By Jake Donovan
Tim Bradley has been served notice – either get your ass in the ring or concede the top spot to those making noise in the ring.
Amir Khan served notice in a big way to the boxing world on Saturday evening at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada with a fifth round knockout of two-division titlist Zab Judah.
Both fighters weighed in at the super lightweight limit of 140 lb for their alphabet unification match.
The opening round was an awkward chess match for both combatants. Khan was overshooting with his right hand, while Judah fell short with his right jab, rarely following up with his left, though both managed to land their money shot on separate occasions in the otherwise uneventful round. A clash of heads left Judah briefly buzzed, though more discouraged that the sequence went undisciplined by the referee.
It was as close as the fight came to being competitive, as Khan controlled whatever action took place in the majority of the subsequent rounds. A more subdued Judah was passive almost to a fault, not letting his hands go enough and coming up short whenever he did throw his shots. Khan caught wind of it and boxed at his leisure.
By the end of the third round, even Judah’s new trainer, former four-division world champion Pernell Whitaker pleaded with his charge to let his hands go, particularly his straight left.
Judah tried in vain to carry out the instructions of his teacher and one-time idol, but Khan refused to allow the transplanted Brooklynite to get untracked. Constant lateral movement and a peppering of his jab and right hand allowed Khan to remain in the lead and keep Judah stuck behind the eight ball.
After dominating the first four rounds, Khan turned up the heat in the fifth. His timing paid off in dividends, and insists it was the plan all along.
“I could’ve been more aggressive early on,” Khan revealed afterward when explaining the fight-ending sequence. “But I have a lot of respect for a world champion like Zab Judah and didn’t feel the need to take such a big risk until the right moment.”
That moment came in the form of a right hand late in the fifth round, which caused Judah to double over.
What happened next is apparently open to debate, although a number of replays confirmed that the right call was made by referee Vic Drakulich.
Judah was still recovering and bent over below Khan’s waist when the final punch of the fight would be thrown. The sales pitch offered by Judah led the crowd to believe that he was clipped with a low blow, but replays confirmed that Khan instead landed a beauty of a right hookercut that caught Judah on the beltline and continued upward into his solarplexus.
The shot was powerful enough to force Judah to his knees, though grabbing his crotch in an attempt to sell Drakulich on a foul occurring. The third man would have none of it, instead instructing Khan to a neutral corner before picking up the count from the timekeeper. He made it all the way to ten, with Judah still on the canvas squirming in pain, though moments later in disbelief that he was counted out of the fight.
The official time was 2:47 of the fifth round.
Khan continues to rack up wins against a steady stream of Top 10 competition since his arrival to the 140 lb division in 2009. The 2004 Olympic Silver medalist improves to 26-1 (18KO), racking up his eighth straight win since suffering the lone loss of his career nearly three years ago.
Judah’s fourth tour as a titlist is a short-lived one, losing his alphabet belt just four months after picking it up in a vacant title fight. The loss is his first in nearly three years as he falls to 41-7 (28KO).
The loss could prove to be his last hurrah as a legitimate force on the championship level, though he’s not quite yet convinced of that, or even that he deserved to be shown the exit in this bout.
“I thought he was giving me an eight count and then a chance to recover,” Judah claimed afterward. “When he counted to ten and said ‘Over’ I didn’t know how to react. But I’ve overreacted in the past, so this time I just let the fans decide what took place.”
The incidents to which he refers both took place in Las Vegas. A knockout loss to Kostya Tszyu in 2001 was immediately followed with a tirade from Judah, that including his shoving his fist under the chin of referee Jay Nady and also throwing a corner stool at the third man. His actions earned him a six month suspension and a hefty fine.
More time and money was lost due to his actions in a Vegas ring five years later, due to the role he played in an in-ring riot during his eventual points loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Now a born-again Christian, Judah leaves his faith in the Lord, but his boxing future is now left in the hands of the court of public opinion.
Meanwhile, Khan’s stock continues to skyrocket. The 24-year old racks up his fifth win over a legtitmate Top 10 super lightweight, dating back to his title win over Andriy Kotelnik in his divisional debut two years ago.
His to-hell-and-back points win over Marcos Maidana late last year proved his mettle, with 2011 supposed to have been the year where he backs up his claim of being the best 140 lb fighter in the world.
The date was originally reserved for the sole purpose of settling that argument, as Khan was slated to face de facto divisional leader Bradley.
However, those plans changed when the Californian instead decided that his contract with co-promoters Gary Shaw and Ken Thompson had expired and that he wanted to wait until he found a new promotional home before engaging in what will be by far the most lucrative fight of his career.
Khan instead agreed to take on Judah for the sake of keeping the date and staying active, though never quite buying into the reasons that it wasn’t Bradley standing in the opposite corner.
“I think he’s scared,” Khan believes. “If he’s the champion he says he is, he would have faced me a long time ago. Zab Judah is a better fighter than Tim Bradley in my eyes.”
Bradley is of course in a terrific position to have his say in that discussion.
But until he’s standing in the opposite corner of their own championship match, he’ll have to live with the growing belief that the assumed top spot is no longer his but now Amir Khan’s for the claiming.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to JakeNDaBox@gmail.com .