Zab Judah Trying to Avoid Stepping-Stone Status

Rory BarrsContributor IIJune 7, 2011

Judah will be in tough with Amir Khan on July 23
Judah will be in tough with Amir Khan on July 23Nick Laham/Getty Images

Bernard Hopkins was 46 when he outpointed Jean Pascal to become the oldest fighter in boxing history to claim a world title, on May 21.

Displaced from the history books was George Foreman, who in 1994 knocked out Michael Moorer for the WBA and IBF heavyweight belts as a buoyant 45-year-old.

For the record, these pugilists are the exception, not the rule.

A flurry of fists don’t become easier to digest with age, and especially in modern boxing, a fighter’s prime is often already extinguished by their mid-30s.

A brash 22-year-old Zab “Super” Judah splashed onto the boxing scene in 2000, claiming the vacant IBF light-welterweight title with a fourth-round KO of Jan Piet Bergman, a belt he would defend five times before an infamous loss to Kostya Tszyu. Tsyzu turned Judah into Gumby with a right cross in the second round.

The loss was merely a blip on the radar, as the Brooklyn native, known for his gift of gab and fervent demeanor, quickly climbed the ladder to welterweight. And in 2005, marked his territory by stopping Cory Spinks for the undisputed welterweight crown.

At 27, Judah was in the driver’s seat, but the wheels were about to fall off the bus.

Following a disappointing loss to Carlos Baldomir, less than a year after the Spinks bout, Judah dropped decisions to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Miguel Cotto, with one no-contest in between.

Several victories over lesser-known opponents failed to right the ship, and Judah looked well past his prime in a 2008 loss to Joshua Clottey.

Boxers, much like wrestlers and baseball players, are well known for hanging around much too long, continuing to put their legacies on the line, even with their best days far off in the rear view mirror.

With Judah creeping towards his mid-30s, you can't blame pundits for believing he should hang up his gloves.

Instead, Judah decided to return to the 140-pound weight class, where he first established himself as a top-end fighter and where opponents would likely be more susceptible to his once-feared knockout power.

Three fights – including two knockouts – later, the trash-talking five-time world titlist has found himself in a place many doubted he’d ever be again: scheduled for a title unification fight with one of the hottest young fighters in the game, Amir Khan of England.

Recently announced, after top-ranked Timothy Bradley turned down a career-high $1.4 million to face Khan (25-1, 17 KOs), the two will go toe-to-toe on July 23 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

While Judah (41-6, 28 KOs) has already begun making proclamations (follow @SUPERJUDAH on Twitter for the latest), he and new co-trainer Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker – Judah is also trained by his father Yoel – surely must know this is likely Zab’s last shot at the top.

Arguably, a good showing by Judah, even in a losing effort, could leave him lingering around for several more big paydays, but that seems unlikely.

This fight is probable to unfold in one of two ways: either Judah, 33, pulls the dramatic upset, and knocks out the 24-year-old Khan – whose only loss came via a first round KO by unheralded Breidis Prescott – or, the fresher, and longer Englishman takes his elder apart with his lengthy jab and relentless pressure.

HBO will air the fight on “World Championship Boxing,” and is unquestionably hoping for the two well-known attractions to put on a competitive show, keeping them both in the running for future prime-time appearances.

Whether Judah has actually revived what was a dwindling career, or has merely masqueraded his down slide with a few turn-back-the-clock wins over unaccomplished jobbers, will become abundantly clear this summer.

Judah isn’t challenging father time like Hopkins or Foreman, but 47 fights into his pro career, one has to wonder how much gas is left in the tank.