Khan Turns New Judah Old

By Adam Berlin on July 23, 2011
Khan Turns New Judah Old
Tonight Zab Judah was Zab Judah. Tonight character was indeed fate. (Chris Cozzone)

Judah’s actions explain Judah. He hypes himself up. He talks a great game. But against elite opposition, he falls short every time…


Zab Judah is a 15-year veteran who has attempted to reinvent himself several times along the way, not so much in his style, but in his professed level of determination. He’s not a kid. He hasn’t been a kid for a long time. 

Judah, a Brooklyn native with a Brooklyn strut, turned professional in 1996 and stayed undefeated for five years before he ran into a right hook thrown by Kostya Tszyu. That’s nothing to be ashamed of since Tszyu was a 140-pound force, though probably not worthy of his Hall of Fame status. Judah kept fighting, kept getting title shots and kept, for the most part, losing his biggest bouts. Cory Spinks beat him at welterweight (a loss Judah avenged a year later). Carlos Baldomir, when the tough Argentinean was at his toughest, beat him. Floyd Mayweather Jr. beat him. Miguel Cotto knocked him out. Joshua Clottey beat him, the fight stopped on cuts when Judah complained he couldn’t see. Before each title fight Judah talked tough, often claiming he was a new man, often claiming he was more prepared for this test than any other test, but when the bell rang, when punches delivered replaced words uttered, Judah was not all he’d cracked himself up to be. 

Perhaps Zab’s fight against Pretty Boy Floyd was most telling, a twelve-round loss that was emblematic of Zab’s entire career. Judah started strong, attempting to impose his will on Mayweather. But as the fight progressed, Judah’s will weakened. Realizing he wasn’t going to win, Judah moved from legal combinations to illegal combinations (a low blow followed by a rabbit punch). A brawl broke out in the ring, Judah smiling at the mayhem, and then, when the fight resumed, Mayweather went back to business and won, scoring with ease against a now-lackluster Judah. That’s Judah’s ring life in a nutshell. Zab Judah started impressively. Then Zab Judah waned unimpressively—a career lull as damaging as mid-fight fatigue. All the while, the man who calls himself “Super” justified his own weaknesses, saving his street cred by protesting too much or by acting tough (and sometimes outside the rules). Think of that other Brooklyn boxer, Mike Tyson, who, knowing he was about to face a second beat-down at the hands of Holyfield, chomped down on Holyfield’s ear. 

After losing to Clottey, Judah won five fights in a row, including a very controversial split-decision victory to Argentine Lucas Matthysse that smelled too much like home cooking. Unfortunately, the record books do not take bad smells into account—the reason why poor decisions are so permanently damaging. With five straight victories, Judah earned himself, once again, a place in the spot light, which is the place Zab Judah likes to be, flashing his cocky smile, claiming he’s the man, promising he’s more ready than ever to show the world his true greatness.

“A lot of things have changed over the years. The new Judah is a monster who is 150% prepared for Khan. We’re definitely going to take him to school. Years down the line he’ll have the opportunity to tell other fighters what he learned on July 23rd. I have a different mentality now. I’m more focused on my career now and my family and the morals of life. I’m at a great place in my life right now and I’m fully prepared for the situation.”

Once again, Zab Judah was asking us to think of him as a kid with potential instead of a man with history. There comes a time when potential is a dirty word, when the word new, quite frankly, sounds old and stale. At 33, Zab Judah is a veteran of 47 fights. He has journeyed and faced obstacles. He has experienced triumph and loss. He is who he is. I expected this braggart soldier to brag at least a little, it’s his nature after all, but I’d also hoped for a more modest assessment of self, which would have spoken, at least to me, of a quiet confidence, of a mature man’s understanding of life. Had the new Zab Judah truly been new, he wouldn’t have spoken in the same old, same old way. I actually used to admire Judah’s pre-fight and post-fight interviews. He was smart, quick, excited, a Brooklyn kid who showcased New York City hustle, talking the talk, fast and fearless. But these days, singing the same tired tune, promising false promises, an aging salesman’s transparent pitch, Judah was not the man I’d hoped he’d become. When the bell rang, I wouldn’t be rooting for the home team as loudly as I used to. 

Still, I was looking forward to this fight for the 140-pound title. What would make the contest interesting, despite the 5 to 1 odds against Judah, was that Amir Khan, while super quick and strong, had definite holes in his armor, holes that Judah would be able to exploit if he delivered on his hyperbolic patter. Khan, like Judah, starts fast but then slows. And Khan’s chin is more suspect than Judah’s. When he was knocked down and then knocked out by Breidis Prescott, a shocking upset that may not have been so shocking had Khan not been so overhyped, Amir Khan could not beat the count. Khan has never weighed more than 140 pounds. Judah has fought and won at 150 pounds. Going in, Judah possessed the heavier hands. 

The fight would be staged at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay, the same site where Amir Khan fought his most heroic fight against the ever-charging bull named Marcos Maidana. In that fight, Khan knocked down Maidana early. But then in the 10th, Maidana had Khan badly hurt, practically out on his feet. For two straight minutes, Maidana, who can punch, battered the 24-year-old-year old Englishman around the ring. It was ugly, but a testament to Khan’s inner strength, which had once been questioned. Khan stayed upright, eventually regained his legs, and ended the fight firing hard punches of his own. Perhaps the Judah vs. Khan fight would come down to will and, with the Maidana fight tattooed on his heart, Khan had the edge in that crucial department. It didn’t justify 5 to 1 odds, but it justified the expectation that this was Khan’s fight to win.

Kahn’s final advantage was a corner advantage. His trainer Freddie Roach has proved himself, time and again, to be a master tactician in creating concrete fight plans for his fighters and in choosing the best opponents for his fighters. Roach knew Judah’s flaws. Roach knew Judah wasn’t the most dangerous challenge. 

Yet the “changed” and “different” and “new” Judah believed he’d come up with the perfect counter to Roach. For much of his career, Zab’s father Yoel was in his son’s corner and it was far from an optimal pairing. The boxer-son/trainer-father dynamic has many potential problems—the most glaring occur when an objective eye is needed but the subjective eye cannot be closed. Beyond the usual conflicts, Yoel was too hot-headed. He seemed perpetually angry at the world, which is a dangerous character trait for both fighters and cornermen. Anger clouds vision. Anger taints technique. (That’s why street fights feature wide, blind, hateful arcs while ring fights feature straighter, colder lines.) The best boxers are clinical in the best sense of the word—they separate emotion from the fight and go to work. The best trainers are similarly clinical—they are able to watch a fight so clearly that they see through the fight, spotting openings, assessing flaws, refining fight plans. One never sensed that father Yoel was completely there, completely present minute by minute, round by round, which is why son Zab often seemed alone in the ring despite the heavy entourage he carried. Earlier this year, Zab Judah made a concrete change, not in talk but in action by hiring Pernell Whitaker to commandeer his corner. Plain and simple, too many trainers don’t know boxing. Pernell Whitaker does. An Olympic gold medalist, Sweet Pea Whitaker was one of the best defensive fighters in history and a man who knows every step, every feint, every sweet move in the sweet science.  t’s rare that a fine fighter becomes a fine trainer, but the addition of Whitaker to the Judah team couldn’t hurt. 

So that was the back story. A veteran fighter claiming he would prove himself once more. An up-and-coming prospect with star potential and shooting-star speed. A great trainer with a keen eye. A novice trainer who, when he fought, saw it all. Zab Judah. Amir Khan. Freddie Roach. Pernell Whitaker. It was an interesting mix.


After a relatively sedate walk to the ring, Michael Buffer readied the fighters to rumble, the fighters touched gloves and Round 1 began. Judah looked cut and strong. Khan looked wider across the shoulders and certainly longer. Staying outside, Khan reached for Judah at times, but mostly landed clean, distance-keeping jabs and textbook left-right combinations. Before the round ended, a clash of heads had Judah looking at the referee, hoping, it seemed, for some time to recover, but Vic Drakulich let the round continue without stopping the clock. Last week I was fortunate enough to be ringside for the spectacular Delvin Rodriguez/Pawel Wolak fight. If you’re a fight fan, you’ve at least seen pictures of Wolak’s grotesquely swollen eye. Instead of complaining to the referee, Wolak was yelling at his opponent to keep fighting. Immediately, Judah was showing a very different spirit. Kahn took the round.

As Judah sat on his stool, Pernell Whitaker told his charge, “That’s the first round. You’re over it now.” Words of encouragement, yes, but the subtext suggested the promise of another fresh start. Perhaps Whitaker had been sipping the Zab Judah Kool-Aid.

Round 2 saw more dominance from Kahn. He landed two-punch combinations at will, crisp jabs following by crisp rights. After a particularly sharp cross slammed into Judah’s face, Judah smiled an unconvincing smile. Kahn moved easily to his left, moved easily to his right, relaxed and comfortable. Judah landed virtually nothing. His nose and mouth leaked blood.

In Rounds 3 and 4 the scale tipped even further to Amir Khan. If ring generalship marks a round’s winner, Kahn earned many stars. He moved fluidly. He used his height advantage. He put more power into his jabs. In fact, when Kahn threw his left hand, it looked like a jab/hook hybrid, the extra pop at the end of the punch keeping Judah well at bay. Most impressive, Kahn threw three, four and sometimes five-punch combinations. Zab retaliated with single-punch pot shots, but most of the time he played defense. Taking a page out of Pernell Whitaker’s manual, Zab would duck low to avoid punches the way Sweet Pea had done so masterfully years ago, but where Sweet Pea surfaced from the depths to unload punches of his own, Zab’s hands stayed still. Judah’s most powerful punch was a swing-and-a-miss desperation roundhouse. The air may have felt its power, but Kahn was far away. In the last thirty seconds of Round 4 Kahn connected with a big right to punctuate his dominance. Judah, still bleeding from his mouth and nose, opened his eyes wide in surprise. Instead of taking a picture, Kahn landed a hard left at the bell. Scoring was easy. 40-36 for Kahn after four.

And then the new Zab Judah turned old. He didn’t turn old the way some fighters turn old, their legs not quite there, their punches a beat slow—boxers at the end of their careers sometimes age right before our eyes. They recognize, brutally, that even warriors can’t escape time. Zab Judah still had spring in his legs. He still had power in his fists. He still showed relatively quick reflexes. But Zab Judah turned old by recognizing that he could not escape himself. Round 5 opened with a second clash of heads. Instead of fighting on, Judah turned his back, pointing at his eye, again hoping for time. And again, time was not granted. Kahn smelled more than Judah’s blood; he smelled a broken will.  Kahn landed a hard left. He landed a hard left-right. He followed with a three-punch combination. Judah, desperate, threw a solid body shot, perhaps his best punch of the night. Judah had promised to teach Kahn a lesson and here was the lesson—suddenly, Kahn remembered that a fighter can be hurt to the body as well as the head. Like a good pupil, Kahn fired a body shot of his own, a digging right uppercut to the belt of Judah’s trunks. Zab Judah crumpled, kneeling on the canvas as if in prayer, red blood staining blue canvas. Drakulich counted to ten and at 2:47 of Round 5 the fight was over.

During the post-fight interviews, Kahn said the right things, praising his trainer, praising his opponent, going so far as to say he’d been a big fan of Zab Judah. “He caught me a few times, but I felt okay. He caught me with a big one and I was cool. We trained very hard. Everything we did was just brilliant. I’ve not avoided any fighter and I’ve beaten everyone.” He wasn’t exactly tested, but Amir Kahn looked damn good.

As for Judah, the post-fight interview went as expected. “I started getting on track late in the fight. I got head-butted early in the first round. Everyone can see that it was a low blow. I thought the referee was giving me time to recover.” And as he watched the replay of the punch that put him down, Judah summed up his false claim in two words, “Self explanatory.” 

Self explanatory. Judah’s actions explain Judah. He hypes himself up. He talks a great game. But against elite opposition, he falls short every time. And he falls short in the same old, same old way. Complaining. Making excuses. But really bowing, this time literally, out of the fight. 

What had promised to be an interesting night was too predictable and ultimately very dull. Before the fight, Amir Kahn said of Zab Judah, “His time is up.” He may not have retired Judah, but Kahn knocked Judah out of contention, probably forever. Judah’s pre-fight words were perhaps even more telling. “I’m not perfect. I’m human just like everybody else. A lot of things I used to do I don’t do no more.” Yes, he’s only human and any man who walks into the ring deserves great credit. But Zab Judah, not true to his words, did do what he used to do, did do what he’s always done. Tonight Zab Judah was Zab Judah. Tonight character was indeed fate.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Amir Khan vs. Zab Judah - Full Fight July 23rd Part (1/3)

Amir Khan vs. Zab Judah - Full Fight July 23rd Part (2/3)

Amir Khan vs. Zab Judah - Full Fight July 23rd Part (3/3)

HBO Boxing: Amir Khan vs. Marcos Rene Maidana Highlights (HBO)

HBO Boxing: Zab Judah vs. Lucas Matthysse Highlights (HBO)

Miguel Cotto vs. Zab Judah (Highlights)

Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Zab Judah Pt.1

Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Zab Judah Pt.2

Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Zab Judah Pt.3

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  1. Paulina 03:11pm, 11/13/2011

    Gee willkiers, that’s such a great post!

  2. ugk 04:23pm, 07/30/2011

    Amir Khan needs to start taking random drug tests as well as his teammate Pacman.

  3. "Old Yank" Schneider 04:06am, 07/27/2011

    The Thresher—And I will add that it is an HONOR to have you spend such an inordinate amount of your time to track me down to “put me in my place”.  Very interesting that you picked a posting name that is shared by the Clearwater, Florida MINOR LEAGUE baseball team - The Clearwater Threshers.

  4. "Old Yank" Schneider 04:22pm, 07/26/2011

    Well then…nice to have a confession of sorts.  Please note that you too can control if a post is about ME or about boxing.  I’m apparently a greater challenge for you then boxing talk.  Thanx again for the interest and I invite you to contact the writer’s link and submit some of your work.  I’d personally love to see you writing for this site.  PEACE!

  5. The Thresher 02:50pm, 07/26/2011

    Most people could probably guess who I am by the accuracy of my posts and by my ability to put you in your place, though that is not much of a daunting task.  Still, I shall go by “The Thresher” whether you like it or not. In fact, I have a diffrent moniker on all 4 sites that I post on—this being the newest and fourth. 

    So far, I like this site’s potential use of technology but it needs to get the kinks out, particularly as to editing one’s profile. You might pass this on.

  6. "Old Yank" Schneider 12:52pm, 07/26/2011

    I have no dislike for a fighter based on his nationality.  That’s utter nonsense.  The list of great Brit fighters throughout history is long.  Hatton would not be an poop-stain on a program if he had to compete in an era when a 140 pound division did not exist.  And Haye is a proven hype job with a hangnail on his toe.  Their nationality has nothing to do with it.  I’ve repeatedly stated that Froch is ranked #3 at 168 in my book—I still can’t understand how that’s a dislike for a Brit fighter.  Because I don’t have him at #1 at 168 your nose is bent out of shape—live with it.  And indeed Froch’s win over Dirrell was controversial.  Or were you asleep for that?  And indeed in his prior 60 rounds, based on the LEAST favorable official cards, Froch lost 30 of those 60 rounds – he loses a lot of rounds.  It’s a part of his MO to be in a fight in contrast to Ward’s MO to win 12, three-minute championship bouts one at a time.  I was painting a contrast between Ward (who on the most favorable cards) lost only 3 of his prior 60 rounds, compared to Froch who lost as many as 30 of his last 60.  It’s about analyzing the differences in how fighters approach a bout – it has nothing to do with Froch being a Brit or Ward being from California – it IS what it IS!  And indeed Froch was behind on the cards when he scored a closing seconds KO of “tip me over” Taylor.  All of these things are true and do not reflect a dislike for Froch—they reflect a collections of true statements.  And if your intent was to remain anonymous, then why use your signature phrase that you pen on virtually every web site you post on?  CONSISTENCY!  What are we to believe when one acts with such utter disregard for consistency?  I don’t want anyone to know who I am so here are two photo IDs to post on the web.  He, He, He!!!  C’mon, you can’t make this stuff up!  Monica Lewinsky could identify Clinton by his “distinguishing characteristics” even when his face was covered.  And you are expecting to remain anonymous?  Well crack me up!!!  You think a site should protect your privacy when you are walking around naked in broad daylight?  It’s OK, you can come out of the closet!

  7. The Thresher 10:49am, 07/26/2011

    That is all

  8. The Thresher 10:49am, 07/26/2011

    Yank, a poster’s alias is just that, an alias. Take it or leave, BUT it. It is also to be held in strict confidence by the site director.Thiese posts are about boxing, not your personal life or personal feelings about someone else. Stay focused on boxing and you will do well. Stray and you will be slaughtered.

    “I and most writers live for…” Uh Huh. Give me a break.

    As for Khan, I believe you subconciously diminsih his record and talent, your dislike for Brit fighters is legendary—Hatton, Khan, Froch, Haye, etc.

    Point: It was not a low blow. Zab quit.

  9. "Old Yank" Schneider 10:11am, 07/26/2011

    Thresher—Thanx for the well wishes.  I wish you peace.  It is OBVIOUS that you did not take my suggestion and examine the blow via super slow-mo—one frame at a time.  If you did, it is UNMISTAKABLE—the frame-by-frame does not lie.  Khan’s right glove “grips” the black fabric of Judah’s trunks and pulls it up.  It is there for you to see if you can take the time to actually watch it.  And why deny you are Ted and then claim his signature phrase?  As for a target on my back—it is what I and most writers live for.  If shooting for the target seems like some “comes ‘round, goes ‘round” to you, keep it comin’ ‘round.  There is no drug more powerful than attention to a writer.  Thanx again for the well wishes—much appreciated.

  10. "Old Yank" Schneider 09:54am, 07/26/2011

    Iron Beach—I’m not defending Judah’s heart or his reaction to the low blow.  It was all moot anyway.  Khan was on his way to a near flawless performance against a man who was showing no signs of adjusting.  As I’ve posted all over the web, Khan fought a very smart fight and showed speed, movement, combinations and an ability to stick to a plan (quite different from the IQ he showed against Maidana).

  11. The Thresher 09:46am, 07/26/2011

    Iron Beach has the beat.

  12. Iron Beach 09:43am, 07/26/2011

    Where ya’ goin’ with this Yank..are ya’ tryin’ to tell us that Khan fouled Zab? The punch ws borderline, Zab who is a PRO knew that Vic was counting over him and did nothing. Zab made NO pleas till AFTER Vic counted him out…Zab had had enough and checked himself out of the fight. Zab was beat from pillar to post from bell 1, there would be no comeback, no rally on this night, he was thoroughly beaten and woulda’ absorbed an unneccessary beating been brutally stopped and HE knew it. EOS. Yank, do you think a rematch would end any differently….seriously?

  13. The Thresher 09:02am, 07/26/2011

    Huh? You are kidding, of course. Any “FAIR” eye must be your eye, eh? Look, if you cannot see another person’s point of view, maybe you should not be posting. It’s not always about you, Yank. In fact, truth be told, it’s rarely about you. You are about to learn some very serious and painful lessons one of which is that leaving a comfort zone of sorts can be a lonely trip. Another is that when you insult another site by calling it “Bad Left Leg,” that kind of spiteful and inexplicable hate can come back and bite you. What goes around comes around in this business. I wish you well—I truly do—but writing and posting are two different endeavors and one qualifies you to ne a dart board within reason, of course. Me, I like the Wild West, where you have to gun sling without the close protection of a moderator or site director.

    As for Harold and Vic, I’ll absorb their expertise before MOST. But then, you know more than anyone in boxing so I may have to make an exception in this case.

  14. "Old Yank" Schneider 08:05am, 07/26/2011

    Any FAIR eye can see four things about the LOW BLOW when observed in super slow-mo: 1) Vik Drakulich was out of position to make the call. 2) Khan was holding Judah’s head down and punching (a foul in and of itself).  3) The blow made initial contact on the BLACK portion of Judah’s trunks (pulling the black material of Judah’s trunks up and over the gold waistband)—a LOW BLOW.  And, 4) Drakulich indicated where a low blow would be in his instructions to the fighters and he demarked an imaginary line that was about 1 inch below the top of Judah’s gold waistband.  It ain’t a matter of argument—it is only a matter of observation.

  15. The Thresher 01:26pm, 07/25/2011

    “And that was definitely not a low blow.”

    100% in agreement.

  16. BXNative 12:04pm, 07/25/2011

    Maidana is pretty tough,but just tough,he’s a brawler not much of a boxer.And that was definitely not a low blow.

  17. The Thresher 04:54pm, 07/24/2011

    Maidana was/is pretty tough.

  18. BXNative 01:25pm, 07/24/2011

    Khan looked great against a quitter, not taking anything away from him, but this was his so-called toughest opponent, so he still has to prove himself to me.

  19. The Thresher 10:06am, 07/24/2011

    Iron Beach, you are correct re the “low blow.” Yank doesn’t like Amir and will discredit him whenever and wherever he can, but don’t get me started on that subject.

  20. The Thresher 10:04am, 07/24/2011

    Amir has offered to fight everyone out there. He has been streaking under Roach. He is getting bigger and better each fight. BUT, he lack the ability to pack the house. Something is missing in his make-up. If he had Zab’s aura, he would be twice as popular. He needs someone to help him work on his charisma, maybe someone from Canelo’s camp can consult his camp.

    By the way, that was not a low blow. I’ll go with Harold’s assessment, thank you very much. You could not see Zab’s belly button. IMO and Harold’s, the shot was above what you could not see and above the bb. Zab was looking for a way out because he was getting busted up and was ready to go.

  21. Iron Beach 09:04am, 07/24/2011

    That’s fair enuff Yank. However I see a lotta’ things to like and working outta’ the Wild Card is a big plus IMO. In any case Zab didn’t want anymore, he checked out on his own…that wasn’t a low blow. C’ya.

  22. "Old Yank" Schneider 08:49am, 07/24/2011

    Iron Beach— We got 15 minutes of observation last night.  Although I seriously liked what I saw, 15 minutes is not enough for me to flip 180 degrees.  Boxing is a “what have you done for me lately” sport and fans often get overly excited or depressed over a single great win or horrible loss.  Khan looked GREAT last night.  He looked “low IQ” against Maidana; he looked great against Malignaggi; he looked unconscious against Prescott.  He SHOULD earn some respect and fans from last night’s performance, but he’s got a way to go before skeptics like me are entirely won over.  But he DEFINITELY turned my head last night and I give him props for a beautiful, near flawless performance.

  23. Iron Beach 04:18am, 07/24/2011

    Yank, I believe this kid is the goods and he’ll be around for awhile as long as Freddie can keep his head on straight and from what I’ve heard he is a tireless gym worker…and he works with the best in the game today. Freddie AND Manny!!  Don’t believe he’ll be at ‘40 long tho, maybe 1 more fight then he’ll move to ‘47 ‘cause Pac will retire after 2 more fights, 3 at the most.

  24. "Old Yank" Schneider 03:58am, 07/24/2011

    Iron Beach—Khan fought a very, very impressive fight.  He deserves props from me and he’s earned them.  I wish the low blow was called for what it was so the fight could continue.  But for what we were treated to for as long as it lasted, Khan fought the fight he should have fought against Maidana and in so doing, he made it look easy against Judah.

  25. Iron Beach 02:43am, 07/24/2011

    Well Yank, are ya’ convinced Kahn is for real now?

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