Bad Blood and Blood Blood in Brooklyn

By Adam Berlin on April 27, 2013
Bad Blood and Blood Blood in Brooklyn
Even though the Brooklyn kid lost, the borough won. The Barclays Center was full. (Fukuda)

And then something strange happened. Zab Judah sucked it up, pushed past his pain and his blood, and fought hard…

Bad blood doesn’t guarantee a good fight, but it usually helps ticket sales. Four months ago Angel Garcia, looking out for his son’s financial well-being, put on his circus-barker’s hat to make sure the boxing crowd stepped right up to see Danny Garcia take on an aging Zab Judah. The drumbeat began during the New York City press conference. Angel took the microphone at Gallagher’s Steak House and started talking trash, as he always does, while quiet Danny looked on, amused. 

Zab Judah was less amused. Words escalated. Bodies collided. The principals were restrained, but the pre-fight hype was on. 

When the dust settled and the press conference resumed, something was different. Angel’s antics may have been for show, but Danny, who has always retained his equilibrium in the maelstrom that’s Garcia Senior, seemed riled. He’d entered Gallagher’s cool as the refrigerated steaks hanging in the restaurant’s front window, but when Danny left the room, he was anger-hot, predicting not just a win, but a knockout. Zab, the veteran and a savvy media manipulator in his own right, wasn’t fazed. On his way out of Gallagher’s he promised victory. “Now the media’s here and it’s a fight. I’m going to punish him. I’m going to teach him. I’m going to whip his ass and send him home down 95. I’m going to show Danny his father’s no good for him.”

The real fight, scheduled for January, was postponed when Danny Garcia suffered a rib injury during training, but the animosity didn’t diminish with time. The two 140-pounders were ready to clash on this Saturday night in Brooklyn’s new Barclays Center, and the crowd was wild, whipped up by pre-fight hype, and thrilled that big-name prizefights were returning to Brooklyn. 

The Barclays Center was built for the Nets, but its other function is to house boxing’s resurgence in this notoriously tough borough. By the sound of it, this house was delivering. And the look delivered too. More compact than Madison Square Garden, the architects and designers got this place right. The ring seems more central and not lost in vast space. And instead of the multi-colored Garden seats, the Barclay Center is done in black, black seats, black walls, so the lit fighters takes all the focus. 

Gospel morphed into rap as Brooklyn’s own “Super” Zab Judah entered the ring. Much of the packed house stood. Judah wore a black velvet robe with Godspeed in white letters across the back. There was no excess sheen to his garments, and the velvet made the older fighter look old school. Zab walked back and forth, back a forth, one end of the ring to the other, his posture straight, a boxing model on a familiar canvas runway.

The champion Danny “Swift” Garcia entered second and by the sound of the crowd it was hard to gauge the favorite. Philadelphia born and bred, Danny Garcia is an adopted son of sorts. He christened the Barclays Center last October when he starched Mexican legend Erik Morales and, for that, Danny earned his place in the county they once called Kings.

As Judah paced and Garcia de-robed, a diagonal phalanx of security guards formed a beefy wall between the two fighters. The powers-that-be didn’t want the pre-fight antics to spill over until the fight began. The judges were announced. Referee Steve Smoger took his place at center ring. The fighters managed to touch gloves without incident.  The crowd was loud.

When the bell rang, each fighter looked his part. Garcia is solid, more torso than legs, a 140-pound tank who’s built his reputation on moving forward. Judah is a leaner light-welter with speed and slick skills. Garcia followed his script, pushing the action, stalking Judah around the ring, winging looping right hands to the head and body. Some missed. A few landed. Zab moved and moved—his legs, his head—but didn’t throw much. The real excitement was generated by the crowd. First cheers of Judah. Then cheers of Danny. And then, the loudest cheers of all. Brooklyn, Brooklyn, Brooklyn. Manhattan never gets shouted at Madison Square.

The second round was much like the first with Garcia throwing dangerous rights, one shot at a time. As the round progressed, Judah’s movement for movement’s sake turned into movement for punching’s sake. He found his mark with his southpaw jab, then stole the round on my card with a clean left-right combination off Garcia’s head in the final seconds.

In Round 3 Garcia regained total control. Despite chants for Judah and some crafty footwork, Super Judah looked mundane. Garcia was chucking and landing rights to the body and rights to the head, and when the round ended, Zab’s exaggerated smile was an easy tell. He’d been touched too much. The touching continued in rounds four, five, six and seven. Judah stayed on his bicycle, never getting in proper range, landing a painless jab now and then, but moving more than hitting. Garcia’s winging right hand found its mark often enough, creating echoes of leather against flesh followed by echoes of approval from the crowd. Judah buckled in the fifth. His legs looked increasingly tired and he started holding his younger foe when Garcia’s pursuit was too much. The telltale smile after each round became wider and wider. Garcia looked a little gassed in the seventh, but Judah was winding down more quickly and the knockout Garcia had predicted seemed in sight.

In Round 8, Zab landed a crisp left, but Danny answered immediately with a swift right on the button. The flash knockdown put Judah on his ass. Zab stood quickly, absorbed more punishment, and by the end of this 10-8 round Brooklyn’s own was bleeding from a cut under his left eye. Bad blood had turned to literal blood.

And then something strange happened. Zab Judah, who has often conceded defeat in later rounds, whose strong mind has been known to weaken in those proverbial deep waters, did something out of character. He sucked it up, pushed past his pain and his blood, and fought hard. Judah willed himself into range and landed hard left after hard left. Suddenly Garcia’s forward pursuit seemed less relentless, more rote. Judah lured Garcia into the ropes and fired. Round 9 went to Judah. And the lefts kept coming. Shoot a tank often enough and the tank will slow. While Garcia never stopped pursuing, his legs had gone weak, and with less leverage on his rights, Judah seemed happy to take one to give one. A right-left combination at the end of Round 10 had the Barclays crowd standing and Judah raising and waving his gloves. For the first time all night, Zab’s smile looked completely genuine.

The championship rounds started slowly, and the slow pace went to no pace when Judah’s shoelace came untied. But at the end of Round 11 Judah landed two sets of left-right combinations and a final right that hurt Garcia. Zab had won his third round in a row. Garcia started the twelfth as if he were sprinting to the finish line. His legs seemed stronger and his winging right hands, which had been so effective earlier in the night, regained some of their force. Then heads collided and more blood spilled. The gash under Judah’s was dripping. Garcia’s forehead, newly sliced open, gushed. In the final minute Judah landed some strafing lefts and a clean left just before the bell. When it tolled, both men were bloody and swollen and hurt. The faces told the story: for this one, bad blood had created a good fight.

Before the scores were read the diagonal phalanx reappeared, but there was no need to blockade the fighters. The fight was out of each man and the rage was gone. The decision was fair: 116-111, 115-111 and 114-112, which was a trifle too close. Danny Garcia had entered Brooklyn as champion and he would leave Brooklyn as Champion. 

“It was a hell of a fight. I came to Brooklyn and had to beat the hometown guy,” Garcia said after the fight. “He’s a crafty veteran with power. Judah is the most crafty and sharpest guy I fought so far. You can see there’s a lot of blood, but to me the bad blood is gone.”

When Zab Judah spoke, his voice was subdued. “It’s boxing. Win some. Lose some. Garcia is a young, tough fighter. But you’ll see me fight again.” Then he called on the crowd for affirmation. “You want me to come back, Brooklyn?” Brooklyn responded in the affirmative, but the reaction was tepid at best, certainly less enthusiastic than the chant of Brooklyn, Brooklyn, Brooklyn in Round 1. By the time Judah posed his question, most of the crowd had left the building.

Brooklyn, Brooklyn, Brooklyn—the loudest words of the night, far louder than the names Danny Garcia and Zab Judah. Even though the Brooklyn kid lost, the borough won. The Barclays Center was full. The fans got their money’s worth with an entertaining fight. And this borough, which has bred so many great fighters, has a new home for boxing. Jay-Z, who’s selling off his shares of the Barclays Center, wasn’t in the house tonight, but his lyrics from Hello Brooklyn certainly apply:

Like a mama you birth me, Brooklyn you nursed me,
Schooled me with hard knocks, better than Berkeley.

When young Brooklyn fighters graduate from their amateur careers and move past their four-rounders and club fights, they’ll no longer have to cross the river to showcase their boxing education. The house that Brooklyn built, the Barclays Center off Atlantic Avenue, will do just fine.

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  1. Mike Schmidt 02:00am, 04/30/2013

    “didn’t notice Smoger much during the fight…” and that is just the way it should be. All aside, Zab gave we, the fans, much much more than we expected - two thumbs up

  2. FeRoz 12:09am, 04/30/2013

    Ted, I will look. I was watching the fight, admiring the action and thankfully didn’t notice Smoger much during the fight. BTW, I agree it was unusual for a ref, and inappropriate to boot, to speak to a fighter the way he did Zab after the fight but on a human level, I found it unfiltered and sincere.

  3. Ray Vasquez 08:31am, 04/29/2013

    Great fight Zab. Personally I’m sick and tired of his crying. Why’s everyone picking on me. He should be banned from boxing, the moment he didn’t get his way when he hit the ref for being KOed in the Tszyu fight. I’m sick and tired of his mouth. And what’s with the goddamn Obama comment? Does that mean we have to feel sorry for him too? And so say u love Jesus so much. Ur 2 faced.

  4. Mike Schmidt 07:29am, 04/29/2013

    No probs on the breaks all night long—no infractions and each guy was given equal distance to get back into action—I can’t stand when refs break guys so far back it delays getting back into action—each guy was far enough away without engendering a Money- Ortiz type thing. In terms of being too far away it seemed he was where he needed to be, moving in, when required. Great job and that’s why K. Bayless and Smoger get the big fights, on proper commiss rotation, as they usually don’t leave you in post fight ref frustration (i.e., the Cotto vs Yuri fight, or in Vegas for the nutcracker sweet night of Abner Mares vs J.A.). My humble opinion…

  5. Ted 04:05am, 04/29/2013

    FFeRoz, look at the films as to how he breaks them, he is afraid to get between them and use his arms for a full step back,  this happened all night long, and he did not let them fight inside.  The main thing is he stays too far away as he is now too frail to control them, too slow, and he only breaks one fighter, the other one is still there to hit on the break.  Then he cannot get out of their way when he comes closer, so he stays far back.

  6. Darrell 09:37pm, 04/28/2013

    Top fight.  Zab indeed dug deep & fought hard when he has in the past dropped his bundle….couldn’t ask for more.

    I like Garcia more after this fight, a good win for him.  I can see him beating both Peterson & Matthysse actually.  A well rounded fighter.

  7. FeRoz 08:53pm, 04/28/2013

    Smoger congratulating Judah for his great effort in a losing battle was as priceless as it was genuine. Zab battled his way to a level of respect he had not had in years last night. It was thrilling to see a veteran reach deep and show not just us but himself that he had what it takes to be a true warrior.

  8. Ted 02:06pm, 04/28/2013

    This fight is another example of where the loser comes out a winner—almost. Like Paulie when Cotto beat him. Zab gained great respect last night for his finish.

  9. Pete The Sneak 11:05am, 04/28/2013

    By the by, is Peter Quillin ever in a boring fight? I tell you, Guerrero showed some real cojones there. Peace.

  10. Rick 11:00am, 04/28/2013

    It was a little surprising to see Zab fight back so hard.  I think he was embarrassed about being knocked around the ring which makes you wonder what he could’ve done earlier in the bout had he been determined. And when SS is in there at least you know there won’t be a bunch of BS calls and interruptions.  I agree he gets a little too chummy with the fighters sometimes but I can’t remember a bout when he appeared to favor one fighter.

  11. Pete The Sneak 10:50am, 04/28/2013

    Grit, guts, determination. heart. Yes, I’m speaking of Zab Judah. Whoda Thunk it? I thought their would be some serious surprises in the early part of the fight, turns out the surprise was at the end of the fight where Zab demonstrated all the above traits. As for Garcia, well, I think Al Bernstein said it best about him: “Danny is a fighter who is not great at anything, but is good at everything.” Brooklyn Rocks! Peace.

  12. Ted 10:29am, 04/28/2013

    I do hope Zab fights on and gets some decent paydays. He is a lot different than the old Zab and really is into the religious thing and it shows. He should get a couple of easy wins and then go for another big one in Brooklyn. However, the expectations are that he will always lose when he steps up so maybe he needs to move sideways. Just don’t end up like Nate Campbell or even Glen Johnson. Leave with dignity, but not just yet.

  13. Springs Toledo 08:37am, 04/28/2013

    Adam is my go-to writer for the NYC fight scene. High class stuff as usual.

  14. Ted 07:04am, 04/28/2013

    As Adam says, “the pre-fight hype was on.” This is part of boxing since Ali. Whether it’s positive or negative is open to debate, but it’s neccessary for of selling tickets. I just wish there could be sone really sincere dislike for one another between boxers going into a fight and especially remaining after a fight.

    Hype = phoney = BS—as in Mayweather vs. Guerrero.
    True dislike = real = rare = sellout crowds—as in Margo vs. Cotto

  15. Ted 06:33am, 04/28/2013

    He was very lucky

    And coming up to Zab after the fight and saying “you are fucking something else,” is an inappropriate thing for a referee to do. They must maintain a neutral persona at all times.

    I not trying to bury SS, I’m just trying to figure out why he gets such plum assignments over the local guys. And like I said, he was an ace in his prime.

  16. NYIrish 06:08am, 04/28/2013

    Ted, they never laid a glove on him !

  17. Ted 06:04am, 04/28/2013

    Conditioning for the ref means nothing to anyone?  SS was bumped into and could not get out of their way.

  18. Ted 06:00am, 04/28/2013

    Mauro is God awful. Another screaming head.

    As for Smoger, he is the most overrated referee in Boxing and one has to ask why he gets such plum assignments while I believe he remains banned in NJ. He has gotten fat and slow and stands too far away from the action.

    At one time he was an ace, but no longer.

  19. NYIrish 05:46am, 04/28/2013

    I agree with Rick on Mauro. He would be great for a radio only broadcast. When you are watching a fight his loud excited hype is a pain in the ass.

  20. NYIrish 05:42am, 04/28/2013

    All the elements of a good fight worthy of Brooklyns premier venue. An old pro in with a young champion provided thrills for the fans. Style wise Judah was no easy touch for Garcia. Garcia throws looping punches that consistently hit the mark on good fighters. He has impeccable timing. I was impressed when he fought Khan, whose hands and feet were quicker than his. He timed Khans feet and let that wide hook go and Khans head was in position to recieve it and BINGO. His “mistakes” consistently work for him. Technically he’s better than he looks. He wins.

  21. David Slater 03:22am, 04/28/2013

    That was an accurate description of the fight.  Judah deserves credit for surviving the onslaught and coming back.  He was close to going down, but was able to pull it out.  A good fight.

  22. Clarence George 03:10am, 04/28/2013

    Very surprised—and impressed—by Judah.  Strange-looking man, isn’t he?  His head is shaped exactly like a light bulb.

    As for Garcia…curious to see if he next fights Peterson or Matthysse.  I don’t think he could beat either, but one or the other would be a good fight.

  23. Rick 12:57am, 04/28/2013

    I agree about Steve Smoger. Its always a sigh of relief to see him officiating. On the other hand I absolutely cannot stand Showtimes new announcer Mauro whatever his name is. However he would be perfect for those obnoxious car sales commercials.

  24. Mike Schmidt 12:35am, 04/28/2013

    PS- Great job by one of the best in the business for thirty years plus—Steve Smoger who took command early and let us view without interruption a solid fight. I had the pleasure the week before of spending time with Smoger and another great ref, Kenny Bayless, down in Panama where they both worked Championship fights, and the consistent year after year performance of these two refs is amazing. Adios amigo

  25. Mike Schmidt 12:31am, 04/28/2013

    Great write up Sir. Zab, for this viewer, far exceeded my expectations. Having sat ringside to see his fight with Khan he showed in this fight the grit and determination of Brooklyn. His post fight interview was every bit the sportsman. Zab can swing on down to the House of Gleasons for the rest of time with his head high. Good stuff Adam…

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