Sunday, July 24, 2011

Notes from Khan-Judah

  • From the first moments of the opening round, I didn't like the game plan of Pernell Whitaker and Zab Judah one bit.  Whitaker had Judah fighting cautiously, looking to counterpunch.  Instead, Judah should have tried to blitz Khan and test his chin.  The Whitaker/Judah strategy was flawed on many levels, but most importantly, their approach played right into the hands of Khan, who had a longer reach, a higher work rate and an improved defense.
  • After the third round, Whitaker ripped into Judah, exhorting him to pick up his pace, use his jab and look for the uppercut.  Only after getting hit by some big right hands and left hooks from Khan, did Judah start to look for his power shots.  Judah was able to land one big uppercut at the end of the fourth round, but he didn't hit Khan enough to change the direction of the fight.
  • Give Khan credit too.  Judah did not seem comfortable on the inside.  Khan's superior size and physicality forced Judah to stay on the outside, whereby Khan could further dominate with his longer reach and compact combinations.  
  • Freddie Roach has really improved Khan's technique.  Khan, following Roach's teachings with precision, got out of the pocket after throwing his combinations and didn't stay in Judah's punching range.  His balance was much better.  He wasn't lunging with his punches and he worked his way in like a seasoned pro.  Furthermore, Khan routinely landed a nice, cleanup left hook to finish his combinations.  
  • One quick point about the knockout: it was a body shot!  Perhaps that's why Judah stayed down for so long.  After reviewing tapes of Khan, he probably never expected to see a body shot.  Khan's uppercut to the body is an exciting new dimension.  This is another sign of the maturity of Khan.  Head shots are flashier but body work often does more damage.  Almost all great veteran boxers go to the body with regularity.   
  • Zab Judah is just not a mentally focused fighter.  He gives away rounds too often.  He is so impressed with his knockout power that he lets his opponents pick up points with their higher work rate.  When things don't go his way in the ring, he is slow to adapt.  Tonight, he exhibited the same stubbornness in refusing to listen to Whitaker that he did when his father used to train him. 
  • For a fighter who was in perhaps his last run toward the top of the sport, Judah didn't really protest the knockout too much.  Throughout his career, Judah has consistently found ways to lose big fights.  The losses to Mayweather, Tszyu, Clottey and Khan all occurred in different manners, yet all featured bizarre behavioral incidents from Judah.  I will never forget that during the brawl between Judah's corner and Mayweather's entourage in the middle of Mayweather-Judah, Mayweather stood quietly in a neutral corner, serenely, amidst the chaos.  Meanwhile, Judah was wasting his energy and focus by inserting himself into the middle of the fracas.  For me, that moment was telling about Judah.  The talent was always there, but when push came to shove, he got caught up in the periphery of the moment, instead of focusing on the task at hand. 
  • Here are some other examples of Judah's losses that can be attributed to lapses of focus, or a lacking of ring awareness: unlike Judah, disciplined fighters should take their mandatory eight count after a knockdown (Tszyu) – but they get up if they aren't hurt (Khan).  They don't let the ref stop a fight on a questionable cut, only to lose on the scorecards (Clottey). 
  • Judah's career is rife with disappointing performances in his biggest opportunities.  He will always be remembered as a boxing prodigy who wilted under the bright lights.  On a talent level, he had "A" stuff, but unfortunately he had "F" makeup. 
  • Khan enters elite status with the win over Judah.  He will now be hunting for big game over the next 18 months, with possible opponents being Tim Bradley, Floyd Mayweather and Victor Ortiz.  I wouldn't rule out seeing a possible rematch against Marcos Maidana or Breidis Prescott in a stay-busy fight.  Both would sell well and have obvious dramatic hooks.  I think Khan now beats both of them handedly.  However, at this point Khan would still be a significant underdog to Mayweather, who would give Khan trouble with his counter shots and pot-shotting.  Khan should continue to add to his offensive arsenal and tighten up his defense before facing Mayweather.  He may only be two fights away from having a real shot at victory. 
  • Both of Khan's fights this year have had anti-climactic stoppages.  Tonight's fight ended with a body punch that Judah claimed was low.  The Paul McCloskey match was stopped short because of a questionable cut.  Nevertheless, Khan has fought 11 rounds against cagey fighters who aren't always easy to hit.  These opponents have forced Khan to remain disciplined and to rely on his corner's game plan.  Although the results of both matches haven't pleased fight fans, for Khan, 2011 may wind up being a crucial developmental year, where he transitioned from an acclaimed, yet erratic boxer, to a seasoned and consistent pro.  These fights will serve him well as he faces the elite of the sport.

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