You can take the kid out of Brownsville, but as Zab Judah showed with his disgraceful, cowardly, riot-inciting display in the tenth round on Saturday night, sometimes you can't take Brownsville out of the kid.
To say that Judah grew up in a rough 'n tumble environment in Brooklyn, NY is to vastly understate the neighborhood and the daily goings-on there. Gangbangers often ruled the streets when Judah was a kid, with law enforcement present only when it became necessary, when the body count reached double digits.
In that beaten-down 'hood, fear and desperation and disappointment coalesced in the hearts and minds of so many of the downtrodden Have Nots, that understandably, tensions frayed nerves.
That is not to say that there weren't and aren't a majority of people there who are law abiding and god fearing and decent. But the bad apples of Brownsville are a rough brand of miscreant. So Zab had to be on his guard at all times, and that state of anxiety wasn't quelled when surrounded by family.
His father, an ultra-driven, crazily competitive karate champion during the early 80s, was still trying to figure out how to integrate his fierce religious zeal and ferocious temper, the warring yin and yang of decency and self-indulgence. Smackdowns on his kids weren't unheard of. Zab Judah's childhood wasn't white-picket fences and Easter Eggs hunts and cookies and milk waiting for you when you got home from school. So, certain allowances are made when we dissect his behavior, which has been spotty at best, and occasionally, like on Saturday night, impossible to defend.
When Zab Judah stared at Floyd Mayweather's groin on Saturday, unleashed a testicle obliterator and followed that with a full-on foul blow to the back of the undisputed pound-for-pound king's head, the intent was clear. It was intentional, obvious, and only a person with a politician's propensity for deception could look you in the face and tell you otherwise. Yet, there Judah was, post-bout, telling Larry Merchant that he didn't intend the low blow and that in the resulting melee, he was a victim, not a catalyst. To his credit, Merchant didn't burst out in a guffaw.
You hoped, or I did anyway, that Judah learned his lesson when he went ballistic on Jay Nady after Kostya Tszyu made him do the spaghetti-legged dance in 2001.
That display in the heat of the moment couldn't be adequately explained away by pleading immaturity; he threw a chair and tried to attack the referee, and those were the actions of a thug, not a brat. But, the thug was 23, and I think most of us allowed that Judah had some room to temper his outburst, see the error of his way and mend his persona.
For the most part, he did tow the line.
The old thug/punk persona, though, reared its head before his bout with Carlos Baldomir on Jan.7, when he smacked the challenger's thigh in the pre-fight glove-tap ritual. No one was impressed with that brand of bravado, and even Judah rooters at Madison Square Garden that night weren't moved to defend their man as he descended to his old habits.
And on Saturday, once again, Judah's true colors bled through. When the going got tough against Mayweather, Judah's resolve got going. His will, so evident and admirable in the first four rounds, seeped away. And all that was left were some skills and the scarred psychic makeup that disables any possibility that Judah will be mentioned in the same breath as Ali and Tyson, as he stated in 2001.
At this rate, he will not even rate as a Brownsville success story, but instead will be viewed as someone who couldn't get past the wreckage of the past. History will say he couldn't kick the insecurity that comes with living in a broken home, with trying to make sense of your grandpa doing time in the state pen, with your dad disappearing with some of his kids, but not you, to another state.
Zab Judah deserves a measure of understanding from all of us who haven't walked a mile in his shoes and have not one speck of comprehension how hard it must have been for him to come of age in a hard place, having to fight for scraps of love and respect. But by now, he should know better. He's 28. Old enough to know better. Old enough to do better.
In all honesty, I enjoy watching a good melee. It's like when you see a student demonstration, and the kids are shouting and building bonfires and waving their fists. Check out their faces – often, they're smiling. They're having a ball. Most of us enjoy the odd outpouring of lawless exuberance. The Man's always telling us what to do, greedily grabbing chunks of money we earn and spending it on wars that makes the top tier
1% richer and the poor saps who get sucked into it dead. But I thought the tenth round scrum added some bang to my PPV buck. As theater, it was enjoyable. But for the sport, it doesn't do a bit of good. Again, boxing comes off as a lawless outlaw sport, less regulated than mixed martial arts, a home to thugs and morons. How do you market this mess? ESPN is damned lucky that Just For Men has put money into their Friday Night Fight series.
Thing is, I'm not writing Judah off completely. Some people need to have their teeth kicked in to get the message. Others, and I include myself in this category, need to get our replacement set of dentures kicked in as well, before we get a clue and wake up. Judah's dentures are on the floor, scattered like a box of Chiclets. There's still time to collect the pieces and put them, and his public image, back together.
He has to kick the bandanna-wearing posse to the curb, enroll in some anger management classes and actually walk the God-talk that he spouts, and then, Zab Judah has a chance to resurrect his career and his reputation. He says he likes it when his back is up against the wall.
Time will now tell.
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