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The Inspiring Journey of TJ Holt: From Poverty to Victory in the Ring

Discover the inspiring journey of TJ Holt, a fighter who went from poverty to victory in the ring. Learn how he co-founded Certified Fighter and overcame life’s battles to achieve his dreams.

Key Points
TJ Holt, a fighter from Southwest Atlanta, has overcome poverty and adversity to become a successful MMA fighter.
Holt and his business partner, Anthony Smith, co-founded Certified Fighter, a lifestyle clothing brand for fighters.
The brand represents the perseverance and determination of fighters in and out of the ring.
Holt’s professional debut was a victory, showcasing his skills and dedication.
He credits his daughter as his motivation and wants to inspire her to believe in herself.

The Inspiring Journey of TJ Holt

Thirty-year-old TJ Holt is no stranger to fighting, whether for a better life for his family or a championship win in the ring. On an early March evening, the 5-foot-10, 145-pound Southwest Atlanta native stands stripped to the waist, Vaseline glistening on his face. As the young father and rapper prepares for his latest challenger, a few hundred fans are nestled inside a makeshift venue at a strip mall in Canton, Georgia. Like Holt, they are ready for the fight to begin.

Also waiting for the main event is Anthony Smith, another MMA fighter who serves as both Holt’s confidant and business partner. Since 2020, the two men have been the founders of Certified Fighter, a lifestyle clothing brand that they proudly state is ‘ran by fighters, started by fighters [and] created by fighters.’

‘A certified fighter is somebody that’s going to show up to fight no matter what. I can lose, I can win, I can come out with a draw,’ Holt said. ‘It’s more than just throwing punches … you fight through daily battles in life.’

Smith says that these adversities, which he experienced, including trying to balance fatherhood, work, and ambition, inspired him to develop his own brand.

Realizing that he couldn’t do it alone, one of the first people he thought of when he came up with the concept was Holt. Both co-founders faced similar challenges throughout their childhood — growing up in single-parent homes in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. While the two grew up separately, both saw athletics as an outlet for life’s difficulties.

After learning graphic design during the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith put his newfound skills into designing shirts, hats, hoodies, and bomber jackets for the Certified Fighter brand, relying on quality and word of mouth to drive attention to the rising business. And other fighters within Georgia’s tight-knit mixed martial arts community have done just that.

‘It feels good to step out and people recognizing the brand because we’ve been putting in work for like three years now,’ said Smith.

The father of three believes that their apparel has become popular due to their clientele seeing their perseverance in personal battles within the brand.

And, when it came time for him to take the ring, co-founder Holt did just that. As the first punch and kick combos are exchanged, Smith yells tactical instructions from just outside the ring. Despite his former coach standing in the corner of his opponent, Holt keeps his hands driving and his spirit kicking.

It didn’t hurt that he also had the cheers of his fans in the crowd, many of whom were wearing their Certified Fighter shirts and hats in a show of support. In his professional debut, the stakes are high, and who will take home the victory is uncertain—at least in the beginning.

Midway through the second round, Holt lands a flush overhand right, knocking his opponent down to the canvas. After three rounds, the announcer enters the ring. Holt, exhausted, looks up, waiting for the official word.

‘Your winner by unanimous decision, fighting out of the red corner… TJ Holt.’

The fighter celebrates by dancing to his original song, ‘Money Gang,’ which plays loudly throughout the venue. Holt looks up at Smith and the rest of his friends and family in the crowd. There are cheers, laughter, smiles, and tears of joy from the victorious fighter, particularly when reflecting on the time it took for his dream to become a reality.

With his hands still wrapped in gauze and his body covered in dried sweat, it all hits him.

‘I’m just so happy man, I can’t believe it like … I came from nothing,’ Holt said. ‘Section 8 apartments … single mom, you feel me? I ain’t sad, but just look at where I come from. I just got paid to fight, I just got paid to win.’

Another victory, he says, is being able to go home and celebrate with his daughter, whom he credits as his motivation for remaining a certified fighter.

‘I do this to show her that you can do anything you put your mind to,’ he said. ‘I just want her to know that anything she put her mind to, that she can do. And that’s why I wake up and guard every day … that’s the definition of a certified fighter. Don’t give up.’