You can roll your eyes at the redemptive narrative of Zab Judah, but the fact that he has clung to relevance over seventeen years is no meager accomplishment. Despite the worst intentions of men like Kostya Tszyu, Miguel Cotto, and Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and a history of self-sabotage that runs the length of the comedo-tragic spectrum, Judah, 42-7 (29), has staved off inconsequence time and again. And while his speed and power—relatively undiminished in his 35th year of life—will continue to award Judah the proverbial puncher’s chance, those physical attributes alone do not explain his materializing against Danny Garcia at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on Saturday night.
Judah has scored a number of career-sustaining victories since his bandwagon emptied, including a split decision over junior welterweight hitman Lucas Matthysse and a massacre of Vernon Paris. Those timely triumphs, coupled with his well-established vulnerability, have made Judah an attractive and saleable opponent for fighters looking to bag their first trophy kill. But Judah, his record against the best fighters on his ledger notwithstanding, is more than a serviceable high-profile opponent. In fact, beginning with his signing with Main Events in 2010—a fitting pairing with the survivalist promotional outfit—Judah has enjoyed a twilight renaissance, fighting four times on NBC Sports Network despite going 4-4-1 in his previous nine contests.
Not to romanticize a fighter who abandoned Main Events for The Money Team Promotions, who tried to choke a referee, and sank a fight with Shane Mosley by sparring a shower door, Judah’s late career moves are those of a desperate man, one doing what it takes to stay alive in the only industry that can give him the life he wants. Still, credit him with the odd flash of lucidity, and recognizing that in recent years achieving his goals meant relinquishing—not staking—a claim to greatness.
Such acquiescence is not shared by Danny Garcia. Having been given a fit or three by bloated relic Erik Morales, Garcia was selected as Amir Khan’s rehab assignment following Khan’s loss to Lamont Peterson. Whatever outcome was implied in his selection, Garcia, 25-0 (16), had plans of his own. He deboned Khan with a left hook en route to a fourth round TKO, and followed up that performance by auguring Morales through the canvas in their rematch three months later. No, beating an ex-featherweight twice and stopping Khan—who has been sparked by a single punch before—is hardly the stuff of legend, nor are decision victories over also-rans Kendall Holt and Nate Campbell. Garcia’s accomplishments to date bring to mind a line from Emerson: “cinders and smoke there may be, but not yet flame.”
Still, the 25-year-old from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, knows how to comport himself between the ropes. He has been tested against speed, power, and guile, if not at the elite level, and fights with the confidence of a young man who has passed a tough test or two. Comfortable under fire—having blown away the same Khan who drowned Judah with speed in 2011—Garcia commits to his punches, and when cut or tagged has shown none of the psychological fragility of Judah. He also has the backing of Al Haymon and Golden Boy Promotions, who have steered him away from more deserving competition and into the sights of the less virulent Judah.
Judah, Brooklyn, New York, has been selected because his popularity and history of surviving fabricates the illusion of competition while muffling—if not completely silencing—the demand that Garcia face the division’s best. Mix in a dose of boorish nettling courtesy of Garcia’s father Angel, flip a table or two at a meet and greet, and the appeal of a grudge match blurs the truth even further.
What is that truth? The truth is that in a fight, anything can happen, but such statements border on tautology. As far as probabilities go, there is a chance Garcia gets caught before he can acclimatize to the speed and southpaw stance of Judah; that risk is augmented by the strain of irreverence that has typified Garcia’s recent performances and Judah’s skill as a finisher. Assuming Garcia is not short-circuited by a blinding shot early, however, he should be able to discourage his front-running foe. As Judah’s stamina wanes—and with it his output, technique and zeal—expect Garcia to find a more inviting target, and land enough hurtful blows to leave Judah either unable or unwilling to continue a fight that could see both fighters hit the deck. And if Garcia does have to dust himself off to win, expect Judah to ride that little wave of achievement as close to the shore as possible.