Judah still believes fans want to see Mayweather fight
By Thomas Hauser
It would have been a great writers' fight. Floyd Mayweather Jr is at or near the top of most pound-for-pounds lists. Zab Judah was the undisputed 147-pound champion of the world. But forget about pound-for-pound. With these guys, it's carat-for-carat.
Mayweather is the reigning poster child for boxing bling-bling. On the road, an assistant carries the jewels that Floyd isn't wearing in an unobtrusive black leather attache case. If one asks to see what's inside and Mayweather is in the mood, the contents are revealed. Like a pirate reaching into a treasure chest, he brandishes gold chains, pendants, watches, bracelets, and rings; most of them gold and platinum with large-carat diamonds embedded within. Clearly, "Pretty Boy" likes pretty things.
Meanwhile, Judah is regarded by his peers as "ghetto-fabulous." He owns assorted necklaces, watches, bracelets, and rings; but his signature bling-bling is in his teeth. When Zab smiles, he reveals a rim of thirteen glittering diamonds weighing eight carats. "The stones are permanently attached to my teeth," Judah explains. "My mouthpiece fits right over them and they fit my personality. I'm the only one in America with this."
Mayweather and Judah are also adept when it comes to talking trash. The niceties between them began two days after Floyd's June 25, 2005, demolition of Arturo Gatti, when Don King (Zab's promoter) issued a press release in Judah's name congratulating Mayweather on his victory and challenging him to come up to 147 pounds to meet Zab.
When negotiations hit a snag, Judah expressed skepticism that the fight would happen. "I don't think he'll ever step in the ring with me," Zab declared. "He knows I'm going to be the one to embarrass him. He can talk all that pound-for-pound he's the best and he never lost and whatever else he did, but he ain't never fought Zab Judah. What do I have to do to get this guy in the ring? Let's see what the pound-for-pound pussy comes back with."
The P4PP came back with the declaration that "Zab is a coward and scared of me," and decreed, "Just sign the contract so I can punish you."
That led Judah to respond, "I'm fed up because the pound-for-pound pussy of boxing is trying to fool the public. Tell that little faggot he's not bred from the same cloth I am. Put this on the record. Tell that little bitch, whenever I see him, I'm going to force him into a fight. When I see him at a press conference, I'm going to punch him in the face in front of everyone and he ain't going to have no choice but to fight me."
Zab also took offense at some comments Mayweather made with regard to a long-ago sparring session between them.
"Floyd Mayweather Jr got his ass into some shit he can't get out of," Judah proclaimed. "His pass just got revoked in New York. I better never catch that nigga in New York. If I catch him, I'm going to break his jaw. Who the fuck is he, talking about what he did to me in the gym? He's talking about how he's gonna put the pictures on the website? What pictures? Suck my dick. I ain't playing with that nigga. This is what I do for a living. I fuck niggas up in and out of the ring. I'll put his fucking career on hold."
With visions of dollar-signs dancing in his head, Don King made his contribution to the dialogue by referring to Mayweather as "Fayweather-Fairweather-Fakeweather." Zab helpfully added "Gayweather" before informing the world, "Pretty Girl is running from me, but Dr. Love will catch her."
Everything that happens in boxing is about money, and Mayweather-Judah promised large sums for everyone involved. Ergo, the fight was made for April 8th at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.
It looked to be an intriguing match-up. Neither man had ever fought anyone as fast as the other. And as Shane Mosley recently noted, "Floyd avoids fast fighters. Floyd has always fought slow guys, where he can sit back and potshot them."
Also, Mayweather hadn't gone in tough for a while. Zab's southpaw stance was expected to pose a challenge. And perhaps most important, Judah was thought to have matured as a fighter. "Floyd is getting me at the wrong time in my life as far as he's concerned," Zab said, assessing the scheduled fight. "I got my shit together now,"
But there were doubts about Judah. "Zab is an excellent fighter," said Mosley. "He's got speed and power; he's a good finisher. If he feels he has you, he's a monster. But I don't know if Zab's chin is as good as the rest of him. He might have more power at 147; but when you go up in weight, your chin stays the same."
Moreover, Judah's list of opponents hardly looked like a "who's who" of the lighter weight divisions. His signature win came against Cory Spinks, who Zab kayoed in February 2005 after losing a decision in their first encounter. Spinks, like Mayweather, is a slick boxer. But unlike Mayweather, Spinks can't punch.
The assumption was that Mayweather would hit Judah more times than Zab had ever been hit, harder than Zab had ever been hit, and with punches that Zab couldn't see coming. Zab's only chance of winning would be to turn the fight into a slugfest, but that's not his way. Indeed, after Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo electrified the boxing world with their May 2005 epic, Judah declared, "If that's what it takes to be in a fight of the year, I don't want to be in one." Hence the belief that, against Mayweather, Zab ultimately would go into survival mode.
But first, there was the formality of Zab Judah versus Carlos Baldomir on January 7th at Madison Square Garden.
Baldomir (the WBC's mandatory challenger) was a journeyman from Argentina with 12 knockouts and 41 wins in 56 fights. He had fought only twice in the past 27 months (against Alpaslan Aguzum and Miguel Rodriguez). Depending on where one looked, he was on the boards as a 10-to-1 to 16-to1 underdog.
There was a lot of tough talk at the final pre-fight press conference about "Brooklyn in the house" and "this is how we do things in New York." Joel Judah (Zab's father and trainer) dismissed Baldomir with the words, "This guy came out of nowhere and he's going back to nowhere." Zab, for his part, asked the challenger, "I got Brooklyn on my side. What you got? Argentina?"
Ron Scott Stevens (chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission) reminded the gathering, "There are no hometown decisions in New York. Once the bell rings, the rules are the same for everyone." But no one paid much attention to Stevens's caveat. The buzz in the room wasn't even for Judah-Baldomir and the co-featured bout between Jean-Marc Mormeck and O'Neil Bell. It was for Mayweather-Judah.
Meanwhile, Zab, like the rest of the boxing establishment, didn't seem to be taking Baldomir seriously. By his own admission, he spent a lot of time during the week leading up to the fight "running around promoting, getting up for radio shows at 6:30 in the morning, making appearances all over the place." At the official weigh-in, he failed to make weight on the first try. On fight night, he was in the corner for a four-round preliminary bout involving his brother Josiah shortly before his own fight. And he seemed to spend more time orchestrating his ring walk than preparing emotionally to face Baldomir.
In the first televised bout of the evening, O'Neil Bell scored a dramatic tenth-round stoppage of Jean-Marc Mormeck to capture the unified cruiserweight championship. Then Judah and Baldomir entered the ring. After the fighters were introduced, referee Arthur Mercante Jr issued final instructions. At that juncture, instead of touching gloves, Zab punched Baldomir on the thigh. Mercante would have been justified in taking a point away from the champion, but he chose not to.
The early rounds belonged to Judah. He was too fast for the plodding Argentinean, and Baldomir showed a conspicuous lack of power. Before long, the challenger was bleeding, which was hardly a surprise since his scar tissue has scar tissue. But Judah was fighting with more style than substance. And he was tiring. Then, in round seven, Baldomir whacked him with a hard right to the temple and Zab's strut turned into a stagger. "I got hit with a good shot," he acknowledged afterward. "That right hand he hit me with; it was like my tongue went numb. I was hurt."
Judah spent the rest of round seven wobbling around the ring with Baldomir chasing ineffectually after him. On those occasions when the Argentinean caught up to him, Zab clutched and held on to survive. But the flow of the bout had changed. Once Judah gets hit, he's a different fighter. For the rest of the night, he threw next-to-nothing. All three judges gave Baldomir five of the final six rounds en route to a 115-112, 115-113, 114-113 triumph. This observer scored it 114-113 for Baldomir.
After his loss, Zab was still talking about fighting Mayweather. "Everyone in boxing is thirsty to see this fight," he proclaimed. "My people are going to be in touch with his people and see if we can still make this happen. It's all on Floyd. We don't need no titles on the line. All he has to do is say 'yes' and I'll be there."
Meanwhile, Bob Arum (Mayweather's promoter) reported that Don King called him the day after Judah-Baldomir. "He wants to keep it on," Arum said. "I would think, probably, it would be off but maybe not. We would have to reduce the purses dramatically. Everybody is in a state of shock."
With good reason.
There were a lot of losers on January 7th. Mayweather was slated to make a minimum of $6,000,000 for the Judah fight, while Zab had a $3,000,000 guarantee. King, Arum, and HBO-PPV all lost what would have been a nice profit, as did the Nevada gaming establishment. And let's not forget the sanctioning fees that would have gone to the various alphabet-soup organizations.
The big winner, of course, is Carlos Baldomir, who is now the WBC 147-pound champion. By virtue of Judah's loss, the WBA "super-championship" and IBF titles have been declared vacant. Zab's most promising options would seem to be a rematch against Baldomir or a fight against Luis Collazo (the regular WBA beltholder). But for the moment, his credibility as a superstar is gone.
* * *
And on another front --
Boxing is a backstabbing business. Thus, the holiday gifts that Top Rank sent to Ross Greenburg, Mark Taffet, Mark Greenberg, and Ken Hershman (the key decision-makers at HBO and Showtime) might have violated an industry code. Each man received a sterling silver Tiffany pocketknife with a note that read "2006: No backstabbing."
Not to worry. Shortly after the new year began, Bob Arum accused the networks of racism for failing to offer a date to his middleweight prospect Kelly Pavlik because Pavlik is white. "There's a perception with boxing network guys that, if you're a white guy, you can't fight," Arum proclaimed. "They judge by color."
In response, Showtime executives sent a gift of their own to Top Rank: a box of Band-Aids. Ross Greenburg saw less humor in the proceedings and called Arum's comments "a disgraceful and undignified remark by a disturbed man."
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org