“You are fuckin’ something, man!”
His arms draped across the fighter’s shoulders, looking reverently at, and beyond, the disfigured face, referee Steve Smoger offered this raw encomium. He did not address it to the victor, however—who was milling around the ring, lost in celebratory whoops and embraces—but to the loser. Nestled amongst his supporters, Zab Judah listened to Smoger with the pained smile of a man accepting consolation, the smile of a man who recognizes that, however flattering the words, they are a confirmation of failure.
It feels too harsh, too literal, to characterize the performance Judah gave before a boisterous crowd at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, as a failure. No performance that satisfies a crowd, that staves off obscurity, and removes some of the patina of earlier blunders is completely unsuccessful. And yet, despite an impressive showing—his atypically ferocious late round stand in particular—Judah still came up just short, losing a unanimous decision to Danny Garcia.
If Judah, Brooklyn, New York, was to have success against Garcia it was expected to come early in the fight, before his stamina and focus made their predictable departure. Rather than fight cautiously however, waiting for the threat to dissipate, Garcia went immediately on the offensive, never allowing Judah to get on track. His reputation as a left-hooker notwithstanding, Garcia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, nullified Judah’s speed by committing to a number of thudding right hands. By attacking the left side of Judah’s head and body, Garcia forced his opponent to holster his left hand to protect himself. Judah wanted to counter with straight lefts and uppercuts, but the force, frequency, and variation—both of target and trajectory—of Garcia’s right hand were too unpredictable to venture a counter against. And while Judah caught the majority of those punches on his gloves and arms, his output was reduced to a perfunctory jab and an occasional left to Garcia’s body. Moreover, the constant abuse of Judah’s left side began to inch him to his right, and into the vicinity of Garcia’s left hook. Like a marlin corralling a school of sardines, Garcia, 140, used these simple tactics to befuddle Judah over the opening four rounds.
With his quarry unable to escape and unsure of how to retaliate, Garcia ramped up his assault in the middle rounds. He slammed his right fist into Judah’s body and began cranking home left hooks; as long as Garcia was punching, Judah was on the defensive, and even when he missed, Garcia’s punches discouraged retaliation. A counter right from Garcia, 26-0 (16), late in the fifth round forced Judah to hold. The onslaught persisted in the sixth. With the crowd chanting his name, Garcia cornered the now steadily retreating Judah and hammered away at him, shaking off the sporadic counters Judah offered and punishing him for his impertinence. But the proud Brooklyn fighter refused to wilt. He began looking for chances to counter Garcia, who, perhaps feeling a bit overzealous, was getting dangerously wide with his punches. Garcia looked to end matters in the eighth, sending Judah to the canvas with a thudding right hand that opened a long gash under Judah’s right eye. The punishment he had been dealt, particularly over the previous three rounds, seemed to have finally pushed Judah, 42-8-0-2 (29), past the brink of competitiveness, and expectations of him going quietly, if not emphatically into the night seemed validated. But those expectations would be prove grossly off-base.
Having survived the knockdown, Judah, 140, looked to turn the tide. Taking the role of aggressor in the tenth round, he landed a series of left hands that prompted a clinch from Garcia. A look of worry on his rapidly reddening face, his output dropping to little more than a defensive jab, Garcia stepped away from his tormentor on loose legs that betrayed his suffering. Now the pursuer, Judah clipped him with a right hook and a sharp left before the end of the round. To his credit, rather than panic or be goaded into a firefight, Garcia returned to the strategy that produced his early success. He reinvested in his right hand, and while Judah continued to abuse him, Garcia responded to each blow with power shots. He would take considerably more than he gave over the remaining two rounds, and he would do so with blood streaming down the middle of his face—the result of an accidental butt—but Garcia remained unflappable, fighting off his assailant as Judah tried desperately to put him away. Despite his inspired late-rounds assault, Judah came up just short. Garcia was awarded the victory by scores of 115-112, 114-112, and 116-111.
There may be some resistance to embracing Garcia, perhaps because of his insufferable father, perhaps because—punching power aside—he has seemed largely unremarkable, perhaps because some begrudge him his undoing of Amir Khan. Whatever the perception of Garcia, it is time to give him his respect. He is an above average puncher with a good chin and respectable hand speed; but more important, in a sport where so many flounder when an advantage is negated, Garcia is able to both impose and adjust with an composure that will carry him through the trials that await him. “I’m a true champion—I gotta fight through a storm to be that,” Garcia told Jim Grey in the aftermath. In Golden Boy Promotions’ unofficial junior welterweight tournament, Garcia is slated to face the winner of the Lucas Matthysse-Lamont Peterson bout. Regardless of who wins that fight, there are storm clouds building on Garcia’s horizon. Still, while he may not be favored to win against either man, he should be expected to hold his own.
If Judah’s valiant performance at the Barclays Center were his last, he could walk away proud. But the 17-year veteran has other plans, telling Jim Grey: “Oh no, you gonna see men fight again, I mean, why would I quit?” One can think of any number of reasons for Judah to take his leave. But this is boxing, where men don’t take their leave—they are made to. A fighter leaving on a high note? That would be fuckin’ something.