REEVALUATING JUDAH: ZAB'S STOCK RISES IN DEFEAT
By Ben Dean
Fighting world junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia last month, Zab Judah arguably did more for his legacy in defeat than he did in any of his previous victories. Judah is a boxer many writers have designated an enigma and a baffling paradox. An athletic fighter with supreme God-given talent accompanied a lack of discipline and focus that frustratingly didn’t seem to match his limitless ability. He has so much natural talent that he can effortlessly do things in the ring that devout students of the game will never master.
I’d always thought Judah’s finest hour was his 2005 ninth-round knockout of Cory Spinks in their rematch in St. Louis. Judah seemed supremely focused on this night. He boxed with discipline and intelligence, and slowly but surely got closer and closer with his left hand. Then it finally landed, with such force that it turned the champion into an inflatable punching bag. That sort of punching bag that rocks back and forth then springs right back into the upright position. Though Judah gave a fine effort, many viewed Spinks as the perfect opponent for him. Someone without explosive power, where Zab could open up and wouldn’t have to worry about his chin being tested-- a test it failed against Kosta Tszyu in 2001.
Those that remember Judah’s world junior welterweight championship fight against Tszyu will remember that Judah had done well and seemed largely in control of the first two rounds. Judah even rocked Tszyu with a lightning bolt of a left uppercut earlier in the fight. Then just as quickly as you saw the massive display of talent and potential, the fight was over. Judah pulled straight back as opposed to circling and was clocked by a right hand. The inexperience and pride of Judah made him hop straight back up instead of clearing his head while taking an eight or nine count before returning to his feet. The legs had not quite recalibrated and were still not there yet. He stumbled and went down a second time around the count of four, and the referee waved it off. Judah, infuriated that he did not receive the full count of ten, unraveled mentally and attacked referee Jay Nady, trying to choke him. The same immaturity that made him an enigma to so many was now on full display. Judah received a six-month suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
Judah was confimred as that paradoxical entity, an anomaly. His gifts were undeniable and questioned by literally no one. However, his mental makeup was subject to fair critiques. After his knockout of Cory Spinks, he seemed destined for a showdown with pound-for-pound best Floyd Mayweather Jr. Rumors had abounded for some time about a sparring session the two engaged in years previous, with speculation as to which fighter had gotten the better of it. Before that answer could be settled in the ring, Judah would once again become his own undoing. An unfocused and seemingly disinterested Judah showed up to defend his title against Carlos Baldomir. Baldomir, not known as a huge puncher, badly hurt Judah in the latter rounds, and Judah basically disengaged after that. Baldomir snuck away with a split decision victory.
Judah and Mayweather Jr would meet regardless. Through five rounds, my eyes told me Judah was up 4-1 with an extra point on my card for a right hook forced Mayweather’s glove to touch the canvas a clear knockdown I felt the referee missed. Judah appeared dare I say it, faster than a prime Floyd Mayweather Jr. After five rounds, one of two things happened. Either Judah was fatigued, or he mentally packed it in. I’ve always felt it was the latter more than the former, as Mayweather hadn’t set a blisteringly fast pace. The same unfocused Judah with lapses of concentration appeared. I’ve always thought Mayweather gained his foothold in the fight not from what he was doing, but due to what Judah stopped doing. It’s to his credit that he exploited that breach.
Judah appeared frustrated that he hadn’t gotten Mayweather out of there, after momentarily buzzing him in round 4. What Zab didn’t realize, is that despite not being able to badly hurt or dispose of Mayweather, he was sitting on a multiple round points lead against the best boxer in the world. Judah will never be as defensively cute as Mayweather. In a sense, Judah’s offense is his defense (a reason I felt his eventual marriage to trainer Pernell Whitaker was short-lived). While he was being offensive not even the great Floyd Mayweather could do a thing about it. Judah as we’ve seen him do lost focus, and mentally unraveled. Mayweather gradually took over the fight, culminating in Judah’s frustration and immaturity once again surfacing. He punched Mayweather twice low, culminating with a rabbit punch on the defenseless fighter. This set off a brawl, which nearly led to the fight being stopped. After the ring was cleared, the action resumed and Floyd cruised to a comfortable points win via decision.
I have been openly critical of Judah for what I felt like were at least two instances in which he quit in the ring. Against Joshua Clottey when the going got rough, Judah looked for a way out and found it. I also am of the opinion that he quit versus Amir Khan, and faked being hit low as opposed to finishing the fight. Every replay has shown that Khan’s punch was not low. While Judah has at times displayed limitless potential and talent, he had also left many questioning his mental fortitude. Writers attempting to assess fights and make pre-fight predictions can often be heard commenting, “Which Zab is going to show up?”
Versus Danny Garcia this past Saturday night, Garcia seemed to control most of the early rounds. Judah was badly hurt in the 5th round, and seemed on the verge of being knocked out for the entire 6th round. It is a credit to his grit, courage and wily veteran tactics that he was able to survive those two rounds on his feet. One could not have faulted an observer for scoring the 6th a 10-8 round even though Judah never went down. Garcia’s punches just seemed to turn Judah’s legs to jelly anytime he landed. Judah, while having never been knocked out cold, has a reputation as being chinny, and has been on the receiving end of some technical or referee stoppages. Garcia would put Judah down in the 8th with what appeared to be a flash knockdown. Similar to when Rigondeaux went down against Donaire, Judah this time didn’t seem hurt and immediately rose.
Then in the tenth round it happened. Judah landed a straight left that stiffened Garcia’s legs and made him take a momentary misstep. Judah didn’t seem to notice. Garcia the consummate Philly pro, went to the toolbox and masked being hurt exceptionally well. However, the true mark of when a fighter is hurt is when their entire behavior changes. Garcia the aggressor, suddenly pumped out a batch of throw away jabs, back peddled, and got on his horse suddenly jabbing and staying away. Judah landed another huge left deeper in the round and this time Judah as well as the entire building seemed to notice Garcia was hurt. When Danny Garcia returned to his corner after the 10th round, I believe his legs were gone. Between rounds there was that edge of your seat excitement, and you felt as if Judah may have a realistic chance to knock the champion out in rounds 11 and 12.
Judah’s best opportunity likely would have been to have jumped all over Garcia to start the 11th. However, he would've also run the risk of being badly knocked out himself. I’m not sure Judah realized exactly how weary Garcia was, as he let off the gas pedal a bit in the eleventh. Both fighters went for it in the twelfth, with Judah sweeping the championship rounds. At the final bell, both fighters embraced seemingly aware they were part of something special. The bad blood that had followed them into the ring had apparently dissipated into a sea of mutual respect. The entire arena, as well as many fighters ringside stood on their feet applauding the efforts of both challenger and champion.
To his credit, Judah kept trying all night even when Garcia was outworking him in effective shots landed. Whereas the old Zab would’ve unraveled mentally, the new Judah kept trying. Gone was the immaturity, gone was the lack of focus. Gone was the man who had once hit Baldomir in the cup during prefight referee instructions. What had begun as a competitive albeit one-sided fight, had in its last 3 rounds realized all the ingredients of a great championship fight. How a man conducts himself in the heat of battle and handles adversity says a lot about that man. The reason the greats of the 80s are so beloved, is that win or lose they sought out the best, and poured every ounce of themselves into that ring. Zab Judah did just that in Brooklyn this weekend. He put his entire soul into that ring. The heart, determination and desire that Judah displayed Saturday night, (even in defeat) was nothing short of riveting. Take a bow Zab Judah. In rightfully earning the moniker Super, you actually earned an additional one. Warrior.
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