Khan/Judah: A tale of Science & Faith

By David Matthew on July 20, 2011
Khan/Judah: A tale of Science & Faith
Zab Judah must bring a crafty southpaw nuance to Saturday's fight against Amir Khan

I have bought into the hype behind Khan—and fully expect him to win decisively and head to 147 to make serious noise…

When Zab “Super” Judah (41-6 28 KO) and Amir “King” Khan (25-1 17 KO) step inside the ring at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas to unify the Light Welterweight division this Saturday, they will be clothed in more than just boxing gloves and flashy trunks. They will be clothed in their respective faiths that they each cite as the source of their resiliency in an unforgiving sport. Having both suffered devastating early-career knockouts that had critics characterizing them as fraudulent, both fighters know what it’s like to bounce back from serious adversity. While both warriors undoubtedly possess a superior grasp of the sweet science of pugilism, both fighters also are inspired by a genuine affinity for their religious convictions.

Judah—the once volatile and seemingly uncontrollable Brooklynite who seemed to lack the requisite discipline to claim the elite throne in boxing—has now resurged his career behind the power of his renewed commitment towards faith and family. After a string of disappointing losses in big fights—virtually everyone had counted Judah out. However, Judah has bounced back and reclaimed a world title once again, proving critics wrong while showcasing a resilient spirit previously unseen in his career. Khan—the flashy boxing prodigy and pride of Bolton, England— has also deferred to his faith and commitment to family when looking for inspiration. After having his storybook career momentarily derailed in demonstrative fashion after being brutally knocked out by Breidis Prescott in the first round of what was perhaps the most shocking upset in boxing in 2008—Khan has bounced back brilliantly and credits his faith for giving his the strength to continually achieve en route to boxing supremacy.

—The Faith—

Judah, once inspired by the Black Hebrew Israelite tradition of his father Yoel Judah, has now embraced the Christian tradition of his grandmother. “I’ve been a Christian all my life, from day one.” Judah said. “But when you’re a kid and someone forces you to do something, you do something. But when I got older I went back to serving Jesus Christ.” Judah, who in his younger days rushed the ring with angst and violence in his eyes, now has a relaxed, beaming demeanor when he enters the ring to the backdrop of gospel music. While it is certainly a stark contrast to the Zab Judah most of us have been accustomed to, Judah’s philosophical shift has perhaps been the engine behind his recent resurgence in the Light Welterweight division—where he has once again become world champion after defeating the hard-nosed Lucas Matthysse and knocking out Kaizer Mabuza in glimmering fashion in consecutive fights.

Conversely, Khan, a practicing Muslim who has already endeavored on a pilgrimage to Mecca twice, credits his Islamic faith for keeping him properly focused and prepared to do combat with world-class opponents. “In boxing, sometimes it’s a lonely place—but my religion keeps me strong, my faith keeps me going.” Khan explained. “It has given me so much discipline and strength going into a fight. It teaches me to respect my elders and respect my parents.” Wise words coming from the 24 year-old WBA Light-Welterweight champion of the world who displayed remarkable bravery in withstanding a life-and-death struggle in the 10th round of his epic war with Marcos Maidana last year in a fight properly heralded as the “Fight of the Year” by boxing experts and analysts world-wide. When you consider what Khan has accomplished since his shocking loss to Prescott, perhaps there is something to his methodology and religious conviction.

—The Science—


“What a brilliant uppercut. What a perfect shot!” These were the words Jim Lampley exclaimed after marveling at the blinding hand-speed of Zab Judah as he destroyed Cosme Rivera in 2005. There was a time when Zab “Super” Judah 41-6 (28 KO) was considered by many to be a top prospect as a pound-for-pound king of boxing. For many Super Judah fans, Zab is revered as he is cut from a nostalgic cloth of a distinctive era. That era saw Brooklyn as an epicenter for talent, eccentricity, and swagger. Judah emerged onto the boxing scene at a time when it seemed every live hip hop artist in the game was hailing from Brooklyn. Be it the legendary Gangstarr (pbuh), Boot Camp Clique, or Jeru the Damaja, Zab was the boxing embodiment and pulse of this legendary brand of Hip-Hop where Brooklyn shone the brightest. Watching Zab catch a jab and counter with his patented “Super” left-hand uppercut followed by a 1-2 jab-straight left-hand combination with blistering speed and power seemed as if was the perfect motion-picture backdrop to DJ Premier scratching on the 1 & 2’s.

“Mind-rusher, spine-crusher….Brooklyn been bangin / making noise from the U.S. to Russia.”—Jeru the Damaja, “Brooklyn Took It”

Then—Russia made noise in Brooklyn—and Kostya Tszyu happened. After slyly showcasing his signature Super Judah ability in the early rounds, Tszyu caught Judah with a perfectly timed, thumping straight right-hand just as Zab was pulling back. So much thump that Zab wobbled into the infamous “chicken-dance” and became fodder for late-night comics and snark commentary. Once heralded as the next best thing, with one big-punch Zab became the “Don’t Play With Matches”* joke-of-the-day as critics were quick to label Judah as a fraud. It was a devastating moment for a rising star —and one that Judah still hasn’t fully recovered from as a pro. This is not to say that Judah isn’t without significant accomplishment. On Saturday, Judah looks to become a 6-time world champion in 3 different weight classes—which would be a remarkable achievement accomplished only by the elite few.

We’ve been here before with Judah. He’s been involved in a myriad of big, legacy defining fights— and has come up short in virtually every one of them. However, even in defeat, Judah has been ultra competitive and has shown that he has world-class talent. Against Floyd Mayweather Jr., Judah gave Floyd considerable trouble in the early rounds—whipping Floyd with heavy left-hands and even effectuated a legitimate knock-down on a counter check right-hook (which was erroneously not recognized). After getting off to a formidable start, Judah seemed to lose focus in the middle-to-late rounds against Mayweather. Judah’s wilted focus cost him the fight as Floyd seemed to outclass Judah from a strategic standpoint late in the fight. Alike, against Miguel Cotto, Judah was impressive early showcasing his signature counter-left uppercut which stunned Cotto and made significant indents in the first-half of the fight. But once again Judah was outclassed in the later rounds and didn’t seem to have the extra-gear to compete with the passionate Cotto—who closed Judah out in the 11th round with a strategic assault that led to a TKO stoppage. Those losses matched with a pair of close but clear decision losses to Carlos Baldomir and Joshua Clottey saw Judah come up short in the biggest moments of his career.

Enter Amir Khan—and yet another legacy-defining fight for Zab Judah—which very well could be his last opportunity to define himself at the elite level of the sport. Should Judah (the clear underdog) defeat Khan on Saturday night, many of his past boxing sins will be forgiven, if not all of them. This in itself makes the fight intriguing, as there’s a sense from Team Judah that Zab is fully cognizant of the urgency surrounding the opportunity before him. Unlike many times in the past, Judah’s mental fortitude and focus seem to have caught up with his unquestionable physical talents. Zab has always had the power to match his opponents—particularly at 140 where he has only lost once (to Tszyu). He also has the nuanced boxing ability to be able to score on Khan if it comes down to a technical chess match laden with jabs and footwork. Whether Judah will be able to sustain and execute for 12 rounds is a question yet to be answered, but one that many fans in boxing are still curious to see in conclusory fashion.

That said, there is reason to be optimistic if you’re in Judah’s corner. Many critics have been pleading for Judah to replace his father/trainer —Yoel Judah—with somebody who can elevate Zab’s boxing dimensions and bolster his mental focus. With the revered Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker now mentoring Judah as head-trainer, matched with Judah’s newfound commitment to the sport where he has cut out the distractions of night-life and the live-fast-die-young pop culture of today’s youth, it appears Judah’s mental state is in exactly the place it needs to be. If his physical gifts are still as vibrant as we have been accustomed to seeing—this could be the rise of Zab Judah, the sequel.


“…and down goes Maidana, on a tremendous body shot by Khan!” These were the words Jim Lampley used to describe Amir Khan knocking down Marcos Maidana in round 1 of their epic duel with a picture-perfect head/body combination that had Maidana more hurt than he’s ever been in his career. In Khan’s biggest challenge to date, he outlasted the menacing Maidana and showcased what we already knew: that Khan is an immensely proficient puncher with razor-sharp technical application. What we didn’t know was whether Khan could exorcise the Prescott demons by surviving getting hit flush by a huge puncher. He passed that test in dramatic fashion by surviving the Maidana onslaught where Khan was in serious trouble. Not only did he withstand being severely wobbled for nearly 2 rounds—but he came back to win the championship rounds by showing tremendous courage in continuing to thoroughly outbox Maidana just as he had done prior to being hurt in the 10th round. Earning a comfortable unanimous decision in the bout, Khan ascended to his highest point yet as a professional: closing in on 140-pound supremacy and entry into the pound-for-pound discussion.

Since the Prescott derailing, Khan has accumulated vital experience in defeating the legendary Marco Antonia Barrera, the competent Andriy Kotelnyk, and the ultra durable/speedy Paulie Malignaggi. The Janjua Rajput Pugilist of British-Pakistani origin has fought his way back to the limelight in workmanlike fashion. At just 24 years of age, Khan is already mentally mature enough and poised to assert himself against the best fighters in the world at 140 and 147. With a rangy straight right-hand, continuous movement, a terrific spear-like jab, and an imposing height advantage at the weight-class, Khan poses considerable physical challenges to any fighter in the welterweight division. He is well-trained under the tutelage of Freddie Roach, who has not been shy about boasting of Khan’s ability and considers Khan to be the “soon-to-be pound-for- pound king.” Khan’s work-ethic in the gym is unparalleled, and there have been several whispers inside The Wild Card (Roach’s gym where Khan trains) that Khan gives Pacquiao all he can handle in sparring sessions—even getting the better of the present pound-for-pound king at times. Khan’s conditioning regimen is as intense as they come, as he trains under now famous strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza, who employs a conditioning regimen that has been instrumental in transforming Manny Pacquiao into the boxing specimen that he is today.

Khan has been bred to be in this position. At just 17 he captured a silver medal in the Olympics—and with his next generation demeanor and British bravado, Khan has become a considerable draw in the UK and resonates with young boxing fans worldwide. American fans are now warming up to Khan after seeing his tremendous abilities on display on American soil against Malignaggi and Maidana, and with the clout and attention surrounding Freddie Roach, the stage is set for Khan to grasp the opportunity to elevate his career even further by showing he has that extra gear that only a handful of fighters per generation possess. Given the experience, ability, and an anthem of redemption that Zab Judah will be carrying into the ring with him on Saturday—Khan will certainly need to be as sharp as ever if he wants to not just win, but win impressively with a statement victory. As a credit to Khan’s discipline and wisdom, he acknowledges just that in his approach to Judah, he “can’t make any mistakes in this fight.”


Judah has historically gotten off to good starts in championship fights, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t do that again against Khan. However, it should also be expected that Khan will be anticipating Judah coming out of the gates fast—and will likely utilize his tremendous movement and boxing ability to keep Judah constantly on the move by not giving Judah opportunities to set up his power combinations and counter-uppercuts/hooks. Despite Khan’s ability to outbox opponents for 12 rounds, he has a fighting spirit and always will mix it up by standing and trading with his opponent at some point in the fight. This is where the fight may be defined. If Khan can win those exchanges and blast Judah with straight jabs and right-hands like he continuously did against Maidana, he will be on his way to a comfortable decision victory.

Judah will have to be busier than he normally is to beat Khan. He has a solid jab, but it is underutilized in most of his fights. Against Khan—Judah will need to snap the jab to get in range of Khan constantly raining down on Khan with jab, jab, left, jab, jab, left combinations that he successfully used against Mayweather Jr. in their fight. Judah must also bring a crafty southpaw nuance to this fight and attempt to break Khan’s rhythm by showing odd angles. In Khan’s previous fight against southpaw Paul McCloskey, Khan seemed to have difficulty in finding the awkward McCloskey, and at times looked a tad bit sloppy with his approach.

An intriguing factor in this fight is punching power. At 33, and nearly 10 years older than Khan, Judah seems to have packed on heavier muscle that may slow his hand speed down but also could translate into more impacting punching power if he can catch Khan. Judah is the physically stronger fighter. Khan is the sharper, precision puncher. If Judah can successfully fight going backwards and seduce Khan into lunging in with over-extended right hands like he did against McCloskey—the door will open for the signature Super Judah counter uppercut/hook that could render Khan wobbly. If that happens—Judah has great finishing instincts and at times has been absolutely clinical in putting opponents away. In my estimation, Judah will need to knockout Khan in order to earn a victory, as he’s never shown that he’s a busy enough fighter to keep up with the rapid fire-power of Khan in terms of work-rate and punch output.

Ultimately I see Khan withstanding Judah’s power, weathering a few Judah hurricanes, and sustaining his spirited composure by being the more consistent boxer. Khan’s movement and ability to win the fight based on the jab, straight right hand in heavy flurrying will take Judah into the late rounds where Judah won’t be able to keep up with the Khan’s activity. I have bought into the hype behind Khan—and fully expect him to win decisively and head to 147 to make serious noise. That said, my heart is with Super Judah and I would find it an emanation of poetic justice to see Zab redeem himself in a fight of this magnitude.

Outcome: Khan by UD—8 rounds to 4 or 9 rounds to 3

*“Don’t Play With Matches” refers to the stand-up routine conducted by Cedric The Entertainer describing Tszyu’s KO of Judah. (source:

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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Zab ''Super'' Judah, the best left uppercut.

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  1. "Old Yank" Schneider 05:09pm, 07/22/2011

    Pablo—Very interesting.

  2. Pablo Edwin Obregon 02:22pm, 07/22/2011

    “Old Yank”, David- It has made me think not only about how fast Pac has gained all of that weight, but , it hasn’t slowed him down one bit, and for as long as I have been a boxing fan I’ve never seen anyone fight as hard as Pac does for the entire round, and for the entire fight without showing any sign of fatigue, so, I understand Mayweather’s suspicion and precaution, for he is not just the greatest boxer of this time, but also a smart businessman.

  3. "Old Yank" Schneider 04:26am, 07/22/2011

    David—I’m not at all sold on the viability of Pacquiao’s defamation suit.  These suits, when a public figure is involved, tend to cross a line of protected speech and as such are notoriously known as “plaintiff unfriendly”.  No sub-welterweight in history has captured titles at such a broad spread of weight classes in such a stunningly short period of time as Pacquiao did while gaining in size (Henry Armstrong captured titles in diverse weight classes, but he did so without changing his size—he actually weighed in at 133 for his first title win at welterweight).  Pacquiao had gone more than a decade gaining about 1 1/2 pounds per year on average and then SUDDENLY exploded 15 pounds in 1 1/2 years (129 to 144—from Marquez to Cotto).  I think Mayweather simply spoke what many suspected.  I think Mayweather is WRONG, but I don’t think it will rise to defamation in the eyes of a court.  In an age where trash-talk is SUPPOSED to be a part of hyping a bout, how does Mayweather mouthing what many suspect rise to defamation?  I just don’t buy it.

  4. David Matthew 05:04pm, 07/21/2011

    Yank - thanks for pointing to your article as I hadn’t read it.  Excellent work!  I am more informed than I was prior to reading that article on such a huge topic in boxing at present….

    particularly liked your poignant thesis in this excerpt:

    “...this is the unsatisfying place where human nature drifts when caught between convinced of guilt and convinced of innocence—the place between condemnation and absolution. This is the place where many fair-minded fans have arrived with accusations of performance enhancing leveled at Manny Pacquiao: Innocent Suspicion.”

    I also have suspicions of Manny’s short-bursting explosion into the P4P champ of the world - but I think it’s a shame that meritless claims can go so far to tarnish innocent athletes.  Since this Pacquiao debacle - it seems anytime a fighter looks to be in supreme condition - he now must be juicing or on PEDs (or so says the opposing fighter’s camp/fans). 

    You brought up great points highlighting the frailty of the doping protocol at present…Boxing as a sport desperately needs competent governing from those able/willing to look out for the general health of the sport….the “antiquated” system (as you phrase properly phrase it) is further indicative of the incompetence (and corruption) of the sanctioning bodies.

    With all the accusations thrown at Pac - including the sketchy reports (and quite frankly - attitude) of Ariza to me is perhaps what is most suspicious.  However - you’re right to point that all we have is hearsay and biased accusations from a lot of people that has spread like wild-fire - without a shred of evidence.

    This is why I think Pac’s defamation suit against Floyd is viable.  It has done serious damage as people have heard the accusations and have relied on the accusations to inform the truth of matter asserted.

    Thanks for that informative piece.

  5. David Matthew 04:58pm, 07/21/2011

    Thanks Pablo - it’s great being a part of this well-informed & insightful boxing community.  Amir KO within 8 rounds?  I like the boldness.  Judah has only been stopped twice (Cotto/Tszyu - both serious punchers) - so it’d be quite an accomplishment if he could stop Zab.

  6. Pablo Edwin Obregon 03:32pm, 07/21/2011

    Enjoyed reading both of you guys’ comments(David & “old yank”), It is refreshing to read articles that make sense, on the other hand, elliot 21 predicts Zab will beat Amir by decision, I am sorry, but I pick Amir by k.o. Within 8 rounds. Hope to hear back from you.

  7. "Old Yank" Schneider 02:30pm, 07/21/2011

    David—Check out my article on “Pacquiao—Innocent Suspicion” from about a week ago on  Hope you like it.

  8. "Old Yank" Schneider 02:28pm, 07/21/2011

    David—RESPECT!  Salute.  And Winky Wright, Jimmy Young, Pernell Whitaker, Klitschko. Mayweather, Andre Ward and more all fall into that “too smart” to be entertaining category from time to time (if not ALL the time).  PEACE

  9. David Matthew 01:40pm, 07/21/2011

    Yank - great point in bringing up Cortez in between rounds 10 & 11—- he definitely did say something to the effect of “You have to defend yourself or I’m going to protect you”—Khan was getting blasted and in that moment his ring IQ was quite low as his mind was saying ‘slug’ but his body/faculties were in no position to slug and he needed to box his way out of that….

    Also great points on Gatti, Litzau, Vasquez et. al. perhaps being too warrior-like for their own boxing good….it seems some guys just have that in their DNA…

    what I also find interesting is that as much as many of us criticize warriors for not having a high enough boxing IQ - we can at times criticize guys like Wladimir Klitschko, Floyd Mayweather Jr et. al for having *too* high of a boxing IQ in showcasing their seemingly unbreakable strategic hold on their opponents….such is the interesting dimensions of boxing.

    It’s a pleasure to exchange with someone who knows boxing down to the minute nuances and idiosyncrasies.  Salute.

  10. "Old Yank" Schneider 11:22am, 07/21/2011

    David – I can definitely appreciate that!  Please remember that “Fair but Firm” Cortez literally went to Khan’s corner following Maidana’s battering of him from pillar to post and announced to Roach that he was not going to allow Khan to continue to take much more.  Indeed, like you, I greatly enjoy the warrior spirit (see: 3 out of 4 bouts between Marquez and Vasquez and the Ward/Gatti trilogy).  And I am a fan of Jason Litzau’s warrior spirit too (lesser level but exciting nonetheless).  But once the entertainment value of the warrior-spirit is gotten passed, what remains is an evaluation of ring-smarts vs. a possible disturbingly low ring IQ.  One could argue that Vasquez, Marquez, Gatti, Ward and Litzau only know how to be warriors and are a few brain cells short of the best that sweet science can deliver.  Khan is SUPPOSED to be “getting it” from the best trainer in the business today.  It is just impossible for me to believe that Roach delivered that game plan to Khan for the Maidana bout.  Khan took a HUGE amount of punishment UNNECESSARILY in that bout.  One can only wonder if Maidana did not have so much taken out of him by the early body shot what might have happened (and talk about warrior – who gets up from that?).  No warrior should be so short in the IQ department that he literally exposes himself to an opponent-imposed canvas nap!  Let’s see if Khan fights a smarter game plan against Judah or if he reverts to training-amnesia.  Why I see this as a handicapper’s nightmare is because I have no clue which Judah and which Khan will show up.  And I honestly don’t think anyone is comfortable predicting which versions of these fighters will be in the ring Saturday night.  On paper, Khan wins.  But this bout will not be fought on paper and anything is possible when so many questions remain unanswered.

  11. David Math 09:18am, 07/21/2011

    Fair points Old Yank.  I agree that compubox can be deceptive and imperfect at times - especially when people are scoring rounds in whole reliance of compubox statistics.  I also agree that Khan was throwing some shoe-shine punches that were more to try and distract Maidana’s attack as opposed to being real clean/effective punches…but I also def feel that he was landing clean/effective punches in spurts.

    As far as the boxing IQ/mix-it-up analysis…definitely agree - but at the same time I think there’s something to be said for a warrior-spirit who elects to exchange - even when it’s unnecessary to do so from a tactical/point-system standpoint.  I also think those are the fighters who end up living eternally in the hearts/minds of boxing fans.  At the same time - it definitely can abbreviate a career - as you pointed out.  I think ring IQ should be utilized to know exactly when it’s time to mix-it-up - and when it’s time to box safely/strategically.  Thus far I think Khan has showcased a pretty good balance….though he was perhaps a bit too brave for his own good at moments in the Maidana fight.

  12. "Old Yank" Schneider 08:37am, 07/21/2011

    David—Khan beat Maidana!  No question or controversy about it.  I’m speaking to how generous Compubox was in “seeing” punches that were largely shoe-shine theater rather than clean punches.  And guys who mix it up unnecessarily often end up with abbreviated careers.  The very definition of a low ring IQ is fighting the fight you did not need to fight and taking unnecessary punishment for it.

  13. elliott21 08:06am, 07/21/2011

    A real good 12 rd fight and who wins? Ko - Judah decs. ?  And let’s hope he stays away from the chicken dance.

  14. David Math 07:18am, 07/21/2011

    Old Yank—does this mean you thought Maidana won the fight? I didn’t think Khan received undue credit for illusory punches….I thought he was scoring legitimately—although some of the shots weren’t impacting—they definitely were landing.

    I also think Khan’s is a fighter by spirit —and he wants to mix it up even though he can outbox guys for 12 rounds….so I think he will always deviate from an all-out boxing strategy.

  15. "Old Yank" Schneider 03:50am, 07/21/2011

    Khan was credited with a ton of missed shots in the Maidana bout.  No fighter can be cleanly hit as many times as Khan was credited for in hitting Maidana and walk away from a bout with a face essentially unmarred.  The bout was largely supported by pre-fight hype and the reputation of Freddie Roach.  It is impossible to believe that the fight plan for Maidana was to mix it up that much.  If it was, it was a truly stupid fight plan.  It appears that Khan cannot hold onto what Freddie has taught him and keep it going for 12 rounds.  Let’s see how much Khan’s memory lapses against Judah before we end up going over the top with the hype.

  16. bergmuff 10:29pm, 07/20/2011

    missed judah’s chicken dance, hope he can do one this time.

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