Zab Judah: The Top Dog at Welterweight?

17.02.05 - By Alton Silverman: I saw Zab Judah box long before his fights ever hit national television, and I knew that the young, energetic teenager I beheld before my eyes had the potential to truly become great. But, as the years went on, and as Zab racked in the customary confidence building fights to gain experience as a professional, it was becoming tough to gauge him because he rarely, if ever, faced adversity. He would blow many of his opponents out with a combination of lightning quick speed and solid power.

While his skills were undeniable, what became more of a question mark was his focus—after winning the vacant IBF belt against Jan Bergman, Zab would box lackadaisically at times, and would even look into the crowd in the middle of a round. Later he actually began talking to people in the audience during rounds. This was bound to cause a disaster.

Zab defeated former champ Terron Millet and the unbeaten Junior Witter, but then came the biggest fight of young Judah’s career, against reigning WBA and WBC unified champion, Kostya Tszyu. Everyone knew that the Russian veteran would bring the fight to the young American, and a big question mark going into the fight was how would Zab Judah handle the pressure of a
relentless pressure fighter like Kostya Tszyu? Many pointed to Zab’s quickness and superior athleticism to be the difference in the fight. There was no doubt, however, that Zab would be tested-and this test turned out to be a mental one more than a physical one.

With Mike Tyson accompanying him to the ring, Judah looked very focused during his entrance and early in the first round. In the middle of the opening stanza, the speed factor seemed to predominate, with Judah landing on a plodding Tszyu. Even when Tszyu threw hard shots, Judah would answer back with bad intentions, and he even hurt Tszyu at one point with a lightning quick left. As the first round came to a close, I was thinking that we might soon have a new pound for pound number one in Zab Judah.

How wrong I was.

As the second round opened, Judah seemed to lose focus. He wasn’t talking to people in the audience, but because he had done that in previous fights it was now apparent he could not concentrate for a hard twelve rounds. He didn’t start looking into the crowd, but what he did do was let the pressure up—he stopped throwing with bad intentions. This led Kostya to bring the
fight to Zab, who was moving well but couldn’t keep the Russian off of him. The right hand that dropped Zab and knocked him out in the most humiliating of fashions had many thinking Zab Judah was done.

Zab lacked focus in subsequent performances against DeMarcus Corley and even in his second attempt at an undisputed belt against Cory Spinks, which he lost by split decision. However, in the last round against Spinks, we saw a fire from Zab that we hadn’t seen in a long time. He went for the kill, he kept the pressure up. What resulted was a beautiful knockdown, but it was not to be as Cory took home a somewhat controversial split decision. The fight affirmed what everybody already knew: Zab had the right tools, but he couldn’t put a consistent performance together mentally.

Again he was written off, but this time, something had changed inside Zab Judah. I first suspected that things would be different when I heard he had accepted a rematch with Spinks for only $100,000 (compared to Spinks’ 1.2 million). I was pleasantly surprised when a determined Judah brought the fight to Spinks, round after round. I repeatedly asked myself: when
would he fade? When is he going to lose focus? Well, it didn’t happen. Zab pounded the bewildered Spinks, and by the eighth had clearly broken him down. He dropped him in the ninth and kept the pressure up until referee Armando Garcia mercifully stopped the bout.

What was an even bigger surprise was the way that Zab ended the fight-he kept motioning for the ref to step in, as he didn’t want to seriously injure Spinks. Also, the new champ displayed a minimal amount of smack talk afterward—he thanked Spinks for the fight and complimented his skills.

Zab Judah is a new man: with this win, he lines himself up for future mega fights against returning welterweights Oscar De La Hoya and a reenergized Shane Mosley. However, is Zab really big enough at 147 (Imagine him standing across from someone like Vernon Forrest)? Can he now establish a string of consistent fights, as opposed to rounds? Can he really be the top dog at welterweight? I certainly wouldn’t put it past him.

Article posted on 17.02.2005

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