I should’ve heeded the warning last Thursday afternoon when Zab “Super” Judah took to the stage for his final press conference before his welterweight title defense against the unheralded and seemingly overmatched Carlos “Tata” Baldomir. What is it about fighters sensing something in each other, radiating pugilistic vibes that only they can pick up on? Former Golden Gloves champion Gary Hope turned to me after taking a quick look at Judah and said plainly, “He doesn’t look right.”
That assessment, as unsubstantiated as it sounded then, turned out to be all too true Saturday night as Zab Judah, Brooklyn’s prodigal son, dumbfounded the boxing nation by losing a narrow unanimous decision to the 13-1 underdog.
Judah’s supposed celebratory homecoming began after one of the greatest cruiserweight fights in history (I know that’s not saying very much). After putting on his own unique, sub-par version of the rope-a-dope in which he took heavy shots to the head and body for the first half of the fight, O’Neil “Supernova” Bell came back with a vengeance to knockout Jean-Marc Mormeck in the tenth round of their unification fight. Despite entering the ring as the best-dressed fighter since Roy Jones, Jr.donned the tuxedo years ago (the Frenchman wore similar garb with a long black tie), Mormeck lost the battle in the ring and along with it his WBA and WBC titles.
Bell, now the undisputed cruiserweight champion, survived the battle of attrition with his granite chin and surprisingly good conditioning, ultimately discouraging the Frenchman into submission.
“I was able to sustain his best shots which broke his spirits and I knew then that I would win.”
To watch Bell topple Mormeck was one thing, but if you could’ve predicted what was to happen next then you truly have the powers of the greatest of soothsayers. With a few of his hometown homies in the ring rapping the song “Brooklyn’s Finest,” their diamond-studded bodies sparkling for all to see, it was time for the Judah party to begin. In a flash, their hero was in the ring and the chants of “Super” echoed throughout the crowd of 4, 735 at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden.
The large Brooklyn contingent welcomed their champion into the ring for what they thought would be an easy night for their beloved fighter. Judah himself was so sure of victory that he had already apologized to Baldomir for being the unlucky one that stood in his path.
“Come Saturday night, I’m sorry you’re in this position but it’s gotta happen. I got Brooklyn on my side, what do you have?”
Even Yoel got into the mix of prophesizing. “This guy came out of nowhere and he’s got a problem. Tata’s first and he’s gotta have it first,” predicting a three-round knockout.
Poor Carlos Baldomir, alone in a foreign, hostile world, readying himself to do battle with Superman and his posse. All he had to hold onto was the spirit of the all-time great and fellow Argentinean Carlos Monzon, whose trainer, Amilcar Brusa, was working his corner on this the eleven year anniversary of the fighter’s untimely death (Baldomir, a better fighter than chronologist, believed it to be ten years). In a telling tale of Judah’s state of mind, he showed blatant disrespect for his opponent by inexplicably punching Baldomir on his thigh, instead of touching gloves,as they met in the center of the ring. He was immediately warned by Arthur Mercante, Jr., but the psychological damage was already done as the determined Baldomir seemed that much more anxious to get at Judah for his lack of respect.
The Zab Judah show was in full effect for the first three rounds of the fight and you got the sense that Baldomir’s toughness wouldn’t outweigh the fact that he was simply outclassed. A crafty southpaw, Judah was executing his game plan by utilizing his angles, speed, and counterpunching. Sharp, crisp punches were catching Baldomir as he pushed forward, but the Argentinean’s attack was only momentarily deterred and he began his stalking once more.
Then the most fascinating moment happened that changed everything at the end of the fourth round. It wasn’t that Baldomir flurried to win the round; it was the big smile on his face when the bell rang that told the story. That expression of supreme confidence had a message for Mr. Judah: “If that’s all you have then you’re in trouble because I’m just getting started now.” Heading back to his corner, “Brooklyn’s finest” knew that this wasn’t going to be an ambush as he first thought; it was going to be a full-fledged war. After urging Judah to hit him on the chin in the following round, signifying the fact that the champion’s punches were doing little damage, the stage was set for the spirit of Carlos Monzon to come alive in the hands of Carlos Baldomir.
With Judah moving backward against the ropes, Baldomir launched a straight right hand that buckled Super Zab’s legs. He survived the round by doing his wobble dance ala the Kostya Tsyzu fight, and when the bell rang Judah walked around the ring pointing to his head, feeling the need to show us how smart he was for making it through the round without touching the canvas.
If Carlos Baldomir with his 12 knockouts in 56 fights, obviously not known for his devastating punching power, had Zab Judah badly hurt then what does that say about his ability to take a punch? He never did go down in the fight, but after that fateful seventh round in which he was humiliated in front of his beloved Brooklynites, the tide had turned for good. Judah fought back and made the fight close, but there was something gone inside of him and his mind seemed to drift off into oblivion.
Controversy stirred after the fight as Judah blamed his promoter, Don King, for taking so much of his time to promote the fight. Of course that’s the reason why he wasn’t able to train hard or be focused for this fight. Brazenly, with Don King looking over his shoulder during the post-fight interview, Judah thought Showtime’s telecast was a good time to dump his frustration, going as far as saying, “I have a F***** up promoter.”
Similar to the chair incident after the embarrassing first round loss to Kostya Tsyzu in which he was angry with the referee, Zab Judah lost control and made another terrible mistake. Even though King seemed to take it in stride, saying at the post-fight press conference, “That’s okay, they’ve been blaming me for everything for as long as I can remember. The Johnstown Flood, the Sinking of the Lusitania, the San Francisco Earthquake, Krakatoa—everything but Hurricane Katrina,” the animosity between the two is as clear as day. Since Judah’s a moneymaker he won’t be thrown to the dogs just yet, but if there’s one person in this business that you don’t want to cross if you’re trying to make a living in the sport, it’s Don King.
Anyway, Judah has no one to fault for his lackluster performance but himself. He didn’t have to be in his brother’s corner a couple of hours before his title defense. He didn’t have to take time off from training and he didn’t have to have his leaching posse follow him around everywhere telling him how indestructible he is. The fact is that in this sport of ruthless precision, no matter how talented you are, if you’re not in fighting shape both physically and mentally, then you put yourself in grave danger. Let’s hope for Zab Judah’s sake that he learned a valuable lesson Saturday night and can now rededicate himself and climb back to boxing’s respectability.
As he was busy playing with his two-way pager and talking on the phone while waiting for Don King to end his post-fight rant so he could say a few quick words, you couldn’t help but to see through the guise of Zab Judah. Like a child unwilling to face the truth, Judah stood in front of a packed audience and pretended that nothing was wrong. If you hadn’t seen the fight and you simply looked at the two combatants, then you might have thought that Judah had defended his titles successfully. But of course that was not the case no matter how badly Judah wished it to be.
Mr. Only In America had already accepted his fighter’s defeat, saying, “He (Baldomir) put on a show good enough to convince the judges.” The dancing dollar signs running through Don King’s head were already in full motion and thus he was far too preoccupied to worry about the mental state of his fighter. “Santa Fe, Argentina on the pampas,” he quipped, already working his manipulative words to soften up Baldomir and his Sycuan Ringside Promotions team. Ironically, Mike Marley, a former Don King man, is now working for Sycuan and couldn’t have had a bigger smile of redemption on his face after the fight. To his credit, he told me days earlier, “Baldomir is going to be the new welterweight champion.”
The fighter himself also believed this was going to be his time to shine.
“I feel as though I have the right promoter at the right time,” Baldomir said. “Sycuan has come into my life just when it is my time to win a world championship at 147 pounds. Some things in life are meant to be.”
That may ultimately hold true for Judah as well if he can use this defeat as an incentive to come back with a vengeance. No matter how far he wants to detach from reality though and awake from this nightmare as if nothing happened, the truth is that Carlos Baldomir is the new WBC welterweight champion and the other two major belts are now left vacant. Judah can make excuses all he wants why he lost the fight, blaming the judges, Don King, God, whoever, it still will not change the reality of the situation. Losing your titles must disheartening in itself, but losing the biggest payday of your career and a chance to fight for pound-for-pound glory seems that much more painful.
Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is now off the radar screen, much to the chagrin of Don King, who was poised to hit the jackpot. Despite Judah’s shocking defeat, King made it clear that he believed a focused Judah would be the only fighter capable of beating Mayweather, Jr.
“Judah has to refocus, redouble, rededicate, get up, dust himself off and come back,” King said. This is a pause, a refresher. Floyd got away again, but I don’t see anyone else out there beating him.”
There seems to be only tough love in the Judah family, which may be a blessing for the bloated ego of Super Zab. Yoel Judah, the patriarch of the family and trainer of the now many fighting brothers, will surely have his star son better prepared for his next fight. On the way out of the arena, Judah senior said, “I don’t feel bad for him at all,” referring to Zab losing his titles. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise for Judah and will help ignite the fire within him that seems to have gone out. But only he can revitalize his spirit and only he holds the key to whether or not he has the burning desire to fight through the adversity that professional boxing delves out. Daddy cannot give him that unrelenting, impenetrable determination that his opponent, Carlos Baldomir, displayed to capture the welterweight championship. It’s time for Zab Judah to stop acting like a child and take responsibility for his own actions. It’s disappointing to see such a great talent stoop to such an immature level by cursing out his promoter on television and playing the role of martyr.
2006 was supposed to be a beautiful year, according to Zab Judah: “I know what I want to do. There’s no one who can do what I can do this year if I have the opportunity.”
Well I guess this fight wasn’t an opportunity, rather it was more of a chore that he was waiting to get over with. Now Judah needs an opportunity to prove to his fans and the boxing world that this performance was just an aberration. He also needs to work hard to reinvent his image after tarnishing it with his bloated ego and spoiled-brat attitude.
The now former undisputed welterweight champion stood confidently at the podium during the pre-fight press conference and envisioned that this New Year would be his coming of age, the year in which he would prove his greatness by fighting and beating the best.
Now, just days after basking in his self-righteous glory, he’s left not to prove his greatness, but rather to salvage both a sense of dignity and a promising career that is in serious danger of being permanently derailed. He is Brooklyn’s finest no more, at least until he demonstrates that he’s capable of being a man deserving of champion adulation.