By Lyle Fitzsimmons, photo by Chris Farina/Top Rank
Go ahead, raise your hands.
Anyone who would have guessed – at the close of the eight-week stretch between Aug. 2 and Sept. 27, 2008 – that either Zab Judah and Ricardo Mayorga would still be the stuff of main-event conversation come the onset of spring in 2011.
Nope… me neither.
Back then, by the end of a punishing IBF welterweight scrap with sturdy Ghanian export Joshua Clottey, it appeared the chatty Brooklynite was to be forever labeled a high-potential loudmouth who consistently managed to just miss the output for which his vast potential seemed destined.
The Palms Casino rant that followed a cut-induced technical decision that night reeked of the same immaturity he’d previously shown while accosting referee Jay Nady, ignoring underdog Carlos Baldomir and initiating a near-riot against fellow trouble-maker Floyd Mayweather Jr.
And after a fourth straight title flop in 31 months, I’d have bet a year’s mortgage he was finished.
“Regardless of what they might tell Zab when he returns to Brooklyn,” I wrote in my post-fight that night, “a recent career resume that includes wins over Edwin Vazquez and Ryan Davis sandwiched amid losses to Carlos Baldomir, Mayweather, Cotto and Clottey is most indicative of where the 2008 vintage Judah truly stacks up.”
Little did I know, 31 months past that nadir, the 33-year-old New Yorker would be “Super” again.
"He's bigger than me, but the Lord delivered me," Judah said Saturday night in Newark, N.J., after stopping Kaizer Mabuza in the seventh round to win the vacant IBF title at 140 pounds – a division he helped Kostya Tszyu rule before rising full time to welterweight seven years ago.
"He got me with the right people and brought me back."
Now backed by trainer Pernell Whitaker, a pretty fair fighter himself a generation ago, Judah is again a marquee champion and a marketable name in the sport’s most attractive division, with no shortage of prospective partners – Alexander, Khan, Bradley, Pacquiao perhaps – to fill an unlikely dance card.
And this time, his promoter insists, he’s grown up enough to reap the rewards.
"Look, he's in the hottest division in boxing, and I think he just made a statement with that fight," said Main Events czar Kathy Duva. "He's obviously dedicated himself in a way to changing his life, and I think he's going to take all these young guys to school.”
Meanwhile, as Judah’s developed a character … Mayorga’s maintained a persona.
Now 37, the Nicaraguan was reduced to throat-slashing windbag by Oscar De La Hoya in 2006, tumbling in six rounds to lose both his WBC super welterweight belt and any contact with the relevance he’d held onto amid previous title losses to Cory Spinks (MD 12, 2003) and Felix Trinidad (TKO 8, 2004).
Another textbook left hook – this time from Shane Mosley in a non-title event – ended another tired “he’ll be my woman” media tour and figured to extinguish whatever fleeting embers promotional life raft Don King had miraculously managed to keep lit in the intervening two years.
“Ever since the Nicaraguan toppled Mosley conqueror Vernon Forrest for dual welterweight crowns in 2003,” my 2008 column read, “the images of him puffing on cigarettes, drawing his thumb across his throat and issuing menacing threats have been far more persistent than subsequent successes he's had in the ring. Which begs the question, why does anyone bother with this guy anymore?”
But somehow, though I asked it exactly 892 days ago, the same question still applies today – less than a week before Mayorga resurfaces with yet another title shot, set for this Saturday night on Showtime against WBA 154-pound kingpin Miguel Cotto.
In a surprise to no one, King comes ready with an answer.
“My fighter Ricardo Mayorga is a crazy man, he’s absolutely insane,” he said. “But when he steps in the ring, Miguel Cotto will be saying his Hail Marys. Someone has to be sacrificed on Saturday night and it has to be Cotto and I feel so bad about this. But Miguel is young and he will come back. He’s a great Puerto Rican and a great combatant and a great fighter.
“But on March the 12th, beware the Ides of March.”
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF lightweight title – Las Vegas, Nev.
Miguel Vazquez (champion) vs. Leonardo Zappavigna (No. 1 contender)
Vazquez (27-3, 12 KO): Second title defense; Fifth fight in the United States (3-1, 1 KO)
Zappavigna (25-0, 17 KO): Second title fight; Won IBO title in 2010, never defended
Fitzbitz says: “Sturdy Vazquez should withstand young slugger’s onslaught.” Vazquez by decision
WBA super welterweight title – Las Vegas, Nev.
Miguel Cotto (champion) vs. Ricardo Mayorga (No. 6 contender)
Cotto (35-2, 28 KO): First title defense; Former champion at 140 (WBO) and 147 (WBA/WBO) pounds
Mayorga (29-7-1, 23 KO): Eighth title fight (4-2, 1 NC, 2 KO); Held WBC title at 154 (2005-06)
Fitzbitz says: “Reckless foe made to order for technically-sound champion.” Cotto in 7
WBO junior lightweight title – Glasgow, Scotland
Ricky Burns (champion) vs. Joseph Laryea (No. 11 contender)
Burns (30-2, 7 KO): Second title defense; Unbeaten since 2007 (15-0, 4 KO)
Laryea (14-4, 11 KO): First title fight; Second fight outside Ghana (1-0, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Hometown champion has enough to outpoint visiting challenger.” Burns by decision
Vacant IBO middleweight title – Tbilisi, Georgia
Avtandil Khurtsidze (No. 27 contender) vs. Mariusz Cendrowski (No. 50 contender)
Khurtsidze (22-2-2, 13 KO): First title fight; Loss in last fight ended five-year win streak
Cendrowski (21-2-2, 8 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten since 2009 (4-0-1, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Better opposition gives Khurtsidze upper hand for vacant belt.” Khurtsidze by decision
Last week’s picks: 2-0
Overall picks record: 182-59 (75.5 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 .