Just yesterday morning, I said on this very web site that Saturday night was Zab Judah's final chance to finally live up to the endless hype and fascination of his long-running career.
I didn't think he could do it. I'll rephrase: We didn't think he could do it. To a man, six staffers including myself picked Amir Khan, and gave Judah little chance of an upset. Oddsmakers installed Khan as a solid favorite, despite claims by the gullible and the diehard believers that it was a 50-50 fight.
And he couldn't do it, as Judah looked like the same old Zab Judah against Amir Khan, knocked out in five rounds by an Amir Khan body shot. Of course, Judah claimed it was a low blow. Nobody is buying it. And it seems as though finally, the consistent disappointment of Zab Judah in big fights has caught up. There's no next time. There's no next chance to finally show the alleged amazing talent he has supposedly been hoarding but not unleashing for a decade now.
I argued yesterday that Judah's record didn't match up to his reputation. It didn't yesterday, and doesn't today. But today, it's even more clear, and I'm willing to be harsh: Zab Judah was a good fighter. He's still an OK fighter, probably top 10 at 140 pounds. But he's not a great fighter. And he never was, no matter what Wu-Tang Clan songs gave him a shout-out, or the fame that he earned more for image than for results.
Tonight against Amir Khan, Judah looked overwhelmed and rattled early by a fighter who was faster, bigger, and stronger than him. Presented by true challenges in the past, Judah has always come up short, largely mentally. There's almost always been some "turn of events" blocking Judah from achieving glory that night. The referee screwed him against Kostya Tszyu, despite the chicken dance. The judges screwed him against Joshua Clottey and Cory Spinks. Miguel Cotto fouled him too much. There was a riot with Floyd Mayweather Jr after Judah mentally cracked. Carlos Baldomir? Well, he had the audacity to show up for the fight and not roll over to make way for the Judah vs Mayweather mega-fight. And tonight, it was a supposed low blow.
Zab was a talent. Nobody denies that he had natural skills. But they have always been overstated, and were never backed by mental fortitude. He has never liked challenges. He has always been most impressive when he was on the good side of a mismatch. His best performance came in the rematch with Cory Spinks, which was also by far his best win.
He's just never backed it up. Not really. And he's never going to, unless there is some miracle that can change the mental makeup of a 33-year-old fighter.
This isn't about kicking Judah when he's down. It's about being fully honest about Judah's accomplishments, and what his career has really been. A passing glance at his career record doesn't back up the idea that Judah was ever a great fighter. There's just no greatness in there -- even during the best phases of his career, he wasn't consistently beating top competition.
Judah compares, as was offered to me on Twitter, to basketball's Vince Carter. A good, overhyped, overvalued player who never achieved anything great. It's not a dismissal of what he has done, in either case, it's an honest evaluation that comes up empty when you're looking for more than "good."
But I can also say this about Zab Judah: His career has been fascinating. He has been able to sell himself for years no matter the slip-ups. This was almost surely his last major chance, because now there's an obvious pattern that anyone can pick up on. People didn't imagine Judah's talent, but once you've failed to capitalize on it for 10 years, it's just a missed opportunity, and wasted potential. He has sold 1+1 = 11 for years now. Now we're to the point that everyone is aware that the math ain't right, and that Zab Judah isn't the fighter we've been told he was, or told he could be. It's not in him.
He's had a profitable, memorable career. But we saw it peak long ago. The child is grown, the dream is gone.