By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Score one for resurrections.
Two of the week’s three world championship fights involve fighters – one a top-5 challenger and one a unifying belt-holder – whose careers looked something less than title-worthy just a few years ago.
On Wednesday in Sydney, Australia, 42-year-old Antonio Tarver aims for laurels in a second weight class when he faces incumbent and hometown favorite Danny Green for an increasingly relevant IBO cruiserweight strap.
Three days later in Las Vegas, ex-welterweight champion Zab Judah continues a shrunken reinvention at 140 pounds with a 12-round IBF/WBA merger against fellow claimant Amir Khan.
And whomever claims to have seen it coming, please stand up.
Lest we forget, Tarver appeared dead in the light heavyweight water after one-sided losses to Bernard Hopkins, Chad Dawson and Dawson again in three progressively less-interesting spotlight bouts from 2006 to 2009.
He chose gluttony while putting on 46 pounds for a foray among the heavyweights in 2010, but quickly and wisely realized – with just an uninspiring 10-round defeat of Nagy Aguilera under a stretched belt – that bigger wasn’t better when it came to making “Magic.”
Conveniently enough a mid-range pit stop awaits at cruiserweight, where Green, himself a former 175-pound incumbent, has dined on a menu of ex-light heavies playing out the string or seeking an easy title belt – or both – since winning the IBO jewelry in 2008.
Tarver says he’s different. Green disagrees.
The Aussie copped the vacant crown against Julio Cesar Dominguez in Biloxi, Miss., but has subsequently whooped it up for the locals while handling embarrassed veterans Roy Jones Jr., Manny Siaca and Paul Briggs in a combined 10 minutes, 26 seconds of in-ring time.
He went the distance in his most recent go-round, upping his street cred with a wide 12-round verdict over previously unbeaten and capable 31-year-old B.J. Flores last November.
“We are well aware of what we are up against in this fight. Other than that when the bell rings the respect is gone,” Green said. “He’s piece of meat that’s in front of me that I have to break down and chop up, the same thing he’s going to try against me. I’ll prove my will is greater.
“Antonio Tarver is the kind of guy who can be broken. I can break him. I’ve seen him beaten. He’s fought very good fighters, yes, but he’s been beaten. He has that attitude. I don’t like to be beaten. I’ve come back, but Tarver has proven he can be a beaten man.”
As for Judah, he’s been similarly beaten… but his comeback is even more stirring.
The 33-year-old Brooklynite had a pair of glittering title runs at 140 a decade ago, before climbing the ladder – and a few tax brackets – with a TKO defeat of Cory Spinks for three-pronged acclaim at welterweight in 2005.
All seemed possible as he prepped for a defense against Carlos Baldomir back home in New York, but the empire crumbled listlessly with a 12-round defeat to the Argentine and an anticlimactic melee-marred blowout by Floyd Mayweather Jr. three months later.
Stoppage losses to Miguel Cotto and Joshua Clottey followed over his next four fights, ultimately leaving a no-longer-fearsome Judah to feast on the likes of Ernest Johnson and Ubaldo Hernandez as his stock at 147 plummeted precipitously.
And then, it happened.
Perhaps realizing junior welterweight was more than a cellulite-laden memory, the ex-champ boiled off a few pounds, ratcheted up his resolve and got back on the map with defeats of Jose Santa Cruz and Lucas Matthysse four months apart in 2010.
The rally yielded a title shot in March, which the veteran turned golden once again when he stopped Kaizer Mabuza in seven rounds for the IBF belt in Newark, N.J. – a full 11 years and 21 days after he’d first cockily thrown the belt over his shoulder.
And while the face has a few wrinkles, the confidence remains.
“A lot of things have changed over the years. I’m pretty pleased to see that Amir and (trainer) Freddie (Roach) watch my old tapes to learn about the old Zab Judah,” he said. “The new Judah is a monster who is 150 percent prepared for Khan. We’re prepared for July 23. We’re definitely going to take him to school.
“After Saturday night he’ll realize that Golden Boy and Freddie Roach set him up as a pawn. He’s a great fighter just a bit premature. Years down the line he’ll have the opportunity to tell other fighters what he learned on July 23. I have a different mentality now. I’m more focused on my career now and my family and the morals of life.
“I’m at a great place in life right now and I’m fully prepared for the situation.”
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBO cruiserweight title – Sydney, Australia
Danny Green (champion) vs. Antonio Tarver (No. 5 contender)
Green (31-3, 27 KO): Fifth title defense; Unbeaten above 168 pounds (19-0, 15 KO)
Tarver (28-6, 19 KO): Thirteenth title fight (7-5, 2 KO); Unbeaten at cruiserweight (13-0, 11 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Champion too good and strong for puffed up cruiser wannabe.” Green in 9
IBF junior welterweight title/WBA super lightweight title – Las Vegas, Nev.
Zab Judah (IBF champion) vs. Amir Khan (WBA champion)
Judah (41-6, 28 KO): First title defense; One loss at junior welterweight (17-1, 12 KO)
Khan (25-1, 17 KO): Fifth title defense; Third fight outside United Kingdom (2-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Talented young man beats reinvented older man to unify.” Khan by decision
WBO featherweight title – Ciudad Obregon, Mexico
Orlando Salido (champion) vs. Kenichi Yamaguchi (No. 12 contender)
Salido (35-11-2, 23 KO): First title defense; Unbeaten in Mexico since 2000 (11-0, 9 KO)
Yamaguchi (17-1-2, 4 KO): First title fight; Fourth fight outside Japan (2-0, 0 KO, 1 NC)
Fitzbitz says: “Home turf should suffice in busy bout for Lopez conqueror.” Salido by decision
Last week’s picks: 4-0
Overall picks record: 228-75 (75.2 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz .