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Dreams Ride on Punches of the 'People's Hope'

November 20, 1986|DICK WAGNER | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Certainly, said his trainer-manager, this fresh-faced young man who bills himself as "The People's Hope" will soon be a top contender, and then maybe even champion of the world.

But when it comes to young phenoms in boxing, predictions are often indistinguishable from daydreams.

"He's a hell of a puncher, he can knock the . . . out of you with his right or his left," said daydream believer Charlie Williams of 22-year-old middleweight Anthony Holt.

"I want to get the people of Long Beach to realize they have a man who could be another Tyson, Hagler or Leonard. Right out of their hometown."

\o7 In the dying afternoon, the photos of boxers on the walls of Williams' American Fitness gym on Long Beach Boulevard at 10th Street take on a golden hue. It is a few hours before Holt (0-1 as a pro) will make his hometown debut in a fight at the Spruce Goose. He is supposed to be here by now. Williams is worried. He hopes Holt is sleeping, but he knows boxers. "You name a fighter who ain't got a problem with something," he says.

Five years ago, Holt walked into Williams' gym and found, as it has turned out, his salvation.

"Some of the older trainers in Long Beach swore up and down he couldn't fight," said Williams, 42, a former amateur fighter. "Too short to be a middleweight, they said."

So the 5-foot-9 Williams welcomed the 5-8 Holt ("I knew I could fight") and put him in the ring against a 6-2 guy, who immediately ran into Holt's left hook.

Then Holt and Williams sparred.

"He stuck me once," Williams recalled. "I knew then I could develop this kid. I weigh 215 pounds and have pretty solid arms. I said if a little guy can hit that hard, he can be a middleweight champ."

Holt didn't know what he wanted to do then.

"I told him to take his time, I'd be here," said Williams. "He had been in trouble a couple of times. I stuck with him. I told him he was a good kid."

It is going on 6 when Holt arrives.

"I had steak and a salad at Sizzler at 1, then went to sleep," Holt says as he gets into Williams' van. "Well, more like I laid in bed thinking."

During the drive to the Spruce Goose for the fight that evening last week, Williams says: "You were supposed to have been here at 4:30, son. This is a professional fight, you can't come when you're ready."

Holt had expected to play football at Poly High School. "I was the baddest running back coming out of there," he said.

But he never reached the varsity, dropping out of school in the 10th grade because of family problems.

Like many fighters who have sprung from the inner city, Holt's background has a blot on it.

He was an accessory ("it was my car") in an armed robbery.

"I've never been a follower or in gangs," he said. "I've always been strong-minded. Never a criminal-type guy. I was just hanging out one night with the wrong crowd."

Holt spent two years at the Youth Authority in Preston, Calif.

He said he never sought violence but often could not avoid encountering it in his neighborhood--a few blocks northeast of downtown--where a challenge often waits at every corner.

"I was in a lot of (street) fights," Holt said. "When I was a kid, my older brothers would punch on me. You learn how to handle yourself."

Holt sits in the dressing room with other boxers. His fresh blue trunks and white shoes are placed on a table by Williams.

Barry Miller, Williams' assistant, rubs Holt's arms.

A man with a Santa Claus beard enters and asks, "Is there a boxer in the house?" The red letters on his white coat read "Roger A. Thill, MD."

Holt takes off his hooded sweat shirt so the doctor can take his blood pressure: 126 over 70. Pulse 68.

With an hour left until the fight, Holt waits, his eyes closed.

"You're in this all alone, I don't care who's with you," he says. "I just pray and think, pray and think. Every time you step in the ring, it could be your last day."

An official comes in and gives him deep pink boxing gloves.

Holt has based his life on God and boxing. He brings a Bible with him to Williams' gym.

"By reading the Bible and talking with the Lord, I can read and spell and write," said Holt, whose reading level was at the sixth grade when he dropped out of Poly.

"Boxing gives me peace of mind," he said. "I pray when I jog. I pray when I box. Lord knows, I don't think to do nothing I did when I was young. It's worse now, 'cause that crack (cocaine) is out there.

"A lot of my friends are encouraging me to keep on boxing. They're prayin' for me, that's why I'm the people's hope. They want a different life. I tell them they can do it, to take that first step. I don't club. I don't go to parties. I just box. Go home, rest. Get up in the morning and run.

"This (boxing) takes the anger out of you. You ain't gonna want to go out (to the street) and beat up on nobody. I use boxing to get away. I can let out frustrations. Nothing can get me angry. A guy ran into my car (the other day), I didn't get mad."

At 7:35, Holt has his hands wrapped by Williams.

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