Can Muhammad help jump start Judah’s career?
Eddie Mustafa Muhammad gives instructions to top-rated light heavyweight Chad Dawson before a recent sparring session. Mustafa, a former light heavyweight titleholder, has been brought in to co-train come-backing Zab Judah along with the 32-year-old former champ's father Yoel. Photo / Chris Cozzone-Fightwireimages.com.
From the inside looking out, the decision to hire Eddie Mustafa Muhammad as part of a plan to kick-start Zab Judah’s career as it teeters toward what are likely its final terrible years makes perfect sense.
Impossibly, Judah is 32 years old now, has been a pro 14 years and is no longer the young phenomenon with the limitless future who astounded viewers with an arresting combination of blinding handspeed and jaw-cracking punching power.
He has been to the top of the hill a couple times and has toppled down, too.
First against Kostya Tszyu, and then Floyd Mayweather and then Miguel Cotto too, and if a guy goes his whole career and loses just to those three, well, he can rest easy at the end. He’s done very good work.
But Judah has lost too to Cory Spinks (later avenged) and Josh Clottey and most damningly to Carlos Baldomir, a wonderfully likeable Argentine who wasn’t nearly as good as his 41-9-6 (12 knockouts) record made him appear but gave us a delightful Cinderella story nevertheless.
Now, with the clock ticking and the Team Judah coffers in all likelihood depleted if not altogether in arrears, there is great interest in making another run at the biggest fights that can be gotten.
And in boxing there is nothing so popular as starting anew. With that in mind Yoel Judah, Zab’s father and trainer, brought in Muhammad.
“I know boxing backwards and forwards, but you know after all these years sometimes I can tell (Zab) all day long what to do and it just doesn't stick,” Yoel said in a press release. “With Eddie there's new energy.”
Though he remains head trainer you have to admire Yoel’s willingness to bring in Muhammad, a wonderful light heavyweight champion in the 1970s and now the trainer of top 175-pounder Chad Dawson, among others.
Muhammad knows his role and knows how to train fighters. He’s known Zab for many years — Muhammad and Yoel grew up in the same Brownsville neighborhood — and says all the things new trainers should say.
“My job is to bring a new voice to what he’s doing,” Muhammad told RingTV.com. “Not to make his job feel like a real job; to have fun with it. To teach him things he’s never done before and watch him smile when he sees them work.”
Muhammad said he works the pads with Judah, shows him how to keep his feet planted when he works combinations, shows him how to keep turning, etc. All good, sound technical stuff.
Muhammad expects to see evidence of his work when Judah faces Jose Armando Santa Cruz — not an easy win — on ESPN on July 16.
Here’s the problem: Judah doesn’t need new energy. He doesn’t need someone to show him how to jab or throw combinations or to get inside. He doesn’t need someone to teach him how to fight. He knows how to do that. He’s known for a long time.
What he needs can’t be taught.
By the time it came apart against Baldomir we all knew the terrible truth about Zab: great physical gifts, passable skills, and for a few rounds he was as dangerous as anyone in the business.
But he could be intimidated. He wasn’t terribly hard to discourage. If you took what he had and hung in there and kept walking forward, sooner or later he’d lose focus, or get scared.
Something broke, or gave way around the middle rounds of a heated fight.
Something happens to Judah’s resolve that happens to all of us and to many prizefighters too, but not to many who are truly world class, and never against one so ordinary as Baldomir.
Sometimes great fighters will more or less give up in the middle of a fight but only when they’re taking a bad beating from an exceptional opponent.
It took Floyd Mayweather and Winky Wright to bring it out of Shane Mosley. It took Manny Pacquiao to bring it out of Cotto.
It took Baldomir to bring it out of Judah.
Not even Eddie Mustafa Muhammad can fix that.
But maybe I’m being too hard on Judah. Not every fighter can or should be top-tier. We need second-tier guys too, and second-tier guys can do quite nicely for themselves as long as they make the right fights.
The trick is to not try too hard to get into that top tier. That’s where the beatings are for a guy like Judah.
Speed and power can only take you so far.
Some random observations from last week:
Bob Arum said this at the final press conference for Chavez-Duddy: “A lot of people say ‘What the hell is the WBC Silver belt?’ The winner becomes the WBC mandatory challenger, so it has great significance.”
This is unshakable evidence, in case you needed any more, that character has very little if anything at all to do with the ability to legally generate vast sums of money. There’s also this, which should be obvious by now: The cretins who run boxing believe very deeply that you are an idiotÔÇª
If it weren’t for the fighters, cutmen, round-card girls, assorted spit-bucket carriers and the occasional good-hearted trainer, there would be no worthwhile people at all in boxingÔÇª
I don’t know whether the once-mighty Don King’s occasional and desperate attempts to get his mojo going again are funny or sad. Oh, wait, yes I do. They’re funny. Because they’re sadÔÇª
Can anyone tell me why it’s big news that Shelly Finkel has joined some sports and entertainment company or another? Who cares? And when did he give up his gig as David Letterman’s bandleader?ÔÇª
Speaking of news that isn’t, a boxing website “reported” the retirement of heavyweight Shannon Miller, who wasn’t good enough to qualify as a decent journeymen. This is like Twittering about your garbage man’s bunion surgery. I have nothing against Miller. I just don’t careÔÇª
In case you missed it, one of the guys ESPN profiled as part of its segment on the Heavyweight Factory gym in Florida got pancaked in his pro debut. No punch line necessaryÔÇª
Hey, when age-related dementia finally hits Jose Sulaiman, how will anyone be able to tell?ÔÇª
I keep reading about these promoters all getting together to further screw up, I mean, “help” boxing. Can you imagine what these meetings look like? They must get uglier than an eyeliner-free episode of The Real Housewives of New JerseyÔÇª
Not a peep about negotiations for Mayweather-Pacquiao. Whether that’s good or bad is anyone’s guessÔÇª
Ah, yes, it’s baseball season, which means millions of Americans will delight daily in watching men in little hats who are in their 50s or 60s respond to debatable calls with temper tantrums of the sort one normally associates with four-year-old children. Great American pastime, indeed.
Bill Dettloff, THE RING magazine’s Senior Writer, is the co-author, along with Joe Frazier, of “Box Like the Pros.” He is currently working on a biography of Ezzard Charles.