By Cliff Rold
Given his age, over three years away from the ring, and an already tough 51-fight career, it might not be the best decision for former undisputed welterweight champion Zab Judah (42-9, 29 KO) to embark on a comeback.
That doesn’t make it a surprising decision. Fighters fight, even when it looks like long odds to get back to form at age 39. Judah will begin his attempted comeback this Saturday in New Jersey against Jorge Munguia (12-7, 4 KO). Munguia has lost four in a row. The comeback should start off well at the very least.
When last fans saw Judah in the ring, he was suffering a surprisingly one-sided loss to Pauli Malignaggi in a battle of famed Brooklyn sons. It was a surprise because Judah had looked good just one fight prior, overcoming a knockdown to push Danny Garcia hard in a bid for a pair of Jr. welterweight titles. It was the sort of loss that seemed to signal the end.
It did for awhile.
Now Judah is back, looking for another big payday, looking for one more belt, looking to hold off the inevitable. History says it probably won’t work out. Sometimes history is wrong. We’ll see where this ends up, and how Judah looks as his comeback develops.
Succeed or fail, Judah’s return brings back the memories of a roller coaster career. The negatives of that roller coaster have been well documented. His reaction to his second round loss to Kostya Tszyu in 2001 and stunning upset loss to Carlos Baldomir in 2006 were arguably the two worst nights of his career. The riot scene in his battle with Floyd Mayweather one fight after Baldomir gets some honorable mention, even if he got blamed for more of it than he should have.
No one told Roger Mayweather to jump into the ring after all.
Despite the lows, when one views the totality of Judah’s career, it’s hard not to see past the lows and feel something different.
At the end of his career (and all that is being written now is the rest of the end) it’s hard not to feel some appreciation.
No matter what one thought of his antics or personality, Zab Judah fought the fights.
Given his star power, something he retained for years no matter ring outcomes, Judah probably could have coasted more than he did. Judah didn’t just fight the big names. He also fought guys who others would have deemed too risky to try. In many ways it was a model career for a fighter whose name hovers just outside the very top of the superstar charts.
He fought Tszyu in a Jr. welterweight unification and Miguel Cotto welterweight, both at the peak of their powers. He went through with the Mayweather fight coming off a loss. He was signed to fight Shane Mosley before an injury derailed their showdown. Those were the biggest names. He also made a pair of hotly contested bouts with Cory Spinks, losing in his first attempt and then going into Spinks’ home town and knocking him out for his greatest win and the welterweight crown. The second Spinks fight even developed into a monster box office draw, filling the Sarvis Center to capacity.
Those were the fights one would expect him to take.
He also challenged himself off-broadway. Omar Weis came one fight after Tszyu when Weis was considered a serious spoiler at Jr. welterweight. Joshua Clottey had given Antonio Margarito fits in a loss when Judah agreed to face him for a vacant welterweight belt. Lucas Matthysse was highly touted and undefeated in 2010; Judah said no problem.
Even at the end, it was Amir Khan in a unification fight, Danny Garcia for the titles Garcia won from Khan, and then Malignaggi in three of his last four fights. He didn’t win them all but he was there.
Judah’s name value, and defeats, put him in a position where he sometimes had to take tougher fights to stay relevant. That he did shouldn’t be so laudable but in recent years something like that sort of is. We’ve seen on occasion a new model where name value is milked seemingly forever, particularly in pursuit of the maintenance of undefeated marks. This often comes with inactivity, fighters who struggle to get in the ring twice a year. During his active years, only in 2002 and 2012 was Judah was isolated to a single fight. Often he hit the ring three times; in 2000 and 2007, he went four times.
His failures will define him in the eyes of history and that’s fair. He fought the fights for sure, but he lost quite a few. That doesn’t mean that years removed from the height of hype prior to his bout with Tszyu, or on the cusp of a Mayweather fight before the Baldomir debacle, there isn’t room for reevaluation.
Zab Judah might never have been what some thought he might be but he had one heck of a career. He was a talented professional who added depth, personality, and memorable action to his generation. There isn’t a fighter who has name in their win column that won’t look at it as a plus, a quality victory in their favor.
That’s worth some appreciation as Judah begins the comeback road. Boxing was better off for the former Jr. welterweight and welterweight titlist and could always use more like him.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]