These were carefully picked fighters designed to build up a reputation for a guy with a cool name, fast hands, and the gift of gab.
But hype does not a true champion make.
The first “name” fighter that Judah beat was Micky Ward in June of 1998, defeating him by a wide margin. Now, we all love and respect Micky Ward for the exciting fighter he was but he wasn’t considered an elite fighter.
After Ward, Judah continued fighting, well…relative unknowns, really, until he ran into Kostya Tszyu, who proceeded to stop Judah in the second round of their November 2001 unification match for the Undisputed Junior Welterweight Championship.
After referee Jay Nady stopped the fight, we got to see Judah’s thug side rear its ugly head as he jammed his glove into Nady’s neck in disagreement with the stoppage, after firing a stool across the ring.
Judah was subsequently fined $75,000 and suspended for six months by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for the indiscretion.
The next fighter to beat Judah was the soft-handed Cory Spinks. In their first fight in April 2004, Spinks dominated Judah and scored a unanimous decision on all three judges’ scorecards. Less than a year later, Judah avenged that loss by capitalizing on the fact that Spinks, a masterful boxer, doesn’t really have the power to keep off a fighter who is pressing him. Judah would score a technical knockout in the ninth round, annexing the Undisputed Welterweight Championship in the process.
Eleven months later, in an extremely exciting turn of events, Judah was defeated by Carlos Baldomir. It was a fight that Judah was expected to win easily but the unheralded Baldomir seized the opportunity and fought a beautiful fight, winning by unanimous decision and claiming the WBC welterweight belt (Judah’s only alphabet title up for grabs, since the Argentinean paid only the WBC’s sanctioning fees) as well as the distinction of becoming the lineal, legitimate champion.
In his very next fight, Zab squared off against the extremely dangerous and absurdly talented Floyd Mayweather Jr.
That was not a healthy choice, as Mayweather dominated Judah throughout the entire fight.
It was a fight that was almost stopped when Judah, in trouble, threw what appeared to most observers to be an intentional low blow, causing both corners to jump into the ring like a bench-clearing brawl in baseball. Nonetheless, Mayweather’s decision win gained him the IBF belt, the last sanctioning body trinket left in Judah’s possession (allowed by the IBF, for whatever reason, as opposed to being stripped in the Baldomir loss)
Two fights later was Miguel Cotto, who beat Judah soundly on his way to victory via an 11th round TKO in June 2007.
Zab fought a couple of “make me feel better” fights after that, scoring victories in both, but then he lost to a fighter most people were sure he would defeat, Joshua Clottey.
The August 2008 fight was a touch-and-go affair but in the ninth round, a punch (ruled an accidental headbutt by referee Robert Byrd) opened up a cut over Judah’s left eye. Judah said he couldn’t see and the bout was halted as Byrd sent it to the scorecards. Clottey was comfortably ahead and was awarded the technical decision.
Lucas Matthysse and Kaizer Mabuza notwithstanding, Judah fought a few meaningless fights afterward. Then on Saturday night, he faced Amir Khan.
Only this time, Zab didn’t have his father in his corner as his trainer. Zab had enlisted the services of Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker.
But even “Sweet Pea” was powerless to help Zab in this fight. Although he pleaded with Judah to throw his left from underneath, Judah just seemed overwhelmed and lost. After all of his rhetoric, Zab Judah once again appeared to be a mediocre fighter when facing quality competition.
Throughout four rounds, Khan completely dominated Judah, bloodying his nose and causing him to bleed from the mouth.
In the fifth round, an opportunity for Zab to get out of the fight presented itself in the form of a borderline low blow from Khan.
It was the type of blow that boxing fans have seen fighters shake off countless times before but not this time. As referee Vic Drakulich began counting, there was Zab on his knees rocking back and forth claiming to be the victim of a low blow.
Judah made no attempt to stand until he was certain that Drakulich had counted to ten, only then rising pretty quickly. Judah told Max Kellerman that even though he lost, it was because of a low blow. The only problem is that Zab is about the only one you can find who believes that. Most people believe that Zab, who was never in the fight, just quit.
Saturday night, Amir Khan put an exclamation point on the fact that no matter how much you insist that someone is a championship-caliber fighter, they have to deliver in the ring and Zab Judah just doesn’t do that when facing quality competition. And it is very sad on some level to watch a fighter quit on his knees in the middle of the ring.
That is exactly what Zab Judah did.