I hoped as one might with a lottery ticket.
I’d failed before, but this one time I had a winner. This one phone call – the last I was going to try – was going to land me Zab Judah. There’s no way this final circuit of dialing the phone card number, pressing 1 for English, entering my pin after the tone, pressing 1 again and finally dialing the valid destination number was going to fail.
And then a voice, meant to be human but existing as the harbinger of failure, chimes in after two rings.
“Sorry, but the mailbox you’re trying to reach,” the chipper pseudo human chirps, “is full. Please, try again later.”
Translation: Abandon all hope, ye who call here.
Only twice had I actually spoken with a human, but their identity was a secret. I received like responses: “He’s doing an interview with ESPN now” or “He’s in a press conference.”
There’s no telling what I would have given to be in New York instead of Indiana for the last response. I’ve got a few baseball cards from the 1970s and 80s that would have fetched perhaps enough to fly me east. But I didn’t have a broker on speed dial to gather that kind of scratch, and calling would only interrupt my efforts to call Judah.
I’d changed my daily schedule a bit, calling at different hours, hoping there might be a crack in which I could squeeze. Nada. The voicemail wasn’t cooperating.
By 5 p.m. the day before the fight, I’d all but given up on the notion of a fight preview and refocused for a post-fight feature. We’ll call it flavorful piece celebrating Judah’s successful title defense against an overmatched opponent, Carlos Baldomir. If anything, it would affirm my earlier conviction that Baldomir stood merely as a tune-up and no real threat to Judah’s position as the undisputed welterweight champion.
My questions weren’t too pressing. All I needed was 10 minutes to ask: “Zab, don’t you think this guy is a bit beneath the caliber of fighter you should be facing with all these belts on the line?” or “Zab, how hard is it to look past Baldomir and focus on the fight a lot of people would really like to see happen against Floyd Mayweather Jr?”
Being among those not wishing to pay through the nose for the right to watch others get popped in theirs, Sunday morning’s news proved just as sobering as a jab to the proboscis.
“Judah lost!?” I repeated to myself in the declarative then in the form of a question. I had to wonder if the scorecards were correct. Was it actually Zab Judah and not some imposter? Could the undisputed welterweight champion of the world – owner of the IBF, WBC and WBA belts – really have been dispatched by what I had equated to as a bout so viciously simple that it probably shouldn’t take place?
Every internal question of the results erased 10 or more lines of the story I’d already written in my head. I’d fallen into the trap Jim Braddock sprang on sports writers discounting his chances against “Corn” Griffin.
The weight that fight carried will likely be forgotten over time, but boxing’s contemporaries know Carlos Baldomir helped destroy what could have been a big-name fight for Judah in 2006. Floyd Mayweather Jr. was only interested in Judah for the WBC title.
Of course, the fault resting on the winner of such a fight may only be conjecture on my part. Perhaps it wasn’t Baldomir who shattered a marquee fight, but the man bearing the loss on his record.
Even as the information about the fight disseminated around the world, the aftermath’s stinging surprise came with bonus pangs from each party. Baldomir won three belts, but took only the WBC – once again, the only belt Mayweather cared about – home with him because he refused to pay the other sanctioning fees.
“My purse was only $100,000,” Baldomir said Sunday after the fight. “If I paid each of them the required three percent, I would have come away with nothing.”
Well, nothing except three belts with which you may barter your way into multiple fights for more money. Meanwhile, the WBA belt went to Luis Collazo and the IBF remained unclaimed.
Judah’s post-fight comments were of a different caliber, hardly relating to anything that happened in the ring.
“All week I was doing (Don King’s) job … by making appearances all over the place,” Judah said.
I can vouch for that. He was a busy guy, you know. His voicemail told me so.