by David P. Greisman
Photo © Ed Mulholland/FightWireImages.com
Throughout Zab Judah’s career, any isolated negatives have almost always outweighed the impressive positives.
Judah was a highly touted junior welterweight prospect, compiling an undefeated record and earning a title belt that made him a perfect opponent for fellow beltholder Kostya Tszyu in a unification match that would decide which man was the true cream of the 140-pound crop.
Judah, with his speed and power, took round one. Tszyu, with a single right hand, took the fight.
Angered by what he felt was an early stoppage, Judah confronted referee Jay Nady, shoving his glove into Nady’s throat and, later, throwing a stool at the third man in the ring.
It was shocking. It was a sign of things to come.
Judah’s inconsistency was exasperating. In his February 2005 rematch against Cory Spinks, Judah took short money but was nonetheless motivated, knocking Spinks out to become the welterweight champion. But less than a year later, Judah arrived unprepared for a mandatory defense against Carlos Baldomir, unanimously losing his championship to an overwhelming underdog.
Despite the defeat, Judah proceeded to a pay-per-view showdown with Floyd Mayweather. And for four rounds, one could almost forget that Judah was coming off of a recent loss yet receiving a major payday. With speed, power and focus, Judah more than held his own with the boxer many regarded as, pound-for-pound, the best of the Sweet Science.
It didn’t last much longer.
Mayweather had correctly depicted Judah as a frontrunner, and “Pretty Boy Floyd” began to take over as the fight progressed. And then, in the infamous 10th round, Judah socked Mayweather with a blatant blow below the beltline and followed it up with a vicious rabbit punch. Those indiscretions, along with the ensuing in-ring melee, put Judah on the shelf for a year.
Blazing hands. Power that could change the course of a fight with a single shot. And potential that meant little as long as it belonged to someone as immature and inconsistent as Judah.
Somehow, Judah may have restored his reputation with a loss.
Against a wrecking ball named Miguel Cotto, Judah threw brilliant counters that temporarily stunned the undefeated welterweight titlist, endured two flagrant but apparently unintentional low punches that would’ve left many permanently singing soprano, and weathered a nonstop onslaught with uncharacteristic heart. Judah lost for the fifth time in his career, but if he can recover from the mental and physical damage, he will find that the boxing world just might have forgiven his sins in favor of the sacrifices he made.
Judah triumphed in defeat, and in the week following his bout with Cotto, the win-loss dichotomy was turned on its head in several other fights.
On the opening bout of Versus’ Fight Night, Almazbek “Kid Diamond” Raiymkulov waged an entertaining war against the solid Miguel Huerta. And though Huerta was clearly intended to play the fall guy for Raiymkulov, he refused to give in to the Kyrgyzstan native. The outcome seemed obvious – an upset victory for Huerta and Raiymkulov’s second loss. But judges Don Ackerman and Frank Adams marred what was otherwise a wonderful fight, their 114-113 tallies giving Raiymkulov an unpopular split decision win. While questions remain about the flaws in this Diamond, Huerta’s ring value has risen.
In the main event, Hasim Rahman returned from his last-round knockout loss to Oleg Maskaev with a bout against Taurus Sykes, a sacrificial lamb who had been kayoed by Samuel Peter and Derek Bryant. Rahman, however, didn’t make his comeback any easier by weighing in at a career-high 261 pounds. He looked terrible going a dreadful distance with Sykes, taking a unanimous decision that may have done him more harm than good.
Two days later, super middleweight prospects Andre Dirrell and Curtis Stevens collided on the televised undercard of HBO’s Boxing After Dark. Any expectations of fireworks quickly fizzled out, however, for the taller, faster Dirrell mostly scurried around the ring while mounting a frustratingly infrequent offense against the shorter, plodding Stevens.
Some could argue that, by making the bout devoid of action, Dirrell was wisely avoiding Stevens’ well-documented punching power. But Dirrell was under the spotlight, and this was his chance to shine on one of the largest stages the sport has to offer today. Yes, Dirrell limited Stevens to just 43 landed punches over 10 rounds, 34 of which were power punches, according to CompuBox figures. But Dirrell himself landed merely 98 total punches out of 399 thrown, 62 out of 179 with power shots.
Boxing is not the NBA, where the San Antonio Spurs can get away with a relatively boring style of play because the championship is the only thing that matters. In this individual sport, one must worry about marketability, about how one wins. What should’ve been Dirrell’s big night ended up with a careful combatant shooting down his own stardom.
In the main event, the feather-fisted Paulie Malignaggi did with Lovemore N’dou what fellow pillow-punching pugilist Cory Spinks failed to accomplish against Jermain Taylor. Despite his power deficiency, Malignaggi dethroned a sitting titlist in entertaining fashion, making N’dou miss but also peppering his junior welterweight opponent with 352 needling jabs and crisp crosses.
Malignaggi, like Zab Judah, lost to Cotto on the eve of New York City’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade, taking a severe beating in the process. But the Cotto fight had been a tremendous step up in competition for Malignaggi, and that decision loss curried enough favor with the powers that be that the brash Brooklynite has twice appeared on HBO since then.
The income that an HBO date brings may just have been the deciding factor that convinced N’dou to defend his belt against Malignaggi. For N’dou, a journeyman and longtime contender, the payday should lessen the pain of losing his first title defense.
Judah left the Cotto bout bruised and blooded but not necessarily broken. When losers can win and winners can lose, this is one time in his career that the negatives are positive.
The 10 Count
1. James Toney tested positive for two different steroids following his split decision victory last month over journeyman Danny Batchelder, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Toney, who captured a championship at middleweight and titles at super middleweight and cruiserweight, was caught with boldenone and stanazolol in his system. Toney tested positive for the steroid nandrolone two years ago, changing his decision over then-World Boxing Association heavyweight titlist John Ruiz to a no contest.
Toney faces a one-year suspension and a maximum fine of $2,500, pending an appeal to the California State Athletic Commission.
2. In a situation reminiscent of 2000’s Roy Jones Jr.-Richard Hall bout, after which both fighters were caught with banned substances in their systems, the aforementioned Batchelder also tested positive for two different steroids, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Batchelder, who tested positive for stanazolol and oxandolone, could also be suspended for a year and fined up to $2,500.
3. Between Toney, Batchelder and mixed martial artist Royce Gracie, it’s either a good thing or a bad thing that Major League Baseball games aren’t conducted under the auspices of the California State Athletic Commission.
4. Former heavyweight beltholder Oliver McCall will get one more shot at the title he first won nearly 13 years ago with a second-round stoppage of Lennox Lewis.
McCall only had one successful defense of the World Boxing Council belt, outpointing a 45-year-old Larry Holmes and then dropping a unanimous decision to Frank Bruno. He later met Lewis for the vacant title, a rematch that infamously saw McCall lose via technical knockout while suffering an emotional breakdown.
McCall, now 42, triumphed Saturday over Sinan Samil Sam and earned a mandatory challenge against whatever fighter emerges from the Oleg Maskaev/Samuel Peter/Vitali Klitschko jumble – and that’s assuming that situation ever actually clears up.
5. Toxicology test results showed that Diego Corrales had a blood-alcohol content of 0.25 percent – more than three times Nevada’s legal limit of 0.08 percent – when he died last month after crashing his motorcycle in southwest Las Vegas, according to the Associated Press.
Corrales, who had previously been arrested multiple times for drunk driving, was riding without a valid license and was apparently speeding when he crashed.
“Bottom line, no one else did anything wrong,” Vegas police Sgt. Tracy McDonald told the AP. “He basically killed himself.”
6. Boxers Behaving Badly Update, part one: Hector Camacho Sr. was sentenced last week to seven years in prison with all but one year suspended for a November 2004 incident in which the former three-division titlist broke into a Mississippi computer store, according to the Associated Press.
According to Camacho’s attorney, the flamboyant fighter was attempting to retrieve a laptop that he had recently purchased from the store and had left there to be fixed. But the store’s owners said that Camacho fell through the ceiling, relieved himself inside and then stole several computers and thousands of dollars in checks and cash.
Camacho’s sentence initially permitted him to serve his time under house arrest in his native Puerto Rico, but that scenario is no longer viable and the fighter, as of press time, is in jail awaiting his fate.
Camacho, who was also sentenced to two years of probation, has another upcoming trial for alleged possession of the drug Ecstasy.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly Update, part two: Kevin Rooney, a former fighter who received far more recognition as one of the men who helped build Mike Tyson into a heavyweight champion, was sentenced June 12 to five years of probation and fined $2,295, according to New York’s Kingston Daily Freeman.
Rooney had pleaded guilty last month to driving drunk, a felony charge due to his having been previously convicted of drunken driving within 10 years of his April 2006 arrest.
8. Lineal light heavyweight champion Zsolt Erdei successfully defended his belt for the eighth time on Saturday, stopping 15th-ranked George Blades in the penultimate stanza.
Erdei won the championship in January 2004 with a unanimous decision over Julio Cesar Gonzalez, but since then he has faced the not-quite-Murderers’ Row of Hugo Hernan Garay (twice), Alejandro Lakatus, Mehdi Sahnoune, Paul Murdoch, Thomas Ulrich, Danny Santiago and Blades.
But whereas one line ran from Dariusz Michalczewski through Gonzalez to Erdei, the general consensus is that the distinction of top 175-pounder has traveled from Roy Jones Jr. to Antonio Tarver to Glencoffe Johnson, back to Tarver and ultimately to Bernard Hopkins.
All of which begs the question: Which lineal champion will be the first to defend, for once, against a real test – Erdei or flyweight king Pongsaklek Wonjongkam?
9. Brazilian boxing Web site Ringue.net is reporting, by way of Fightnews.com, that former 130- and 135-pound titlist Acelino Freitas announced his retirement last week on a domestic television station.
The report has not yet been confirmed, but, more importantly, there has not yet been any word on whether Freitas’ cornermen subsequently lifted the fighter up and carried him triumphantly around the studio.
10. Not that I’ll pay to see it, but I’m picking Ray Mercer over Kimbo Slice for this Saturday.
David P. Greisman’s weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. He may be reached for questions and comments at email@example.com