Flint prospect Ardreal Holmes Jr. is a tall order for junior middleweight division
The first thing that jumps out about Ardreal Holmes Jr. is his height.
The 28-year-old junior middleweight prospect from Flint, Mich. cuts an imposing figure at 6’2”. What makes that even more consequential is that he was an experienced amateur, amassing over 100 bouts before turning professional, which is where he learned how to use that height and reach. To top it off, he’s a lefty with a long, stinging jab, making him a nightmare to deal with on paper.
“I feel like it’s a God-given ability. Being tall and rangy, that’s just every fighter prays for, so I’m just blessed to have that,” said Holmes (13-0, 5 knockouts), whose favorite boxer was another rangy junior middleweight, Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns.
Holmes will be back in action this Saturday when he faces Wendy Toussaint (14-1, 6 KOs) in a ten-round bout at the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Mich., in what will be the chief supporting bout to the Claressa Shields vs. Maricela Cornejo main event on DAZN.
While those attributes are a blessing as a fighter, they can be a curse for matchmaking, explains manager David McWater of Split-T Management.
“Nobody wants to fight southpaws, especially tall, tricky, smart ones. It’s always been an issue,” said McWater.
Despite what people initially notice about him, Holmes is quick to point out that he’s not just a one trick pony.
“I think I keep my distance and pot shot really well. Just staying at the range I want to be at, if I want to be in close I’ll be at close. If I feel you’re uncomfortable with me being close to you, I’ll take it to you. If I feel like it’s better to stay out, I stay out. It really depends on the opponent. Once I get comfortable, I win,” Holmes said.
The fight with Toussaint will be Holmes’ third straight ten-rounder, and his third against a fighter with one or fewer losses. The 31-year-old Toussaint, a native of Haiti who now makes his home in Huntington, N.Y., has won two straight since his only pro defeat, a ninth round knockout to Charles Conwell. Since then he scored a first round bludgeoning of the overmatched Travis Gambardella last March, and a near shutout of Asinia Byfield last June on the Beterbiev-Smith Jr. card in New York City.
Toussaint hasn’t fought in nearly a year, however, while Holmes is fresh off a career best performance this past February, when he outboxed the previously unbeaten Ismael Villarreal in a ShoBox main event that was more definitive than the split decision verdict would indicate.
“I think he’s a pretty good boxer, pretty strong and he’s got a good right hand. But I think I’ll just tear him apart down the stretch,” said Holmes, who weighed in Friday at 153.4 pounds, while Toussaint was well under the limit at 149.8 pounds.
“As long as he keeps the guy from getting inside, I don’t see how the guy’s gonna score points. Ardreal is too slick, too smart, we like this opportunity a lot,” added McWater.
While much is being made of Shields’ homecoming after career-defining wins in the United Kingdom, the fight is also a homecoming for Holmes, who turned professional in 2016 but hasn’t fought in his home state since 2019.
Holmes is all-too familiar with Shields, having traded punches with her on many occasions in sparring at the Berston Field House, where they both started as young amateurs.
Holmes, who picked up boxing at age 15 after watching his uncles excel and win local amateur bouts, says that he and Shields were always around the same weight. And since no local girls could hang with her in the gym, Holmes often got the call to step in with her.
“Everything that she’s doing now is no surprise. It’s great that she’s doing it but we all knew that she was going to do this. She used to be in there banging with us like it was nothing. I don’t see no female beating her ever,” said Holmes.
Among the highlights of Holmes’ amateur career was winning the 2015 USA National Championships, which earned him a no. 1 rating in the country, and making the 2013 National Golden Gloves finals, where he lost a decision to Erickson Lubin. Holmes came within a win of making the 2016 U.S. Olympic squad, but lost back-to-back decisions to Paul Kroll in the trials.
“He was the Olympic alternate but I got the much better fighter of the two. When Kroll didn’t meet his obligations, [Holmes] got sent to a World Series of Boxing event and knocked [Cyrus Pattinson] out,” McWater explained.
Holmes signed with promoter Lou DiBella, and remains under the tutelage of Jason Crutchfield and Ed Kendall at the Berston Field House. Training in the same facility where he first started boxing, moving around in the same ring where he used to exchange jabs with Shields and punching the same bags keeps him grounded and humble, while reminding him of the work he still has left to accomplish.
“Every day when you walk in there it just reminds you of why you want to be there, because you want to get better,” said Holmes.
And if the gym doesn’t get that message across to him, his mother, Vernisha Key, is more than happy to fill that role. While his mother couldn’t stomach watching her son get punched when he first started, now she is among his most attentive observers, reminding him of what he still has to work on.
“She’s like my critic, she laughs about it but when I need to do work she tells me what I need to work on. I just think she knows what I’m capable of and wants me to do better. It’s not like she’s hard on me about anything but she’ll tell me,” said Holmes.
She’s likely to be one of many people in attendance at the arena, which is about an hour’s drive from his hometown of Flint. The fight has big implications, as the USBA junior welterweight title, which is a regional belt affiliated with the IBF, is at stake. Winning that belt will move him up in the 154-pound rankings, as he begins to position himself for a world title opportunity. Holmes feels he’s about three or four bouts from challenging for a world title.
The current kingpin of the division is Jermell Charlo, who holds The Ring title and all four major belts. Holmes, like every other fighter in that weight class, has no doubt sized up Charlo in his mind. He says he has sparred many rounds with Tony Harrison, the only boxer to ever beat Charlo in the pros, and says the experience taught him that he had to step it up as he transitioned to the professionals.
“He’s gonna get a shot, I think he’s too good to be denied that if he keeps winning,” said McWater. “From here on out he’ll be mostly fighting top ten type of guys from here on out. Not that I think there’s anything easy about this guy but I think it’s gonna seem easy compared to what we’ve been fighting.”
Holmes says the motivation to continue striving for his goals comes from his two-year-old son, who he wants to provide a better life for, plus his family, who have supported his dream since he was a teenager.
Holmes knows he has to be impressive in this bout, not just because his friends and family are watching, but because all of his future opponents will be tuning as well.
“I feel like in every fight I have to shine and do better than the last. Every fight is important building towards a world title. I gotta be the best I can be,” said Holmes.
Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].