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Judah getting one more chance to put it all together

17
Oct

For one night, Zab Judah was everything we wanted him to be. He was fast. He was flashy. He was powerful. He was mature. He was composed. He was focused.

He knocked out Cory Spinks in the ninth round to become the undisputed welterweight champion of the world, and at 27 and in his prime, he was positioned to deliver on all of his promise.

But within two fights, it had all unraveled, because, well, that’s the way it goes with Judah. For one night, he put it all together. On every other night, there’s been this little piece or that little piece missing.

When he was coming up as a prospect, they called him “Pernell Whitaker with power.” Judah would have had to have been the second coming of Sugar Ray Robinson to live up to that billing. So maybe the hype was a bit unfair. But the talent was there. Judah had all the physical gifts you could ask for.



And maybe he still doesÔÇönow 32 years old, he’s getting one more shot on HBO on Nov. 6, headlining at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., against undefeated Lucas Matthysse.

After Judah lost to Joshua Clottey two years ago, his fourth defeat in seven fights, it seemed as if we were seeing the last of him at that level of opportunity. But tantalizing talent and the omnipresent sense of potential, combined with a name that casual fight fans know, can go a long way. So Judah remained on HBO’s radar, and now he’s back on Boxing After Dark.

For one night in 2005, he was as advertised. And one night can go a long way. If he could do it once, then there’s reason to believe he can do it again, and that’s what keeps us watching.

Judah, though not exactly world renowned for his savvy, apparently understands that. He explained last Thursday on the boxing radio show Through The Ropes, “You’re now going to see the Zab Judah you were excited about when I was coming up.”

Judah said money and fame at a young age spoiled him and led his career to veer, but as he insisted on a recent media conference call, he’s in a different place now.

“Life is about growing up,” Judah said. “As you get older, you mature. I’ve been to the highest of the highs; I’ve been to the lowest of the lows. At this point of my life, I just choose to walk a different path. I’m doing everything by the book, I’m doing everything I was asked to do in the past and didn’t do. I’m walking the right path in my life.”

It sounds too good to be true, and it probably is. Rarely do the great athletic talents who turn out to be missing one or two ingredients become complete later in their careers. Judah is the boxing equivalent of basketball players like Tracy McGrady and Stephon Marbury or NFL quarterbacks like Randall Cunningham and Jeff George. All had the athletic gifts to be legendary. And all, to varying degrees, had good professional careers. They made all-star games, they led moderately successful teams. But there was always something missing, whether it was desire, dedication, intelligence or maturity.

Donald Tremblay, who was the director of public relations at Main Events for much of Judah’s career and now authors a general sports blog, believes there were two specific missing ingredients.

“One was the fact that, I don’t know if it was his youth or if he had some sort of ADD kind of thing, but he never seemed to be as focused in a fight as he should have been,” Tremblay said. “There were times in the ring when he just lost concentration for however long. He just didn’t seem, over 12 rounds, to carry the necessary intensity the entire time.

“The other thing was that I think he was hurt by the fact that he only had one trainer for his entire amateur and pro career, and that was his father. I’m not denigrating Yoel Judah as a trainer at all; Yoel is very capable, he could do the job. But no matter how good somebody is as a trainer, if you have only that trainer, you’re only getting one perspective. And I think that in order to be an elite fighter, you really have to have been exposed to other perspectives to become more well-rounded. Say you’re an NFL quarterback. If the only offensive coordinator you’ve ever known is Mike Martz, then you’re going to be damned good at the run and shoot, but if the time ever comes that you have to translate over into a more typical offense, you’re going to have a hard time making that transition.”

In other words, after a standout amateur career, Judah turned pro with a certain skill set and never added much to it.

And he’s far from the only boxer to fit the unlimited-potential/limited-achievement category.

If you’re looking for a talented guy who, like Judah, put it all together once butÔÇöto a far greater extent than JudahÔÇöunderachieved otherwise, you won’t find a more perfect example than Buster Douglas. (There should be no need to spell out what his one night of glory was.)

Failing to maximize talent is something we’ve seen in countless heavyweights over the last few decades. Greg Page was the perfect example from the ’80s. We just watched one of the classic current cases, Shannon Briggs, fail in another major opportunity last Saturday night.

And perhaps there’s nobody who made his one or two flaws more visible than Andrew Golota did in the ’90s.

“I still say to this day that the Andrew Golota who beat up Riddick Bowe was the best heavyweight in the world at that point, at least physically,” Tremblay said.

There have been countless others below the heavyweight division who, like Judah, enjoyed good careers but failed to fully capitalize on all of their physical capabilities.

Donald Curry is another example. Even though he reached the very top of some people’s pound-for-pound lists and now has his name on the Hall of Fame ballot, Curry’s dramatic fall, which began with his stunning knockout loss to Lloyd Honeyghan, makes him one of the all-time “what went wrong?” studies. And one of the fighters who beat Curry late in “The Lone Star Cobra’s” career, Michael Nunn, could be described similarly. From roughly that same generation, Mark Breland and Michael Olajide had tremendous talent but came up just short.

“Olajide was fast and flashy, but not tough enough at the highest levels,” said veteran boxing writer and fight historian Graham Houston. “And Breland’s shortcomings were exposed by Marlon Starling. Another one from that time frame was Matthew Hilton. He was an exciting slugger, and big things were predicted for him, but lifestyle issues and a lack of defense were his undoing.”

Houston rattled off the names of a few fighters from prior eras, such as 1940s welterweight Billy Arnold, who was destroyed by Rocky Graziano and was never the same, and 1950s lightweight George Araujo, who was the betting favorite as challenger to defeat world champ Jimmy Carter but was stopped in round 13.

And Houston pointed out one more modern example that somewhat fits: Naseem Hamed. Like Curry, Naz might make the Hall of Fame someday. But like Judah and so many others, his boxing skills reached a plateau early in his pro career and, for all that he did achieve, he’ll likely be remembered as an underachiever.

Unlike Hamed, Judah still has time to shed, or at least soften, that label. Maybe he’ll take a step toward doing so against Matthysse.

But great late-career success is not exactly the most likely scenario. The missing pieces that have held Judah back for the last decade or so are a longshot to suddenly get filled in.

Still, fans who were paying attention when Judah was coming up, or who saw him win that rematch with Spinks, have an image in their mind of what he’s capable of. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve stumbled. Sometimes the knowledge of what you can do when you’re not stumbling is all it takes to keep opportunities coming your way.

RASKIN’S RANTS

ÔÇó It turns out I left off one silver lining to the Super Six withdrawals in last week’s column: They’ve freed up enough budget to allow us to see Jean Pascal vs. Bernard Hopkins for free instead of on pay-per-view. (Of course, this is not a silver lining if the fight turns out to be as entertaining as most Hopkins fights.)

ÔÇó Is it weird that I’m not as morally opposed as most are to Antonio Margarito getting to fight Manny Pacquiao, but I am really bothered by the announcement that Ines Sainz will be covering the fight for Top Rank. I get it; it’s a smart publicity ploy. But it’s disturbing that this door to opportunity has opened for her because she dresses unprofessionally. From now on, I’m covering fights in only a banana hammock.

ÔÇó It took me a second, then I realized where I’d seen Vitali Klitschko’s ring entrance video before: on an old episode of Sprockets.

ÔÇó Through 11 rounds, B.J. Flores had me ready to commend him on a fine job calling the Klitschko-Shannon Briggs fight. Then he called Vitali “the heaviest puncher in all heavyweight history,” which is true if KO percentage is the only factor that matters in such an analysis. And moments later, Flores told us, “Briggs has actually never been down in his career,” which is true if you simply strike his fights with Lennox Lewis, Darroll Wilson and Jameel McCline from his record. But, hey, other than the indefensible opinions and flat-out untruths stated as facts, Flores did a bang-up job.

ÔÇó Speaking of opinions that don’t carry much weight, did you hear Antonio Tarver gave himself an A-plus for his performance on Friday night?

ÔÇó I’m no expert on naming conventions, but something isn’t quite right about the fact that Juan LaPorte has a son named Anthony LaPorte Jr.

ÔÇó Don’t miss this week’s episode of Ring Theory, where Bill Dettloff and I will be celebrating the show’s one-year anniversary. Congratulations to us! I think we’ve already lasted longer on the air than KO Nation. ThunderBox, we’re gunning for you next.

Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected] You can read his articles each month in THE RING magazine and follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin.

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