TOUGH TIMES FOR ZAB JUDAH — Heading into his 2001 match in Las Vegas with Kostya Tszyu, IBF 140-pound champion Zab Judah was on top of the world. The baby-faced boxer from Brooklyn, recently turned 24, was undefeated in 27 pro fights and seemingly every bit as good as he had been cracked up to be when he left the amateur ranks. “Zab Judah is a kid who’s going to make $50 million, and you see a fighter like that once every 10 years,” said Everlast executive and boxing historian Joe Guzman, quoted in the New York Times.
Judah’s bout with Tzysu, an Aussie-based fighter from Siberia, would be one of the low points of his career. In the second round, he was nailed with a lightning bolt out of the blue, a straight right hand from Tszyu that knocked him off his pins. He was up in a flash, but his brain and his legs weren’t in sync. Whirling on rubbery legs, Judah lost his balance, pitched face first to the canvas, and referee Jay Nady immediately called a halt, perhaps prematurely. There was only one second remaining in the round.
When this fight took place, there were only two fighters recognized as undisputed world champions – middleweight Bernard Hopkins and light heavyweight Roy Jones Jr. Kostya Tszyu became the third. He held the pieces of the 140-pound title that Zab Judah was missing.
To his credit, Judah succeeded in his second shot at unifying a world title. On Feb. 5, 2005, he snatched away the WBC, WBA, and IBF world welterweight title belts with a ninth round stoppage of Cory Spinks in Spinks’ hometown of St. Louis. At this juncture, Zab Judah was seemingly a shoo-in for the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
But that was 12 years ago and a lot of bad things have happened to him in the interim. As Judah (43-9) prepares to resume his career on Saturday night at the Sun National Bank Center in Trenton, New Jersey, on a show promoted by his aunt, he’s far from a lock for the Hall of Fame. And no matter how he performs, he won’t enhance his stock in the eyes of the electorate. His opponent, Jorge Luis Munguia, is an obscure fighter from Honduras who has lost four straight, dipping his record to 12-7.
Since defeating Spinks, avenging an earlier defeat, Judah has scored a few nice wins, notably a victory by split decision over Lucas Matthysse, but became known as a fighter who just can’t get over the hump when the stakes are high. Floyd Mayweather Jr. (UD 12), Miguel Cotto (TKO 11), Amir Kahn (KO 5), Danny Garcia (UD 12), and Paulie Malignaggi (UD 12) blemished his ledger. When he steps into the ring against Munguia, it will be three years and 44 days since his last fight. During this period of inactivity, Judah had four bouts vs. unheralded opponents fall out for various reasons.
As he looks to the future, Judah may have more on his mind than repairing his tarnished legacy. By all accounts his bank balance, once estimated at $8 million, is shriveling at a fast clip. Like so many prominent fighters before him, including some of the all-time greats, he is in danger of going broke.
Judah would theoretically have more money in his coffers if the Nevada State Athletic Commission hadn’t scraped away so much of it. Zab went ballistic when Jay Nady stopped his bout with Kostza Tsyzu, putting a glove under the referee’s chin and later throwing a stool in his direction. For these indiscretions he was fined $75,000. His fight with Floyd Mayweather erupted into a wild melee in the 10th frame after Zab hit Floyd with a low blow. The match resumed without incident after the ring was cleared, but the NYSAC came down hard on the miscreants, handing out $600,000 in fines. Judah was socked with the biggest: $250,000.
The assessments, leveled four-and-a-half years apart, were attached to suspensions that retarded Judah’s timetable for resuming his craft.
Judah was slated to headline a fight card in downtown Las Vegas on March 12 of last year. The entire card was cancelled when it was learned that his license application contained false information. Specifically, Judah or his surrogate, promoter Roy Englebrecht, avouched that there were no liens against the fighter when, in fact, there were three judgments against him for back child support.
He owed $240,000 according to information provided to the NYSAC by the New York State Department of Social Services, this despite having paid $249,712 from July 2010 to 2013 according to his attorney, testifying under oath.
(This wasn’t the first time that Judah had fallen into arrears. In 2006, the New York Post reported that he was arrested after a charity basketball game at Madison Square Garden for failing to show up in court to address a $60,000 claim for unpaid child support. Four years prior to this revelation, an article in the New York Daily News said that Judah was being sued by three women, each of whom alleged that he was the father of their baby daughter. The girls were respectively 11 months, nine months, and two months old.)
For failing to disclose the liens against him and other irregularities (the social security number he provided on his license application didn’t match other numbers on file), the Nevada Commission slapped Judah with another suspension, this one for 15 months. It was set aside on a technicality, but Judah didn’t escape rebuke in the court of public opinion. John L. Smith, Nevada’s most widely read newspaper columnist, slammed him for being a serial offender in a story that ran under the hackneyed headline “Deadbeat Judah Gives Boxing another black eye.”
The purpose of this article isn’t to pile on Zab Judah. Friends and acquaintances describe him as a genuinely nice guy. In January of 2015, he was honored by the Clark County (Las Vegas) Commission for his volunteer work with at-risk youth. But his saga is instructive as a cautionary tale.
When Judah appeared at a hearing to answer for the falsehoods on his license application, his attorney Jay Brown made a poignant plea for leniency, noting that the boxer, who turns 40 this year, was caught in a catch-22. “To meet his financial obligations, he must have a way to earn money,” said the attorney, “and boxing is the only job that he has ever held.” Referencing Judah’s advancing age, he said, “The clock is ticking…his time frame is narrowing.”
If history is any guide, Judah’s fight tomorrow night with sacrificial lamb Jorge Luis Munguia will be the first of several tune-ups that leads to a good payday — and likely a good beating — against a top-tier fighter in his prime. Not quite two decades ago, it seemed like the sky was the limit for him, but now he’s swimming upstream against a current that can only get stronger.
Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.