Is Zab Judah really any different than he used to be? (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Zab Judah has never been a quiet fighter. Not in the ring, and not out of it. And though his alleged newfound maturity is part of the supposed rejuvenation of his career, which will be proven as true or false on Saturday against Amir Khan, questions remain about Judah's relevance, his age and declined skills, his willingness to go through fire, and his personality.
Take for example the fact that Judah -- again, supposedly a changed, matured man -- pulled an incredibly bratty move on a recent conference call with the media. First of all, Judah tweeted the call-in number to his fans, which is something he knows better than to do, and then once on the call, refused to address questions from British reporters.
Why? Because Judah isn't getting a cut of the UK pay-per-view profits. Apparently, UK fight reporters had to suffer the wrath of Judah and his team not being able to make that part of the deal.
Gee, maybe it's just me, but this combined with the initial "Twitter war" between the two parties, plus Judah's very "Judah-like" way of putting things in the entire build-up, leads me to believe that Zab might not be quite as changed as he says he is. And he says it all the time. It's the basis for most of his interviews. "Zab Judah: Changed Man" and "The New Zab Judah." He's either trying to convince everyone else, or convince himself. Maybe both.
Consider me a skeptic, is all I'm saying. But Judah was still slinging that hash at the final press conference for Saturday night's fight.
"I've got my second wind," he said. "I've lived my years as Zab Judah just being Zab Judah, tough guy, Brooklyn, whatever. I'm here to say today, that don't pay man, just live your life and be happy. Saturday night I'm gonna give you guys the best Zab Judah that you guys are looking for. He's here!"
Judah will need something to be different if he is to score what would arguably be the best win of his career.
"I'm ready and I'm excited. I'm very blessed to be back in this position," said Judah. "I know Amir Khan and Team Khan have prepared themselves for a war. I just think that over the years of me being in this position, I'm prepared for Saturday night. I'm prepared for what's gonna happen. Amir Khan is new to this situation. He's a young guy."
When his age was brought up, Judah had his standard, somewhat confusing answer.
"People have been getting this stuff about Zab Judah [at] 33 years old [being an] old fighter, mixed up. What you gotta understand is that I turned professional at 18 years old," said Judah. "I was champion by 20 years old and I reigned ever since."
Now, let's really look at this. Judah did turn professional at age 18, just barely shy of his 19th birthday, and did win his first minor belt at age 20 (the interim USBA belt), but he didn't win an "official" major title until he was 22, when he got sort of a charity belt, a vacant strap at junior welterweight put up for grabs between he and South African Jan Piet Bergman, who had a nice-looking but very light record.
This is part of the semi-myth that is Zab Judah. Judah has been a good fighter in his career, and has at times flashed the skills of a great one. But those flashes have not come over an entire fight with an elite fighter.
Let's really look at Judah's career here.
Title Wins: Jan Piet Bergman, DeMarcus Corley, Cory Spinks, Kaizer Mabuza
Losses: Kostya Tszyu, Cory Spinks, Carlos Baldomir, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey
Title Defense Victories: Junior Witter*, Terron Millett, Hector Quiroz, Reggie Green, Allan Vester, Jaime Rangel, Cosme Rivera
Other Notable Wins: Micky Ward, Lucas Matthysse**
* Witter was not the fighter he would become, and was still a novice when Judah fought him. He was nowhere near ready for Judah. This is not Judah's fault, but just a fact.
** This was a very, very debatable decision, with many feeling that Matthysse was shorted on the cards.
The best wins of Judah's career have come against Spinks, Corley and Ward. Spinks went on to win a couple junior middleweight belts after losing to Zab, but since then is just 4-3 overall. Ward, as much as we all love him, was never a true top-level fighter. And Corley dropped from the top level after Judah, too, going 9-16 since then, and still serving today as a solid gatekeeper.
So, really: What is it about Zab Judah that makes people think he can win this fight? Khan is currently considered no worse than the second-best fighter in the world at 140 pounds, and faced with fighters on that level, Judah has always struggled. Zab is like many: When a fight is easy, he rolls, and he can look sensational. But when it's not, those supposed amazing skills tend to not look so amazing, and he has a history of mentally breaking down against upper echelon opposition, like Cotto, Clottey and Mayweather, and even Carlos Baldomir, who was definitely not quite as good as those guys.
And then there's the bizarre issue of Judah carrying around title belts he doesn't currently and actively hold. Boxers get to keep belts they win as souvenirs. Many frame them and mount them on the wall. Some keep them in a safe. Some sell them to pawn shops. Judah carries his to most official functions.
"As you can see over to my left [in front of Judah] there are five world titles," said trainer Pernell Whitaker, addressing the collection of belts that Judah brought to the press conference. "I myself have won six world titles in my career, then I turn over to my right [in front of Khan] and I see one."
Richard Schaefer was perhaps accidentally blunt in response when he said, "The left side of the table is living in the past."
The past is what is going to haunt Judah should he fall short again on Saturday night. It's a past littered with his shortcomings in big fights, with outside the ring issues (including an alleged argument with his father and former trainer Yoel, leading to Judah injuring his hand punching a shower door and bailing on a fight with Shane Mosley), and with serious questions about his maturity.
Zab, as always, is talking the talk. It's been years since we've seen him truly walk the walk, and he's got the sort of opportunity to prove the doubters wrong.