by Cliff Rold
It should have been easier to see coming.
Just a few months shy of the anniversary of the 2001 moment he is still so identified by, Zab Judah stepped in with an IBF belt and a strong headwind for a unification bout with Kostya Tzsyu. Did that say bout? Maybe the right word was supposed to be coronation, so strongly was Judah favored in some corners of the boxing establishment.
Tszyu’s second round knockout win remains a memorable moment in contemporary fistic lore. It was the beginning of a turbulent career that saw Judah post a big win over Cory Spinks for the Welterweight crown and losses to just about everyone else who mattered (including Spinks the first time around).
With Amir Khan, it really was easy to see it coming.
His early career moments of vulnerability seemed to build to the crescendo that was his 2008 first round shelling at the hands of Breidis Prescott. For the 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist from Britain, it’s what has come since that is striking. Dominant wins over legitimate top ten Jr. Welterweights like Paulie Malignaggi, Andriy Kotelnik, and Marcos Maidana have shown growth, Maidana in particular providing an epic gut check.
What he hasn’t faced yet is a skilled veteran who retains both speed and one-punch knockout power.
One thing is certain: both these two see each other coming
Let’s go to the report card.
Current/Previous Title: WBA Jr. Welterweight (2009-Present, 4 Defenses)
Weight: 140 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 139.55 lbs.
Hails from: Bolton, Lancashire, United Kingdom
Record: 25-1, 17 KO , 1 KOBY
BoxingScene Rank: #2 at Jr. Welterweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 5-0, 2 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 4 (Gairy St. Clair, Marco Antonio Barrera, Andriy Kotelnik, Paulie Malignaggi)
Current Title: IBF Jr. Welterweight (2011-Present, 1st Defense)
Previous Titles: Lineal/Ring Magazine/WBC/WBA/IBF Welterweight (2005-06, 1 Defense); WBO Jr. Welterweight (2003-04, 1 Defense); IBF Jr. Welterweight (2000-01, 5 Defenses)
Height: 5’7 ½
Weight: 140 lbs.
Average Weight - Five Most Recent Fights: 141.5 lbs.
Hails from: Brooklyn, New York
Record: 41-6, 28 KO, 2 KOBY
BoxingScene Rank: #6 at Jr. Welterweight
Record in Title Fights: 11-6, 9 KO, 2 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 5 (Junior Witter, Terron Millett, DeMarcus Corley, Rafael Pineda, Cory Spinks)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 6 (Kostya Tszyu, Cory Spinks, Carlos Baldomir, Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Khan A; Judah A-
Pre-Fight: Power – Khan B+; Judah A
Pre-Fight: Defense – Khan B; Judah B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Khan B+; Judah B-
Zab Judah is clearly not quite as quick as he was but he’s still quicker than almost everyone else. At 33, and with a style that has shown more discipline and focus in a current five fight winning streak, Judah is in a fight where being fast enough to land is what matters.
He is. The opposite is true as well and Khan will be both faster and taller. That doesn’t mean both aren’t equally vulnerable. Aside from the three stoppage losses between them, both Khan and Judah have been dropped and rocked enough times to know this fight could have its share of spills. Judah will need his because youth and activity are likely to be an easier path to winning rounds if the fight goes deep.
Defensively, both can be hit and will hit each other this weekend. If Judah lets Khan come forward and tries to play counterpuncher, his defense will probably be more impressive. As evidenced in his dropping Marcos Maidana with a body shot last year, Amir Khan can hurt to the ribs. With the great Pernell Whitaker in his corner, Judah will need to have boned up on making sure he has all his bases covered.
If it comes down to chins, Judah’s is actually the better of the two. Judah has been down more than a few times but only seriously hurt a few. Khan gets tagged, and he feels it.
If it comes down to sheer will, Khan probably has the edge. While less experienced than Judah, he has thus far worn more the look of a winner. Judah, fairly, earned a reputation in his career as someone who was more likely to falter under the biggest pressure. The verdict is still at least part out on Khan but he’s been seen enduring a war and winning in a way Judah has yet to do.
There’s always Saturday to correct that.
Khan showed an awful lot of heart in surviving Maidana last year. His vulnerable chin turned out to be more enduring than most thought…
…but it turned out that way against a slow handed fighter whose shots he saw coming. In boxing, or so the old adage goes, it’s the one a fighter doesn’t see that makes the difference. Judah, from the southpaw stance, is still capable of delivering that sort of shot and remains a lethal finisher. Khan will struggle to time Judah early and get too aggressive, leaving room for Judah to catch him with a lead right hook or snaking left. The veteran is due a big win before he’s done. Khan will serve it up as a stoppage victim inside eight rounds in what some might see as a minor upset.
Report Card Picks 2011: 25-8
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]