Vernon Paris gets his biggest chance to abandon the fringes at last when he faces veteran southpaw Zab Judah on Saturday night in an intriguing matchup scheduled for 12 at the Aviator Sports Complex in Brooklyn, New York.
After years of personal turmoil, “The Iceman” is looking to, at the very least, settle his career, one that over the years has suggested something out of Paul Bowles: “I hung around and waited. It seems to me this must be what most people do.” This WKRP elimination bout–to be aired on the NBC Sports Network–is an opportunity to step out of the dark and into the permanent chiaroscuro of prizefighting.
Paris, 24, has survived two murder attempts—one by gun and one by knife—a stint in the hoosegow for assault, homelessness, a suspension for failing drug tests, a short-lived connection with Gary Shaw, long-running battles with a hapless commission, and a slew of unsavory associations. Paris once even signed for an MMA bout that never occurred. His advisor, Carlos Llinas—first publicly outed on TCS last year as a renegade promoter–has been the subject of more rumors in Michigan than Kwame Kilpatrick had been before the ex-mayor of Detroit hurtled headfirst into moral oblivion. (Llinas, interestingly enough, has since applied for—and received—a license.) You can almost see the grainy film still–fedoras atilt at shadowy angles; a single, naked bulb, emitting sickly light, dangling from the ceiling; and plumes of cigarette smoke swirling in the night–when you think about Paris and the Michigan boxing scene in general. This is the soft white underbelly of modern boxing, and you would not want to scratch it with a 21-ounce pool stick.
Now a perpetual reclamation project—like the South Bronx—Zab Judah, 34, is once again a single “W” away from some kind of a junior welterweight championship shot. A win against Paris would make Judah a marketable foe again—forget about such lofty concepts as “deserve” or “entitled.” In boxing, you either get what you have coming to you, or you get what you do not have coming to you. For Main Events, getting Judah the easiest big fight possible is a neat tactical move, one that can pay off big should Judah win. Paris, after all, has never gone more than eight rounds and has never stepped into the ring with a topnotch foe. Tim Coleman, whom Paris, 26-0-0-3 (15), stopped last summer in seven on ESPN2, is not a professional prizefighter; he is a man who answers the telephone whenever a promoter calls.
In addition, the scuttlebutt in Michigan says that Paris is a heavy smoker. If Judah can filibuster his way through the first six or seven rounds, then he may wind up facing the easily-winded fighter who has faded against a number of low-level operatives. Not only has Paris, Detroit, Michigan, never gone eight rounds, but it took 25 fights before he answered the bell for a scheduled 10. In the regulatory netherworld of Michigan, which would have made a fit subject for a 1920s screwball comedy, Paris edged out wins over the remnants of Courtney Burton and Emanuel Augustus. A split decision against Juan Santiago took place on Showtime in the Gary Shaw Shangri-La of the Chumash Casino. In other words, after nearly 30 fights, Paris remains raw and comparatively unknown. Since returning in 2009 from his suspension, Paris has shown some speed, iffy balance, a dedication to bodywork, a tendency to drop his hands during exchanges, poor stamina, and an assortment of baseball caps with brims as wide as awnings.
Against Amir Khan last July, Judah, Las Vegas via Brooklyn, New York, was little more than an innocent bystander. Unable to adjust or get off his own shots, Judah allowed Khan to pick him apart from a distance. Judah, 41-7-0-2 (28), appeared to have some defensive guile left, but he never looked like he was interested in opening up to make a fight of it. Khan did as he pleased, and when Judah went down from a borderline shot to the body in the fifth, referee Vic Drakulich dutifully tolled off the “10.” With over 15 years as a professional prizefighter, Judah knows what to do when the referee starts counting, and if he decided that Las Vegas would be where he would willingly forget such things, then perhaps his heart is no longer in it. Combine that possibility with faded skills and increasingly tender skin, and you have a man who will never be a heavy favorite against anything more than a clubfighter again. What appeared here on TCS last year about Judah still seems an appropriate sketch:
In the late 1990s you could find Judah, now fighting out of Las Vegas, in Gleason’s Gym down on Front Street, putting on a show like no other. A Futurist blur even in sparring, Judah had the kind of speed, agility, and power that could make spectators gasp. Before Kostya Tszyu nearly decapitated him in 2001, Judah made an awful lot of good fighters look like fools in the ring: Reggie Green, Mickey Ward, Terron Millet. But all that seems like some other lifetime ago. Actually, come to think of it, it was.
Paris, on the other hand, is all upside by comparison, even with his seeming commitment to “Thug Life.” Under the tutelage of Dave Lester, Paris has been training, perhaps, like a professional for the first time. “Under the lights and cameras, I transform into an animal,” Paris said in a press release a few weeks ago. “This fight ain’t gonna be decided by the judges, it’s gonna be decided in the middle of the ring. From start to finish, we are going to be banging. So if Zab can’t handle the pressure, then he’s going out. I got too many plans. I need this fight to get where I got to go. I need it bad.” Judah needs it bad, too, but does he want it?
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