Does Judah have what it takes to be Super on June 9?

By Matthew Aguilar


Does Judah have what it takes to be Super on June 9?

Okay, so maybe Zab Judah has a shot against Miguel Cotto June 9 in New York. Maybe his southpaw style, his blazing hand speed and smooth skills will give the unbeaten Puerto Rican fits. Maybe he’ll frustrate Cotto with movement and clever boxing. But, to do that, “Super” will have to show a discipline that has been woefully absent in recent years. And he’ll have to sustain a focus and an intensity that has come and gone over the course of an uneven championship run.

When he burst on the scene in the late 1990s, Judah was hailed by HBO’s Max Kellerman as “Pernell Whitaker with a punch.” But he has fallen well short of Whitaker-like standards. Not because of any physical shortcomings. Judah is one of the most gifted fighters around, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to argue that point.

No, “Super Zab’s” underachieving reputation is more a result of his own lack of discipline and self-control.

You want examples?

After one impressive round against Kostya Tszyu in 2001, Judah decided to get cocky and drop his hands against one of the most dangerous punchers on the planet. A fairly stupid idea. Bang! Zab got popped but good with a right hand, right on the chin, and fell flat on his back in the second round. His hasty attempt to get up on unsteady legs – and his memorably ridiculous, child-like tantrum after referee Jay Nady stopped the fight – underlined his immaturity at the time.

In the months and years after the Tszyu debacle, however, Judah insisted that he had grown up. And, for two fights against Cory Spinks in 2005 and ’06, it appeared as though he had.

He lost the original against Spinks, but showed mental fortitude and a never-before-seen hunger in coming from behind to drop the defending IBF welterweight champion late in their 12-round war. In the rematch 10 months later, an impressive Judah finished what he started and knocked Spinks out in the seventh round.

Judah attacked with vigor, stuck to a gameplan, and closed the show when Spinks was hurt.

And, suddenly, Kellerman’s prophecy seemed possible. Zab Judah: Pernell Whitaker with a punch.

Just as suddenly, Judah reverted to his underachieving, disappointing form. 

He didn’t take Argentina’s Carlos Baldomir seriously – even though a multi-million dollar showdown with Floyd Mayweather loomed – and deservedly lost a unanimous decision after being outworked by the journeyman in early 2006.

Judah’s lack of discipline, and his lack of focus, returned at just the wrong time.

He received the shot at Mayweather anyway and, for four rounds, he had boxing’s best pound-for-pound fighter on the ropes - literally and figuratively. 

As in the Spinks fights, Zab turned aggressive, and pushed “Pretty Boy” Floyd hard. He rocked a stunned Mayweather with sharp, furious combinations, and appeared to have discovered the recipe for a shocking upset.

Re-enter, lack of focus.

He abandoned his gameplan. He stopped being aggressive. And he allowed Mayweather to take over. And that was that.

Mayweather won a decision, and Judah showed more inability to cope with adversity when, after absorbing a beating, he nailed the champ with an intentional low blow. The cheap shot very nearly ignited a riot.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s three times that Judah has failed to show the proper discipline and focus needed to win a big fight. Throw in the fact that his chin has failed him a few times – against Tszyu and the light-punching Baldomir in particular – and you have to wonder what his chances will be against a killer like Cotto.

Because, against the Puerto Rican, Judah will have to summon all of his strength and all of his abilities to emerge victorious. Sure, he could outbox Cotto. But it will take a Herculean effort – and a ton of discipline and focus and mental fortitude – to display his boxing skills for 12 rounds against such a hard, relentless, physically overpowering puncher.

Does he have it in him? Only Zab Judah knows for sure. Only he knows if he can change the course of his own, personal history.
   Quick Flurries:
   *Top Rank’s broadcast of Saturday’s Manny Pacquiao-Jorge Solis fight was outstanding. Al Bernstein, assuming the reigns of blow-by-blow man, was his usual impeccable self. Scribe Wally Matthews remains one of the most underrated analysts in boxing, and former junior lightweight champ Genaro Hernandez offered some interesting insight. It didn’t hurt that three of the four fights were rock-solid. Bob Arum fields plenty of criticism. But when he does things right, he does it right.
    *Can you imagine Saturday’s Top Rank show being televised on free television, as it was back in the 1970s and 80s? If boxing is hoping for a rebirth, that’s a way to do it.
     *A year ago – no, make that six months ago – you couldn’t have found a handful of people who were overly impressed by Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Things have changed. His second-round demolition of Anthony Shuler Saturday was impressive, and that left to the body conjured up memories of his pop. He’s using his jab more, he’s setting up his combinations more, and he’s displaying more of the boxing skills he’ll need to stay afloat.
    Maybe Chavez Jr., who is fighting often and learning on the job, will be a force in the welterweight/junior middleweight divisions afterall.
     *Okay, Top Rank, here’s your criticism: From a Jorge Arce perspective, why, oh why, would you match the slugger with a bigger, talented, southpaw boxer like Cristian Mijares? Especially with a Vic Darchinyan bonanza waiting in the wings? Mijares made Arce look awful. 


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