Friday, April 26, 2013

Zab Judah: A Reconsideration

The images of defeat dominate the memory: staying down on the canvas and not trying to beat the count after a borderline low blow from Amir Khan, rushing at referee Jay Nady after the Kostya Tszyu loss, unraveling in a ring riot during the Floyd Mayweather match, making an ill-considered choice to end the Joshua Clottey bout because of a cut, laying eggs against Carlos Baldomir and Cory Spinks in their first showdown. He's associated with bling, entourages, fights with shower doors, disagreements with his father, trash talk, letting it rain in strip clubs and late-round fades.
The hotshot Brooklyn kid with the combination of hand speed, athleticism and power that touches only a select few in the world of boxing, he's the one who squandered those gifts. A victim of his potential and a cautionary tale about failures of discipline and rampant unprofessionalism, this is the Zab Judah story.
At least that's the conventional narrative. Much of it is inarguable. But the complete portrait of Judah seems far richer to me. Now 35, Judah has been a titlist or a legitimate title contender for 13 years. Think about that for a second. In a sport where the overwhelming majority of fighters never even sniff the top rungs, Judah has been relevant on the championship level for well over a decade. While others have fallen from boxing's elite level because of problems outside of the ring, the physical toll of the sport, the psychological burdens of losses, food, lack of desire, bad training habits or age, Judah perseveres and continues to attain featured positions on premium boxing channels.

Zab's lost seven times, and I'd posit that only the Baldomir defeat was a bad one. He came of age in a very strong era of fighters in the 140 and 147-lb. weight classes. Tszyu is already in the Hall of Fame. Mayweather will certainly be there. Cotto most likely will gain entry as well. 
He enters Saturday's fight against Danny Garcia just one punch away from being arguably the top guy in the 140-lb. division. And he's not seen as a patsy or a soft touch. Although an underdog, he's a very live one, with more than a few experts picking his speed and boxing skills over the more deliberate Garcia. A win over Garcia would not make the top-30 biggest upsets of the year.
Judah hasn't been a boy scout out of the ring; that's obvious. However, one must give him credit for maintaining his status in the sport. With just enough of his in-ring skill to tantalize networks and opposing promoters, and his typical bravado in press conferences and on social media, Judah remains relevant in the boxing conversation.
A key marker in the evaluation of his career was the decision to go down to junior welterweight after the Clottey loss in 2008. At the time, it was seen as a desperate attempt to remain viable. He was at an age (30) where many boxers find it very difficult to maintain their weight, let alone drop a division. Yet, Judah eventually ground his way down to 140 and made it work. He beat legitimate foes such as Lucas Matthysse (a victory that looks great in hindsight) and Kaizer Mabuza.
That decision to compete in the lower weight class was a gutsy one and spoke to Judah's understanding of his strengths and weaknesses. He rightly believed that his power would play up at junior welterweight and frankly, the body punching by some of the killers at 147 was a little too much for him. In addition, the dedication to training and maintaining the 140-lb. limit were fine examples of discipline and desire, two traits that supposedly had been lacking in his career.
Judah shouldn't be pitied; he made millions of dollars. He faced and competed gamely with the very best of his era. Although not a true 12-round fighter, he scared the bejeezus out of some excellent boxers. He's the one who clocked Tszyu in the first round, made Mayweather look ordinary through five rounds, forced Cotto to deliver low blows, neutralized Matthysse through the first half of their fight and removed Spinks from the welterweight division.
He's lived a very colorful life in and out of the ring. Through losses, trainer and promotional changes, moves, brawls and embarrassment, he's persevered. And although many in the boxing world are quick to lament his squandered potential, he should be praised for rebuilding himself after such professional disappointments.

He demonstrated tremendous guts in drowning out the crescendos of criticism throughout his career. He physically and psychologically pushed himself to remain toward the top of the sport when it would have been easy to take paths of lesser resistance.
Although the final chapters of his career have yet to be written, Judah will most likely be remembered with an almost wistful frustration. What would have happened if he had put it all together? What if he had excelled in big moments? What if he had lived a more Spartan lifestyle out of the ring? What if he had some better influences?
But before the Judah tome is shut, let us remember that the man won five different titles in two weight classes. He probably didn't wind up with the career that he, his supporters or boxing observers would have predicted when he arrived on the scene, but let's be honest; 99% of the fighters in the sport would have loved his career.
Maybe Judah pulls off the upset Saturday. It's certainly possible. But even if he doesn't...even if he finds a way to lose...even if he fades down the stretch, remember that he gave the sport a lot of great moments. Because of his irrepressible personality, tenaciousness and boxing acumen, a lot of fighters made great money off of his name. He was a key cog in the wheels of championship boxing for essentially a generation. When Tszyu won his first title in 1995, Danny Garcia was just seven years old.
Although Judah didn't reach the lofty perches of the all-time elite of the sport, he was still pretty damn good. His career was certainly florid and memorable. He'll be talked about far longer than some of his conquerors such as the Clotteys and Baldomirs of the world. Judah made his impact.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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1 comment:

  1. Zab Judah is my favorite active fighter. No, he's not the best in the game but he does something we often complain about when speaking about those at the pinnacle of the sport we love: He takes on all comers. Making fights w/ Judah is as about easy as it gets in a game of vultures, fat hogs and starving dogs. Taking short money and fighting in Spinks hometown for example. Unifying w/ Tszyu. Taking a prime Cotto to task. Facing Mayweather. He fights the best at thier best and while we love to complain about what a Floyd Mayweather or a Manny Pacquiao should or shouldn't do, Zab Judah does it willingly and when eh does he rearely dissappoints in the excitement arena, be it win or lose. Not enough credit is given for a guy that gives us what we claim to want: High caliber competition, exciting fights and way or the other. My hat is off to Zab. I'll miss him when he's gone.