By Daniel Cann
In what could be pound for pound the ‘Fight of the Year’ Britain’s Amir ‘King’ Khan the WBA world light-welterweight champion faces the IBF counterpart, USA’s ‘Super’ Zab Judah at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas this Saturday.
PHOTO : Tom Hogan – Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions.
As a boxing fan this is a ‘must see’ contest. It pits a veteran champion against a relatively new champion, a southpaw against an orthodox fighter and most importantly of all: a puncher against, well, another puncher! You cannot ask for more than that.
After getting over my disappointment at WBC and WBO champion Timothy Bradley’s bizarre refusal to meet Khan in a unification contest I have to say that my spirits soared when they announced Khan versus Judah. To be honest this is a much more exciting and potentially explosive encounter.
Rumors abound and I cannot remember a contest that has elicited so much gossip, rumour and debate in recent years. Khan’s camp have been alarmed by reports that infamous cornerman Panama Lewis has been seen working with Judah. Many have also discussed the impact of Judah finding religion and having the benefit of guru – like former world champion Pernell ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker in his corner.
Tactics have been debated and the word is that Team Khan has had an excellent 10 week training camp based solely at trainer Freddie Roach’s ‘Wild Card Boxing Club’ in Hollywood California.
That is in stark contrast with recent title bouts involving the ring prodigy from Sheffield who has had to chop and change and jump city to city to promote his fights. This time preparation they say has been far more peaceful. That just shows how serious they are taking the threat of three time world light welterweight champion and former undisputed world welterweight champion Judah.
The 24 year old Khan (25 – 1 (17 inside)) has proved he can take a solid punch as his ‘Fight of the Year’ against Marcos Maidana showed when he took plenty of lusty wallops to the jaw in posting a convincing but tough points win over the Argentine hard man last December.
That contest exorcised any demons or doubts over Khan’s durability and ability to withstand a punch. Both Khan and trainer Roach have both said since his shocking one round blow out by dangerman Breidis Prescott in September 2008 that Khan was ‘killing himself’ to make the 135 pound lightweight limit.
Khan has a big frame even for a light – welterweight; he is broad shouldered and stands five feet ten inches, a good few inches taller than your average fighter at that weight.
There has been a lot of talk that should Khan be successful against Judah that he will be moving up to 147 pounds to face the likes of stablemate Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr or Victor Ortiz (whom Khan knocked out in two rounds as an amateur).
CEO of Golden Boy Promotions Richard Schaefer has been open in discussing Khan’s future saying that it could include a huge homecoming fight against one of those three big names at Wembley in London or the MEN Arena in Manchester next year.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. All of that sounds fantastic but remember in thirty three year old veteran Zab Judah, Khan is facing a vastly experienced boxer with a 41 – 6 (28 inside) record that includes no less than 19 world title fights. He is no mug as they say.
Judah is also a southpaw, he is fast and he has power in both hands. He will be without question the toughest and the biggest name on Khan’s record so far.
For Judah it is a wonderful opportunity to gatecrash the big time again after a rollercoaster, up and down, almost fifteen year pro career. One thing is certain, Judah has never been dull. He has come a long way from the combustible and angry young man that lost to Kostya Tszyu on a second round stoppage in September of 2001.
Boxing is full of stories about how fighters have come back from adversity and bad defeats redeeming and even reinventing themselves and Judah definitely falls into that category. Anyone interviewing him today would find him very different to the headstrong Judah of old.
Judah holds impressive wins over the likes of Micky Ward, Darryl Tyson, Junior Witter, Reggie Green, DeMarcus Corley, Rafael Pineda and Cory Spinks (avenging a previous loss). Most of these guys have been former world champions themselves.
Judah’s defeats have been against Kostya Tszyu (a recent inductee to the International Boxing Hall of Fame and a fantastic champion), Cory Spinks, tough Carlos Manuel Baldmomir, Floyd Mayweather Jr, former WBA and WBO light welterweight and current WBA world light-middleweight champion Miguel Angel Cotto and Joshua Clottey. All of them world class quality boxers.
Since his last defeat against Clottey, Judah has regrouped, got back down to light welter, where he has found himself again and impressively defeated Lucas Martin Matthysse and South Africa’s Kaizer Mabuza for the latter’s IBF world light welterweight title in March of this year. That night in Newark showed a maturity and determination I have not seen in Judah before. He got off the canvas in the fourth, boxed smartly and gamely and took Mabuza apart for an impressive seventh round stoppage.
I watched a repeat of the Mabuza contest on Britain’s Eurosport channel and confess to being mightily impressed in Judah’s change in attitude and approach. That has to be down to the involvement of Pernell Whitaker as well as Judah’s own efforts and conviction to succeed.
Whitaker was one of the most slippery and wiliest boxers pound for pound of all time and he must have imparted a lot of wisdom to Judah during their association. He will certainly be a big talisman for Judah on Saturday, just as Freddie Roach will be for Khan.
This is another reason why I cannot wait for Khan versus Judah. It harks back to the days of Eddie Futch fighters versus Angelo Dundee fighters, or the Petronelli brothers against Emmanuel Steward. This is about tactics and boxing knowledge as much as it is about muscle, fitness and desire.
Today Roach and Whitaker are the master tacticians and ring generals and I will be fascinated to see what tactics they urge their respective charges to employ come fight time and who will prevail.
There has been speculation (only speculation) with Judah’s promoter Kathy Duva (from the famous Duva family boxing dynasty) that should Judah get past Khan then he can look forward to a big HBO television deal for future fights. So it’s not just a unification fight but a possible springboard for much bigger things. I bet if you asked Judah if this were all possible even a year ago he would be hard pressed to say yes.
All of these opportunities are down to him and the way he has conducted himself. If he has prepared in the correct way for Khan with Whitaker working the corner and with the stakes so high it is quite conceivable that Judah can win.
Khan is having his sixth world title fight against Judah’s twentieth and although not too much should be read into boxing records that just shows the gulf in experience. That said I have a feeling that despite his rejuvenation and admirable positive attitude, Judah is also the more shop-worn of the two. Two of his defeats have been inside the distance so he is not invulnerable.
Both boxers can be hurt and are vulnerable to big punches. That is what makes this one so exciting and hard to predict. I can see a scenario where Judah pulls off a big win over Khan, but my head tells me that Khan has entered a stage in his career where he is reaching his prime.
He has moved on so much from the wide open, possibly weight drained novice that was blown away by Prescott three years ago. He has physically matured and is a natural light – welterweight.
Since teaming up with Roach he has tightened up his defence, shown exceptional hand speed and foot work coupled with combination punching and power. Yes Judah has speed and power too but I believe that this may come down to who is the fresher of the two. For me that has to be Khan.
In a thrilling contest I see Judah having his successes but ultimately I think Khan will have too much youth, strength and ambition for the popular and tough New Yorker. After twelve tough perhaps gruelling rounds where it goes to the wire I see Khan proclaimed as winner possibly by a disputed split decision.
The contest is live on HBO in the US and on Primetime in the UK.