
Darren Antola, Holt's cut man, was hit with a full beer can, which left him with a knot on the back of his head as he prepared to head to the airport for his flight back to New Jersey. Ashema Evans, Holt's girlfriend, suffered a cut on her leg when out-of-control Colombian fans began toppling tables in the VIP section to bum rush the ring, which looked like the ring at Madison Square Garden the night a riot broke out during the Riddick Bowe-Andrew Golota fight in July 1996.
"Could you imagine what would've happened had Kendall knocked this guy out?," Antola asked. "They acted like this and their guy won. We wouldn't have made it out of there alive if he lost."
Even Miami-based welterweight Hicklet Lau, Torres' primary sparring partner for the Holt fight, said, "I was scared, and I wasn't even in there boxing." Torres was more fearful because he thought at least a brief break in the action was inevitable during the eighth round. "I was worried that the referee would've stopped it in the middle of the round, to calm the people down," Torres said through Lau, who interpreted for the champion.
"That would've given time for Kendall Holt to recuperate."
Torres recuperated well after Holt dropped him with a left-right combination in the sixth round, despite that he didn't seem to really regain his legs until the ninth round. His cornermen implored him to pressure Holt because they thought he was down "two or three points" after nine rounds, according to Torres.
Torres was actually only down one point through 10 rounds on the scorecard of Miami's Stuart Winston (95-94), but seven points down on the card of Puerto Rico's Jose Torres (98-91). The third judge, Barranquilla's Manuel Rodriguez, predictably had Torres in front following 10 rounds (95-94).
Had the 11th round ended, however, Holt would've been behind on two of the three cards due to the knockdown he suffered during that three-minute period. Had the 12th round started, Rodriguez (105-102) and Winston (104-103) would've had Torres in front, while Holt would've remained comfortably ahead on Torres' card (106-101).
"I was slipping all over the place," Holt said of the 11th round. "Like I was telling them (before the fight), if I lose, I lose. But don't cheat me. I'm a man and he's man. If he beat me, fine, he beat me. But not like that. ... I got cheated, point blank."
Holt seemingly should've been credited with another knockdown earlier in the bout, as a right hand to Torres' chin forced Torres to use the ropes to prevent him from falling out of the ring. Rodriguez ruled that a slip. Still, Torres is certain that Rodriguez saved Holt from danger by stepping in when he did.
"I thought Kendall Holt was seriously hurt and that the referee did the right job," Torres said. "If it would've continued, he could've been seriously injured."
The night began in much more positive fashion for Holt, who was slightly favored by oddsmakers despite that the champion and one of the judges are from Barranquilla.
Holt was led to ring by a pair of tin instrument-playing, bongo-banging Barranquilla brothers, 12-year-old Reinaldo and 11-year-old Royer Castano, whom the affable boxer befriended while they were making music for money outside the Barranquilla Plaza Hotel, where Holt and his handlers stayed.
Cortes also arranged to play a popular Colombian song, "Amor de Mi Sabana," that temporarily endeared him to the imposing pro-Torres crowd. The 26-year-old fighter from Paterson, New Jersey, also wore multi-cultural gear into the ring, which had the colors of the American flag on the front and the colors of the Colombian flag across the back.
Torres, meanwhile, defended his WBO belt for the second time. The fight was broadcast on free TV throughout Colombia, but it wasn't televised at all in the United States. Chams, Torres' co-promoter along with Top Rank Inc., unsuccessfully tried to sell the American broadcast rights to the fight to DirectTV and Dish Network when neither HBO nor Showtime boxing executives expressed interest in paying a license fee for it.
The 27-year-old Torres earned $135,750 for the bout, as per terms of a WBO-ordered 75-25 purse split for the mandatory match. Holt was paid $45,250, roughly $5,000 less than he earned for defeating Greece's Mike Arnaoutis in an elimination match to secure this title shot on April 20 in Atlantic City. Torres defeated Arnaoutis (17-2-2, 9 KOs) by a widely disputed split decision on Nov. 17 in Las Vegas to win a WBO belt unbeaten
Miguel Cotto (30-0, 25 KOs) relinquished last year to move up to the welterweight division.
Torres, who has only been beaten by Cotto,, made the first defense of his 140-pound crown on April 28 in Barranquilla, where he dominated Mexico's Arturo Morua (24-10-1, 13 KOs) throughout their 12-round fight. His second defense was much more controversial, and could prompt to Holt-led litigation to either force an immediate rematch or have the bizarre bout declared a no contest.
"This is the type of stuff that sucks about the boxing business," Cortes said. "You work so hard, you come here and then you get fucking robbed. It's unfortunate. I just hope the WBO does the right thing. What else can we do?" When asked about a rematch, Torres seemed disinterested.
"I've been in other places and seen worse things happen," Torres said. "But if it happens and there has to be a rematch, and it's the right money, I'll be ready."
Keith Idec covers boxing for the Herald News and The Record of N.J.