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The Gift Of Zab: Judah Finds Another Big Fight



JudahMabuza_Bailey5On July 23, Zab Judah is going to knock Amir Khan the @*&# out.

Now that I have your attention, allow me to transition to the real thrust of this article: how Judah found himself in a position to put Khan’s name and all those funky keyboard symbols in the same sentence.

I’m not talking about the machinations that made this specific fight possible; the story of how Tim Bradley inexplicably walked away from the opportunity to face Khan and Judah stepped in has already been told on several websites. What I’m talking about is the bigger picture of how a guy like Judah was even in the mix in the first place.

The way boxing works, a fighter is usually past his peak when his earning power is at its highest. Look at Shane Mosley, whose mainstream name landed him a $5-million (at least) payday last month despite the fact that he was badly faded and everybody knew it. It’s not just boxing; Derek Jeter gets overpaid on account of his name and his past contributions, Adam Sandler still makes $20-million a movie even though he did his best work in the mid-’90s, etc. But it’s especially true in the fight game, and has been since Jim Jeffries left someone else to tend to the alfalfa more than a century ago.

So it should come as no surprise that Judah is continuing to get major opportunities after 15 years as a pro and six defeats inside the prize ring. When you’ve logged enough big fights, win or lose, the world gets to know your name, and Judah’s name is probably among the top-10 most well known among casual American boxing fans. What makes this case unique is that Judah’s name alone isn’t what earned him his crack at Khan. Judah’s name let him return from a humiliating loss to Carlos Baldomir and immediately face Floyd Mayweather without doing anything to earn the opportunity. His name let him face Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden two fights later despite not posting a win in more than two years. And his name let him get back on HBO against Joshua Clottey three fights after that.

But something is different here. Heading into the Khan fight, it’s not unreasonable to ask this question about Judah: Is it possible he’s actually on the verge of his greatest glory at age 33, when once it seemed it was all downhill for him after 23?

The “veteran cashing in on an established name” was just the first facet of a five-pronged plan that put Judah in this spot.

Prong number two: maturing (finally), cutting out the BS, and working his butt off to get the most out of his ability before it was too late.

Hey, maybe I’m a sucker, but when I hear Judah talk now, after I tune out all the Jesus praising, I hear a calmer, wiser man. The motor-mouthed ADD case who couldn’t get through a sentence without a “youknowwhatimsaying” or two has given way to a guy whose interviews are coherent. The metal in his teeth is gone. The bling is in a safe-deposit box somewhere. Sure, the shirt he was wearing for his HBO interview this past Saturday night appeared to be a bit heavy on the bedazzling, but we can forgive that. The bottom line is that he carries himself more like a mellowed guy in his 30s than a hyperactive, attention-seeking twentysomething kid.

That apparent maturity paved the way for prong number three: new trainer Pernell Whitaker. It had long ago become clear that Zab’s father, Yoel Judah, had taken his son as far as he could and that he was a negative influence from a maturity perspective (see the brawl during the Mayweather fight for a reminder of that). It was time for a change, and six weeks before Judah’s last fight, a seventh-round knockout of Kaizer Mabuza, that change was made.

“A year ago, I wouldn’t have made any bets on Zab truly having reached a different level of maturity, but now, I’m convinced,” said Judah’s promoter, Main Events CEO Kathy Duva. “The final factor was the addition of Pernell Whitaker to his team. That was the last little piece that was missing. Pernell has brought such a sense of calm and peace and joy to that camp. And to Zab. Look, everybody has insecurities—except Pernell Whitaker. He just doesn’t. And having that guy there to look at Zab and say, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll beat him,’ has sealed it, at least in my eyes.

“Zab is working harder than he’s ever worked in his life. And the fact that he’s continued to learn after he’s been a world champion in two weight divisions! That takes a lot. Most people in his position would not accept that there’s anything they don’t know. Whitaker went into camp six weeks before the Mabuza fight and said, ‘Okay, son, we’re going to go back to what you used to do right. Let me remind you of how you used to fight a long time ago.’”

The fourth prong of the Judah rebuild was the work of Main Events—and Judah’s willingness to put his trust in them. Main Events’ specialty in recent years has been building attractions at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, drawing impressive crowds and not always having HBO or Showtime money behind them. Judah has bought into that. He’s scored three straight wins at “The Rock,” including one on ESPN2 and one on an independently produced pay-per-view. He’s now on his first five-fight winning streak since he lost his unbeaten record in 2001. In other words, he’s done something to EARN his next opportunity.

But there’s more to this picture than just name recognition, hard work, rededication, and smart career management. There’s a fifth prong too: sheer luck.

“Sometimes things happen in mysterious ways,” Duva said. “In the case of Zab’s career in the last year, there have been so many remarkable coincidences and things that have fallen into place—things that were completely outside of our control. It’s happened with every bout that he has had.”

Judah’s HBO return against Lucas Matthysse last November fell into his lap when he already had a lesser fight scheduled. Zab then won a one-point split decision in that fight, positioning him for an alphabet title try that he wouldn’t have gotten if one judge scored one round differently. Then it looked like Judah’s fight with Mabuza would land in South Africa, but Mabuza’s promoters submitted their purse bid incorrectly, the bid was disqualified, and Main Events got to swoop in and promote the fight in Newark. And then, of course, Bradley proved his head can be as dangerous to himself as it is to others when he passed up the Khan fight for reasons only he understands. Erik Morales said no to the Khan fight also, and that opened the door for Judah.

You can almost picture Duva watching her email inbox like Jerry Maguire and Rod Tidwell staring at the fax machine, waiting for the contract offer to come through. “I think I stressed over this one more than any fight I’ve ever made,” Duva said. “It was one of those fights where it’s like, please, please, let me make this deal.” It was the dream fight for Judah at this point in his career, and it got done.

And as I wrote at the beginning of this article, I have a funny feeling Khan is going to end up either staring at the ring lights or wrapped in the referee’s arms. If indeed Judah can perform to the best of his abilities, the combination of his speed, his power, and Khan’s chin feels all wrong for the British beltholder.

And if that prediction comes true, then this little million-dollar payday becomes a mere appetizer for what’s next. Maybe a fascinating battle with a rejuvenated young Victor Ortiz. Maybe a rematch with Mayweather (remember, Judah was winning their 2006 bout through four rounds, and Duva insists that Zab “trained about three days” for that fight).

And then there’s the dream fight of dream fights for everyone near 147 pounds, Manny Pacquiao. Not that such a fight would need extra plotlines, but Freddie Roach trying to avenge Khan’s loss behind his superduperstar would be a compelling twist.

Amazingly, Judah is just one win away from being perfectly positioned to fight the biggest names in the sport. That’s partially because he’s still a big name himself. But that’s only one of the many reasons this 33-year-old fighter, arguably a decade into his decline, is just one KTFO from his absolute earning prime.

Eric Raskin can be contacted at You can follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin and listen to new episodes of his podcast, Ring Theory, at

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura



The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.



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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score



This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.


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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland



On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda


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