Is Zab Judah…Really…The Man?

11.09.04 – By Coach Tim Walker: I recall the first time I stepped into a boxing gym. I didn’t know much about boxing and admittedly I was there because my mommy took me. I never asked her why she chose boxing but I know that it had something to do with my neighborhood. I grew up in one of those places where you only need one willing participant to have a good street fight. For the misfortunate combatants whose roles were to bare the brunt of these street scraps walks home from school were long and filled with anxiety.

Zab-diel “Super” Judah had some upbringing in a place similar to mine. But I imagine his introduction to the boxing ring to be a little different. The Judah family has a pugilistic history that goes back a couple of generations and Zab’s introduction to the ring must have been more like a right of passage. He was breed to be a champion by his father/trainer Yoel Judah and was taught that boxing and discipline go together like fist and glove.

Years ago, I attended a double header boxing card in Miami that included “Sweet Pee” Whitaker and David Tua, and there, on the under card, appeared a young Zab Judah. I can’t remember who he fought but I recall him making quick work of the challenger. A couple of years later I saw him in person again but this time his foe was a bit more known to me. He challenged the very durable Mickey Ward for the USBA light welterweight championship. Ward was a game fighter but seriously outgunned as Zab scored a blowout unanimous decision. This was his first pro title but it wouldn’t be his last.

Zab trained near my hometown for his bout with Kostya Tszyu and I got the chance to watch him. I was impressed. I likened his quickness to Jones Jr. whom I had also gotten the opportunity to watch train. His power and footwork are extremely elusive and he enjoys an extensive amateur background that tops the 100 bout mark. Zab has all the necessary cockiness to stand against the world yet he doesn’t convincingly rule his division.

The middle divisions of boxing are packed with talent and the welterweight division is no exception with the likes of Cory Spinks, Antonio Margarito and Kermit Cintron. Even Paul Spadafora makes noise when he isn’t being detained for questioning. With a talent pool this deep is there room for a slightly ostracized ultra-talented boxer like Zab? The boxing communal will tolerate the exploits of a brute and the misgivings of youth but are less forgiving if at the end of the night your hands aren’t raised in victory.

In Zab the inner cities found a champion in whom they could relate. A tattooed, gold toothed, street wise champion who understood the struggles of generation next. But could they emotionally invest in Zab and expect a return on their investment? His 2002 signature match up with Kostya Tszyu ended with a loss, a temper tantrum and public outcry of a stained would be champ who was more a sore loser than the next great fighter. The key to his future kingdom resides partly in his skill and largely in his resilience.

When facing the talented but not so exciting Cory Spinks his effort was less than stellar. He looked faster and stronger but seemed less focused than the busier Spinks and in the end Zab was defeated. Round after round we waited for the back roads champ to emerge but what we got were antiques of pubescence rather than exploits of greatness. Bouncing back in mind-blowing fashion is the only way to make good on the two blemishes that jacket his boxing resume. A typical formula for immediate success is to take on mediocre talent on a huge fight card in a huge venue. Thus the opponent is Wayne Martell, the fight card is Trinidad/Mayorga, and the venue is Madison Square Gardens. This fight is designed to make Zab look SUPER similarly to when Laila Ali took on Monica Nunez. Well I guess the formula doesn’t always work. A fight with Martell won’t define his career and won’t make us extremely excited. Hopefully it will be a tad bit more entertaining than Ali’s fight with Nunez.

Boxers of Zab Judah's caliber are forgiven for loses but many of us are still disappointed in how he lost. The lack of focus displayed against Spinks and the unsportsmanlike conduct in the Tszyu fight can equate to less box office sales. For now we wait in hopes that Zab will embrace his name sake and become that Super champion that commands our adulation for who and what he is, not just our momentary attention for his mishaps in the ring. There is little doubt that he will challenge the best in his division and there is even less that doubt that many will tune-in. Only time will tell if when we tune-in it is to cheer for him or cheer in spite of him.

Oh, the best fight of the night might just be Wayne Braithwaite vs. Jean-Mark Mormeck.

Article posted on 11.09.2004

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