Eighteen years have elapsed since Zab Judah won his first world title and he’s still slinging leather. Last Saturday, Jan. 27, Judah won a 10-round decision over Mexican journeyman Noel Mejia Rincon in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Judah vs. Rincon was ballyhooed by a geographically challenged PR flack as “the biggest and most exciting boxing card in Western Canada since Chuval (sic) vs. Ali in 1966.” Contested in the ballroom of an Indian casino on a bitterly frigid night, it was hardly that, merely a blip on the radar screen. Few news outlets gave it a mention — quite a departure for Zab Judah who has participated in 19 world title fights and in his heyday was one of the brighter stars in the boxing firmament.
Judah was undefeated in 22 pro fights when he stepped into the ring on Feb. 12, 2000, at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino and emerged with the IBF 140-pound belt after demolishing South Africa’s Jan Piet Bergman who never made it past the fourth round. He successfully defended the belt five times, at which point it appeared that he was destined to carve out a career that would place him among the all-time greats. The noted trainer Lou Duva compared him with Sugar Ray Robinson at the same stage of development. But then Judah ran into sharpshooter Kostya Tszyu and a quick-triggered referee, Jay Nady, and, although even bigger big-money fights were in his future, things were never quite the same.
Raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, Judah went on to unify the welterweight title and capture a second belt at 140 pounds after scaling back to his original weight division, but now that his career has come fully into focus what stands out is that he invariably fell short in the fights that generated his richest paydays. In addition to Tszyu, he lost to Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto, Amir Khan, and Danny Garcia, among others. Now 40 years old, he carries a record of 44-9 with 2 no-decisions.
His fight in Calgary this past weekend was only his second since losing a 12-round decision to fellow Brooklynite Paulie Malignaggi in December of 2013. Judah was inactive in all of 2014, 2015, and 2016, but not of his own choosing as he had several fights fall out. He finally got back in the ring in January of last year when he blasted out a hopelessly outclassed boxer from Honduras on a show in Trenton, New Jersey, that was cobbled together by one of his aunts.
In the last few years, Zab Judah the boxer has been overshadowed by Zab Judah the deadbeat dad.
Judah was scheduled to headline a small show in Las Vegas in March of 2016. The plug was pulled on the entire card when the Nevada Athletic Commission refused to let him fight upon learning that he (or perhaps his surrogate, promoter Roy Engelbrecht) had lied on his license renewal application by asserting there were no liens against him. To the contrary, there were three judgments against him for back child support. In the aggregate, he owed $240,000.
It appears that Judah was able to whittle down the amount he owed by half. Five months ago, a judge in the New York borough of Queens sentenced him to three months in jail for failing to pay back child support in the amount of $120,000. According to a story in the New York Daily News, the judge offered to let Judah remain free if he could pony up a bit more than 10 percent of what was owed, but Judah didn’t have the funds and was taken away in handcuffs. He was forced to withdraw from a fight arranged for him on Oct. 30 in Azerbaijan.
When Judah was in the chips, he tooled around Manhattan in a Lamborghini and wore bling that may have cost more than the car. Now, by all indications, he’s just about broke. It’s a story as old as boxing. But there’s a new twist to the Zab Judah saga, a twist at odds with the stereotype of an aging boxer down on his heels.
Zab recently completed an intense two-week course that qualifies him to work as a nurse’s assistant. He completed the course at a nursing academy attached to an adult day care facility in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The proprietor, Teberah Alexander, works primarily with people suffering from dementia. Her course is geared toward individuals aspiring to work in this branch of the health care field.
Judah appears to have made quite an impression. According to Ms. Alexander, he now helps the instructors after completing his shift at the nursing home. “Zab assists by motivating the academy’s students to excel to bring out the champion within them,” she says.
Most boxers, even those that achieve a modicum of success, will join the ranks of unskilled and semi-skilled workers when they retire. However, if Zab Judah spends his post-boxing life as a nursing assistant, he may be the first. A survey taken in the mid-1960s of former champions and contenders, all of whom raked in at least $100,000 in purses before their careers were finished, showed these occupational breakdowns:
Working in taverns as proprietors or bartenders (26)
Working in boxing as trainers or trainer-managers (18)
Assorted unskilled jobs (18)
Movie work (6)
Cab drivers (3)
Newsstand vendors (3)
Racetrack workers (3)
We don’t know what a nurse’s assistant earns in Michigan, but it’s a fair guess that Judah will never earn enough to satisfy all the judgments against him. It’s important work, however, and we’re told that it can be good for the soul. We wish him well.
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Photo: Deanna Tucker