Cause for Alarm: Amir Khan-Zab Judah Preview

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With Tim Bradley apparently preferring to mix it up with process servers and lawyers, veteran southpaw Zab Judah gets his Last Chance Saloon shot tomorrow night against young Amir Khan at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada. Most books have settled on Judah as a 3 1/2 to 1 shortender, but Judah is hoping experience and power will upset the dope and bring him back into the spotlight at age 33 and after years of desultory performances.

In America, at least, most fights are illusory, and competition is the last thing promoters (and some networks) want. Mystifying weights, generation gaps, outright mismatches, shopworn fighters—you name it, careful matchmaking requires taking a CSI approach to most fights. On the surface, Khan-Judah looks like a combo special of “Shopworn Fighter” and “Generation Gap” put together for the benefit of Khan and his backers. But can this fight turn out to be a little more than it seems?

Khan, 25-1 (17), is coming off of an unimpressive win against lightly-regarded Paul McCloskey in April. Against McCloskey, whose negativity and southpaw antics can make anybody look bad, Khan seemed a bit off-kilter. Khan notched a technical decision win after McCloskey suffered a cut, but he did not look particularly good in doing so.

Despite scoring perhaps his best win last year—over primitive but dangerous Marcos Maidana—Khan is not a polished professional fighter and it will be up to Judah to exploit weakness as they present themselves. Khan, like many contemporary fighters, is helpless on the inside, tends to stand far too straight up while throwing combinations, offers no head movement, and lacks a certain amount of coordination. He makes up for some of these deficiencies with speed, power, conditioning, and athleticism.

After losing a technical decision to Joshua Clottey in 2008, Zab Judah drifted away from world-class boxing to operate, sporadically, on the fringes of the sport. He returned as a junior welterweight last year to steamroll Jose Armando Santa Cruz in three rounds on ESPN2. Judah has always known what to do with an overmatched opponent—blast them out ASAP to avoid cuts, lucky punches, and loopy judges. But Judah has also been a little more judicious when fighting better competition, especially lately. Judah, 41-6-0-2 (28), boxed carefully against rudimentary Lucas Matthysse in November, suffered a knockdown late, and was lucky to exit the ring that night with a “W.” And Kaizer Mubuza seemed to be taking control of the fight when he strolled, hands down, into a wrecking ball counter left that left him counting atoms.

Still, Judah did not look impressive against either Matthysse or Mabuza. Even with the addition of Pernell Whitaker, Judah has not improved much recently. Nearly 15 years after turning pro, Judah still poses defensively in front of his opponent while in punching range, a flaw that has gotten him knocked around, knocked down, and knocked out. Add to this a susceptibility to cuts, an iffy chin, a tendency to fade, and the occasional lack of focus, and you can see why Judah has often come up short despite his natural talent. On the other hand, Judah, Brooklyn, New York, has been a real professional prizefighter for years. What does that mean these days? It means fighting as the underdog once in a while, fighting solid competition often, fighting on the road, and sometimes fighting for short money.

No longer the sharp shooting blur of the last fin de siecle, Judah now looks to minimize exchanges, work behind a steady jab, and wait for openings. This is where things might get tricky for Khan, whose defense consists of skipping around the ring with his gloves up whenever his opponent pressures him. Judah will look to circle to his left, feint from the outside, work off of a jab that he still brings back to his waist, and counter precisely when Khan rushes in. A legitimate puncher with either hand, Judah only needs a small opening to deal out some big hurt. He stunned Miguel Cotto early with an uppercut, dropped Floyd Mayweather Jr.—although referee Richard Steele missed the call— in the second round with a right hook, and rocked Kostya Tszyu in 2000 with a lead uppercut. And Khan, Bolton, England, does not appear to have the most dependable chin in boxing.

This fight may come down to who lands hardest first and who can controlling the perimeter. Khan has the height and movement to keep Judah off-balance and on the outside, where Judah would have to reach to land telling shots. Khan will look to drop right hands over the top while Judah waits for openings and then skip away before Judah has a chance to react. Occasionally, Khan, 24, will also step in to throw a blistering flurry or two, possibly giving Judah a chance to counter solidly.

In the end, however, Khan seems a little too quick for Judah to handle at this point, but it might be a tightrope act for a few rounds. If Judah can time Khan when he rushes in, Khan might fall off the wire at any moment. And there are no safety nets in boxing, something Zab Judah knows all too well.

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SEE ALSO:

ONE MORE TURN: Zab Judah TKO 7 Kaizer Mabuza

SHORTCUT TO HELL: Amir Khan W12 Marcos Maidana

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Topics: AMIR KHAN, JUNIOR WELTERWEIGHTS, Paul McCloskey, Zab Judah

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  • thenonpareil

    Hi JDL,

    thanks. Zab hasn’t beaten a world-class opponent clearly in many, many years, but we’ll see if he has anything left tonight. Hopefully, it’ll be a good fight. That, to me, is what’s most important, since I rarely have a rooting interest in any fighters today. Anyway, Judah definitely has power left, so that always makes things interesting.

  • thenonpareil

    @Andrew Fruman

    Hi Andrew,

    I’d say Judah has three or four rounds to get to Khan and then Khan will take over with his fleet feet. Judah hasn’t done much over the last few years–although he did give trouble to some big names before succumbing–and if he can muster up more energy against Khan it will be a surprise. Judah used to have a high-powered offense, but now, as you note, he’s more defensive-minded. I just hope you’re wrong about the fight being a bore. If you’re right about it being a bore, I’ll have to ban you.

  • thenonpareil

    @FunkyBadger

    Hi funkybadger,

    Basically, what you wrote is what this fight boils down to. Khan has it all over Judah in most departments, but Judah can still crack a bit with either hand. That posing Judah does in front of his opponent–too close to his opponent, actually–is a bad idea against someone with hands as fast as Khan’s.

    Khan will have to be careful early, I think, but he should do enough to win on points…

  • thenonpareil

    @karigaran-on

    I hear you.