By Cliff Rold
Saturday night, former Undisputed Welterweight champion Zab Judah (40-6, 27 KO) will attempt to capture the vacant IBF Jr. Welterweight title, squared off with 31-year old Kaizer Mabuza (23-6-3, 14 KO). Judah pulled off the feat once before, the IBF’s 140 lb. belt being the first major title he won as a professional.
It was February 12, 2000. The opponent was (Trivial Pursuit time) South Africa’s Jan Bergman. Bergman, despite being down twice in the first, provided a snapshot of the turbulence to come, dropping Judah in the second before being run over in round four.
The knockdown was mostly overlooked then. Judah was still a star of the future, a “Pernell Whitaker with power.”
Judah was still fresh. He hadn’t gone through the roller coaster ride yet. Those who watched his career, whether jeering or cheering, hadn’t gone along for the ride.
The low of the 2nd round Kostya Tszyu Jr. Welterweight unification loss in 2001…
The high of the rematch knockout of Cory Spinks in 2005 for the Welterweight crown…
A shocking upset loss for the crown to journeyman Carlos Baldomir…
Big events with Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto.
In regular human terms, Judah is still young of course. It is the boxing terms that matter here. In boxing, the Judah who enters the ring this weekend is anything but the fresh faced, hyper talent of over a decade ago.
Zab Judah is 33 years old.
After all the ups and downs, Judah has reached the point where he can be described as a seasoned, cagey even, veteran.
When the hell did that happen?
A professional since September 1996, Judah has been around almost fifteen years now.
It’s been that long.
That doesn’t include the years for those who knew his name before he entered the paid ranks. Talent gets its attentions. He’s been a steady figure, for better and worse, on the fistic landscape for all these years and it’s odd because it doesn’t feel long at all. Maybe it’s the narrative about varying levels of maturity and immaturity attached to Judah, fairly and unfairly, that make it hard to see Judah as aging, as closer to the end of his time as a relevant pro.
But, odds are, he is.
That doesn’t mean he’s done yet. Judah showed his evolution into a new role his last time out. In November 2011, matched with undefeated banger Lucas Matthysse, Judah boxed well early only to hit the deck in round ten. Steadying the ship, steadying himself, Judah boxed smart enough in the last two rounds to hang on for a split decision win.
It was his fourth win in a row since a technical decision loss for a Welterweight belt in 2008 versus Joshua Clottey. Against Mabuza this weekend, Judah faces a fighter better than his record. Mabuza has won eight straight, and laid the leather to former 140 lb. titlist Kendall Holt his last time out for a stoppage.
It’s a real fight. It’s also an odd moment of full circling. How often has a fighter won a belt, moved up to win the whole enchilada, and then come back right to where he started over ten years later?
Nothing comes to mind.
It goes without saying that makes it even less often that they come back down the scale to an even better division than what they began in. Judah-Tszyu was a fairly easy fight to build to on paper in the early 00’s because it was so obvious that they were the class of their Jr. Welterweight class.
It’s not the case today. Sure, Timothy Bradley and Amir Khan have begun to separate from the crowded and talented current pack at Jr. Welterweight, but the depth around them means no one gets a night off. Men like Marcos Maidana, Andriy Kotelnik, Devon Alexander provide a strong supporting cast.
If Judah can win this weekend, if he can grab the only belt of gate value not attached to Bradley (WBC/WBO) and Khan (WBA), his homecoming to Jr. Welterweight is complete and, in some sense, the picture of the division is completed as well. Overflowing with young, hungry talent (Kotelnik is the rare veteran), Jr. Welterweight has lacked for the big name veteran who can still go.
As was in evidence versus Matthysse, Judah still has hand speed, still has his legs. He’s always had pop. All those rounds with almost all of the names that mattered near his weight, win and lose, provide a wealth of experience the Bradley’s and Khan’s are still acquiring. They make him a viable opponent for those young men on their way to places Judah has been and beyond.
He’ll be the underdog should he get there. He probably doesn’t get by most of these young guns. We know he already clipped one. Regardless, there is a winking piece of storytelling in a former can’t miss blue chipper, Judah in particular, now positioning himself as the weathered spoiler.
If Judah is suddenly part of a ‘older generation,’ what does that make those who watched him through the parallel years of their lives?
But wait, there’s more…
Rios Rises at Lightweight: http://www.boxingscene.com/bam-bam-dont-throw-pebbles-review-ratings-update--36476
Divisional Ratings Update: http://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
The Reign of Keb Baas Continues: http://www.boxingscene.com/keb-baas-extends-unlikely-reign-stops-aguirre-nine--36427
Picks of the Week: http://www.boxingscene.com/boxingscenecoms-television-picks-week--36489
Cliff’s Notes… Nonito Donaire-Anselmo Moreno can’t really be as easy to make as it looks, can it? If so, how refreshing is it to see so much talent in one place just keep making fights. Gotta’ love Bantamweight…and Lightweight, Jr. Welterweight, and Super Middleweight, where the same thing is happening. Don’t ever buy the lie that the best don’t fight each other in boxing just because a couple prima donnas here and there can’t get it together…Roy Jones is talking about Denis Lebedev? The Cruiserweight Denis Lebedev? What kind of delusional garbage is this? If Jones wants to continue, that’s his business. The pox belongs on the house of any network that pays for this and any fan that buys a ticket…David Haye and Wladimir Klits…shhh, don’t jinx it.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]