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Fighting Words: Khan-Judah - Forerunner, The Upgrade

by David P. Greisman, photo by Chris Cozzone

A perfect record doesn’t indicate a perfect fighter.

Nobody begins with flawless form, peerless ability, superlative skills. Rare are the truly transcendent, those who come closest to perfection. The rest peak somewhere below, then work to prolong the ephemeral, prevent the inevitable.

Amir Khan and Zab Judah were not perfect models. Their records designated as much. Judah had suffered as many losses as the number of world titles he’d earned (six). Khan had been defeated just once, but the doubters brought out after that 54-second demolition hadn’t disappeared, even three years and seven straight wins later.

But those losses weren’t the clichéd beginnings of their ends. Each had rebuilt, retooled and revitalized his career.

Judah had been a titleholder who’d fallen one highlight-reel knockout loss short of being the best at 140 pounds. Then he’d been the undisputed champion one division above, at welterweight, but not for long, losing in an upset against Carlos Baldomir. That was followed by losses against Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Miguel Cotto.

He was slipping away from viability, but he still had his marketability. His name and his past accomplishments allowed him another chance, a fight for a vacant belt against Joshua Clottey. Judah would lose once again, though, and take stock of his career. Though he’d been the champion at 147, welterweights were too big for him. He began one more run at 140, barely beating Lucas Matthysse, then coming back to beat Kaizer Mabuza for a title.

Khan, within those three years and seven wins, had captured a world title at junior welterweight and then defended it three times. He’d shown himself to be faster and sharper than the skilled boxer Paulie Malignaggi, and he’d survived and out-pointed the crude but effectively heavy-handed Marcos Maidana.

He’d proven himself to be one of the two best in his division. He’d displayed impressive skills and ability, shown the potential to be, someday, among the best in the sport.

The other top fighter at junior welterweight was Timothy Bradley. It seemed certain that Khan and Bradley would fight for supremacy this summer, but the negotiations fell through. Bradley wasn’t interested. Judah still had his name and his accomplishments. He had a belt. And he had the potential, some thought, to give Khan a good fight.

Khan and Judah were not perfect models. But Khan, after his one loss and three years, had gotten even better than he was before. Some fighters rely on their power to take out their foes. Some look to box to avoid punishment. Khan was boxing aggressively in a way that could overwhelm his opponents with speed and volume. His offense could keep them on defense, lightning-quick flurries that sent them hunkering down to keep from being struck.

Judah had matured, finding discipline and religion and growing into the responsibilities that come both with fatherhood and with being a veteran athlete. He’d turned to controversial fitness guru Victor Conte and looked to be in excellent shape. He’d brought on Hall of Fame boxer Pernell Whitaker to work as his trainer, emphasizing defense but still allowing for Judah’s vaunted fast, damaging counter left hands.

Yet Judah, with six losses over a 15-year career, could no longer run as well as when he was younger and fresher. It was he who was working to prolong the ephemeral, to prevent the inevitable.

He was the forerunner, once a quick, skilled 140-pound fighter who had the physical tools but not the mentality to keep it all together. Now he had more of the mindset and less of the skill-set, and he was in the ring with the upgrade, Amir Khan, a boxer who has both.

Khan, at 5-foot-10, was three inches taller than Judah and had arms two-and-a-half inches longer than Judah’s. Those advantages worked well with his speed and his strategy, as he jabbed from a distance, then jumped back when the shorter Judah attempted to get near with jabs of his own.

Judah, with his emphasis on defense and counter punching, would not be able to close the gap, especially with so much of his energy being dedicated to avoiding Khan’s attacks. While Khan would lead with lengthy jabs or looping left hooks from afar, he would also move forward with right hands, bringing himself within range were Judah to respond with a left cross or uppercut.

Judah, however, was either too aware of what was coming from Khan, or too unaware of how much Khan would be punching. The counters from Judah were few; rather, he often ducked down or moved away while Khan flurried.

Khan didn’t need to be accurate. He merely needed to be active.

Khan threw 111 punches in the first two rounds, landing 24, those landed punches split evenly between jabs and power shots. Judah threw just 46 punches over those first six minutes. Thirty-eight of those were jabs. Just two landed. Only eight of those were power punches, four of which landed.

The fight remained a high-speed, high-intensity chess match, one player on the attack and always several moves ahead, the other player looking to withstand the onslaught, looking for an opening to respond.

Judah never got the chance. Through four rounds, Khan was throwing an average of 56 punches per round, landing 12, while Judah was throwing an average of 23, landing four. In total, Judah had landed seven jabs and nine power punches in four rounds. Khan had landed 26 jabs and 23 power shots.

Khan began to anticipate Judah’s movements, aiming his right hands for where Judah was moving. With about 30 seconds to go in the fifth round, Khan landed a straight right hand. Judah ducked down, as he’d done before, to evade the follow-up shots. This time, Khan held Judah’s head down with his left forearm and dug a right hand downstairs.

The punch hit Judah on the beltline, and he dropped to his knees. That’s where Judah stayed while the referee, Vic Drakulich, counted to 10. Judah complained afterward that the punch was low. But Drakulich had ruled it a knockdown, and Judah either didn’t or couldn’t recognize that.

The ending was anticlimactic, but the final result wasn’t surprising. Judah wasn’t broken down the way he was by Floyd Mayweather Jr. He wasn’t punished the way he was by Miguel Cotto. He was merely outclassed.

Nobody begins with flawless form, peerless ability, superlative skills. Rare are the truly transcendent, those who come closest to perfection. Nearly all eventually step in the ring with an opponent who is faster or stronger or just plain better.

The end of Zab Judah’s career is inevitable, nearer now than ever before. He is the old model that can no longer summon as much out of his aging chassis. Amir Khan is the upgrade, the new model running everyone else off the roads with speed and power.

Khan’s showing signs of transcendence. There might still be others along the way who could stop his progress.

The 10 Count

1.  Your newest entry into the awkward post-fight interview quote transitions Hall of Fame comes courtesy of Zab Judah, who was speaking to HBO’s Max Kellerman while watching a replay of the beltline shot that sent him down for the count (a punch he contested as being a low blow).

“Self explanatory, baby. Self explanatory. In the balls. Excuse me. First of all, I’d like to thank my lord and savior, Jesus Christ, for allowing me to come out of here safe and just allowing me, you know what I’m saying, to be on this stage again.”

2.  Good for ESPN for finding five time slots last week to replay the July 15 war between Delvin Rodriguez and Pawel Wolak, showing their battle twice on ESPN Classic, twice on ESPN Deportes, and once on ESPN2, including in the hour just before the July 22 episode of “Friday Night Fights.”

They brought Rodriguez in studio and interviewed Wolak over the phone, giving further face time to fighters who don’t normally get the attention of the more acclaimed guys who headline HBO and Showtime.

Beyond that, it served as an advertisement that could potentially capture casual viewers and convince them that this is the kind of action that they’re missing if they don’t normally watch “Friday Night Fights.”

Alas, last week’s “Friday Night Fights” was rather devoid of anything resembling that kind of action.

3.  I’ve never understood why networks cater only to their regular boxing viewers and don’t do much extra to try to grow their audiences.

Why not have a few commercials for “Friday Night Fights” run on the ESPN family of networks during the week?

Why doesn’t Time Warner expand its potential viewership for HBO fights by reaching to those watching its many other networks?

What about CBS and its outlets having an occasional quick ad for a Showtime event?

This shouldn’t just be done under exceptional circumstances, like when CBS had commercials for the Manny Pacquiao vs. Shane Mosley pay-per-view (distributed by Showtime). It’s just as important to grow the size of your regular audience, because the number of people currently watching continues to be less and less than in years past.

4.  Timothy Bradley could’ve been in there with Amir Khan. He could’ve fought for the lineal 140-pound championship and gotten the HBO spotlight and a major payday and the chance to be THE guy at junior welterweight.

Instead, he turned all of that down and has been sued by his promoters, Gary Shaw Productions and Thompson Boxing, for allegedly breaching his contract.

I wonder how much Bradley thought about that over this weekend. Had it been any other weekend, I think it might have been unavoidable. But his wife was expected to give birth to their daughter this past weekend, according to Lem Satterfield of RingTV.com.

I don’t know that his wife’s pregnancy played any role in Bradley deciding to turn down a fight everyone expected him to take – it was never mentioned in the immediate fallout.

Not facing Khan this past weekend still seems like a harmful move for Timothy Bradley the fighter. But for Timothy Bradley the person? I imagine Amir Khan and the pending lawsuit seems like the least important things right now.

5.  Nonito Donaire, meanwhile, is telling reporters that he’ll be returning to the ring late this fall after a 2011 in which he tried to leave Top Rank for Golden Boy (except Top Rank still had him under contract).

This should have been Donaire’s breakout year. He should’ve built on the massive buzz that came from his stellar second-round stoppage of Fernando Montiel in February.

Now he’ll be fortunate if he can pick up from where he left off – though there’ll now be plenty of people watching to see if he can do just that. He should’ve been back in the ring sooner, but he wasn’t out of sight (and out of mind) for too long.

6.  A new iPhone app called “Boxing Scorecard” allows you to score a fight – since, you know, using pen and paper is so outdated.

I’m less concerned about that than I am with the scorecard shown on the app’s preview page: 115-106 for Erislandy Lara over Paul Williams.

Bizarre score. But then again, at least they’ve got the right fighter winning…

7.  Butterbean is starring in a new reality show following his work as a reserve deputy sheriff.

What, you expected him to go on “Dancing With the Stars”?

Nope. Instead, Eric Esch can be seen on some channel called Investigation Discovery on the Aug. 9 premiere of “Big Law: Deputy Butterbean.”

The show spotlights his time in Jasper, Ala., with the Walker County Sheriff’s Office. I think it’d be cooler to see him as a kind of “Dog the Bounty Hunter” chasing down fugitive Boxers Behaving Badly.

8.  Boxers Behaving Badly update: Former heavyweight titleholder Herbie Hide has been declared not guilty of raping a woman, with British prosecutors deciding they didn’t have enough evidence to go forward with a trial, according to the Norwich Evening News.

Hide, 39, is 49-4 with 43 knockouts. He held a world title twice during the ‘90s and had continued to box at or around cruiserweight over the past several years. His last bout was in April 2010.

9.  Boxers Behaving Badly: We don’t normally spotlight legal troubles involving amateur club fighters, but this one’s worth it… (and thanks to Hans Olson for sending this story my way):

This story involves a 36-year-old dude named Brock Aleksich, who was fighting a guy named Bobby Moreno last week in Moreno’s hometown of Butte, Mont.

Aleksich got in trouble for making obscene gestures to those watching. We’ll let the Billings Gazette take over from here:

“[M]any in the audience started chanting Moreno’s name in the first round. During a break in the fight, Aleksich removed his gloves and made the obscene hand gesture to the crowd, according to the police report.

“In the break before the second round, officers on scene came to Aleksich's corner and warned him not to do that again or he would be arrested. Officers were concerned that his actions could cause the crowd to become rowdy and create a disturbance, according to the report.

“Police allege Aleksich made an obscene gesture to the crowd again during a break in the fighting in the second round.

“Before the start of the third round, Aleksich was informed he was being arrested and was escorted out of the ring by boxing staff. Aleksich was arrested without incident by awaiting officers outside the ring. He was released on bond from jail early Friday morning.

“Moreno, who appeared to be winning the fight, was awarded a TKO.”

10.  Three things:

- A technical knockout? Why doesn’t the result go down as a disqualification?

- A handcuffed Aleksich should have turned to Moreno and said “I could beat you with my hands tied behind my back.”

- And there’s your lesson in morals and the law. You can hit another guy until he stops moving, but don’t go making any more obscene gestures now…

David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.

Follow David on Twitter at twitter.com/fightingwords2 or on Facebook at facebook.com/fightingwordsboxing, or send questions and comments to [email protected]

User Comments and Feedback (Register For Free To Comment) Comment by Mr. David on 07-31-2011

Hi, Maury, I've delved several times into my concerns over Conte still being involved with boxers today. His past makes him continued involvement in athletics a controversial situation. Networks such as CBS have their own commercial blocks, which is why…

Comment by mauryj on 07-25-2011

1)Victor Conte is not a controversial figure---HE'S A CONVICTED FELON AND BALCO founder. 2)CBS never cross-promotes/ABC for ESPN either...as 95% of stations are locally owned, not owned by the networks//go look at an ESPN contract and see how much chump…

Comment by fceeviper on 07-25-2011

I'm glad Zab had his arse handed to him on Sat. I don't agree that it was a low blow; right on the bellybutton. I believe Zab saw an excuse and saw the writing on the wall and gave up.…

Comment by edgarg on 07-25-2011

[QUOTE=BIGPOPPAPUMP;10893871]by David P. Greisman - A perfect record doesn’t indicate a perfect fighter. Nobody begins with flawless form, peerless ability, superlative skills. Rare are the truly transcendent, those who come closest to perfection. The rest peak somewhere below, then work…

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