Sunday, November 9, 2008

For Zab Judah, Life Begins at 31

Zab 'Super' Judah is in the process of re-inventing himself once again.

He's been a professional prizefighter for 12 years, has held championships at 140 and 147 pounds and has fought some of the biggest names that boxing has had to offer. But along the way, Judah - Brooklyn, New York to the core - has suffered some shocking defeats at precisely the time it appeared as though he was headed toward becoming one of the rare superstars in boxing.

And up until last night, 2008 had not been a good year for Zab Judah. A high-profile bout against Shane Mosley fell apart when Judah slipped in the shower, put his arm through a glass door and required over 50 stitches to the close the wound.

Back in August, Judah took a shot at the vacant IBF welterweight title against Joshua Clottey, but the fight was stopped after nine rounds due to a cut suffered by Zab. It was a fight in which he was behind on all of the official scorecards.

But that being the case for 2008, Zab Judah hasn't let any of that keep him down. He is always optimistic, always smiling, always hopeful and he says he'll be back for more big fight action next year. He also feels that he's a long way from being finished as a top prizefighter.

Judah returned to the ring last night on the undercard of the Calzaghe vs. Jones fight at Madison Square Garden with a win over the unheralded Ernest Johnson, and now Zab is looking ahead to a kinder, gentler 2009.

He is now a quasi-free agent from a promotional standpoint, having ended his past relationships with both Don King and Bob Arum. Judah now has an agreement with Roy Jones, Jr.'s Square Ring Inc. and Zab seems relieved to be in the drivers' seat and more in control of the direction that his boxing career will take in the future.

"I think it's great that I can take my career into my own hands," said Judah. "For years, guys like Bob Arum and Don King ran the business, you know what I'm sayin'? I mean, they ran the business, you know what I mean? And it was suspected that they did a lot of bad things to fighters. And now other fighters are coming in and helping other fighters out. Fighters know what fighters want, so I think it's great. I think it's a great opportunity and it's a great thing that's going on."

Judah is also returning to the 140-pound weight division. It's the place where he began his career as a 19 year-old kid, on the undercard of a Pernell Whitaker title fight, with visions of becoming a future world champion.

So despite spending the last four years at 147 pounds, Judah feels that perhaps welterweight was not the true fit for him and that a return to a division where he will have to shed another seven pounds will be a more comfortable place for him to close out his boxing career.

Another change for Judah, that is noticeable for anyone that knew him from the days when he was barely out of his teens, is that he is a much more mature person now. Zab seems to keenly understand that boxing is a business and that in business, things don't always happen as quickly as one would like. As a result, Judah is willing to work his way into a title shot. When asked what he felt was a reasonable expectation for a chance at a title belt, Judah was realistic.

"Early next year," he casually responded. "Sometime in 2009 I'd like to fight two big fights - two big ones. I got all the belts in my house in Las Vegas, so the belts aren't important to me. You can come to my house, I've got every boxing belt in there," he laughs.

"One thing I've found is that in being a champion, having all the belts in the world, you know, I got eleven belts. But at the end of the month, when it's time to pay your mortgage, them belts don't do nothing for you. The mortgage company don't wanna' hear about the fact that I got belts - they want their money, you know what I mean?"

For Judah, he realizes that his career has not always gone the way that he had envisioned it would. Certainly he has not met with the financial windfalls that were reaped by his close friend Mike Tyson, nor has he built the kind of hall of fame boxing credentials like another close friend, Pernell Whitaker. His career has been one marked by inconsistency and what has been perceived by some observers to be a lack of focus.

So for Judah, his immediate future is about two things: Ensuring that he doesn't wind up on skid row, and also making sure that he gets his name into the record books as a respected and distinguished champion that will be remembered for his skills and accomplishments.

"I think that at this point in time right now, you know, you know what I'm sayin', I want to establish myself as one of the greatest fighters and fight for the big fights," said Judah.

Certainly the biggest fight at 140 pounds this year will be when Ricky Hatton and Paulie Malignaggi square off at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas in less than two weeks. Judah sees an opportunity with either of those guys, and he likes his own chances against both of them. Judah is never far from a big fight and the big purses that go along with them because he has always been very marketable and his fights usually perform well at the box office and on pay-per-view.

"It's a great fight," said Judah when asked for his thoughts on the Hatton vs. Malignaggi clash. "Paulie is from Brooklyn, and I think a fight with Paulie, if he beats Ricky Hatton, it would be a big fight here at the Garden between him and me. But I think it's a greater fight going to Wembley or Manchester or London over there and fighting Ricky Hatton in front of 70,000 people. I know we could sell it out."

Along with Judah's advancing age and maturity has also come the sense that he is aware it's time to approach his boxing career and his personal life in a more serious fashion. He moved from his native, fast-paced Brooklyn, New York to what he calls the "calm life in Vegas" and he says the change of scenery has done him a world of good.

"There's nothing like them Vegas hills, nothing like it," smiled Judah. "I just like it out there. I'm from Brooklyn and always will be, but I left that wild-life behind. Now, living in Vegas is more relaxing for me, I get piece of mind and you know, it's good for me, it's good for me, a lot less distractions."

What also becomes clear in speaking with Judah is that he seems to realize that life as a prizefighter can be short and that he has been lucky to do what he loves for the past 12 years. As a result, he has an eye on his future after he hangs up the gloves and he has gotten into many diverse businesses from selling Zab Judah chrome rims, to appearing in music videos and producing music to establishing his own clothing line.

"I got a new clothing line coming out. It's called 360 Swagger, and we got a whole bunch of stuff, nice stuff. My swagger is everywhere I go, it's 360 degrees," explains Judah. "I got some partners, it's casual clothing, it's year round, we got tons of stuff. We're working on getting in major stores, but right now we got a store in Brooklyn and we're working on getting into Macy's and Bloomingdale's, etcetera, etcetera."

But no matter how far he moves away from Brooklyn, or whether he ever wins another championship belt, or whether he makes it big as a clothing designer, you get the sense that Zab Judah will never forget his roots and will always be true to what got him to the dance.

"I'll always be a fighter," he proudly says. "It's just my nature."

And if you believe Zab Judah, life begins at 31.

November 2008

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