Magic doesn't transfer, and other thoughts on Judah-Khan
Heading into Saturday night's title unification bout between Amir "King" Khan and Zab "Super" Judah, there was about as much doubt about the eventual outcome as there is about which pitch Mariano Rivera is throwing next.
Which is to say there was none.
Rivera is throwing the cutter, and the only question is whether or not you'll hit it.
And Khan was going to win that fight, with the only real questions revolving around whether or not the fight would last all 12 rounds. After all, bouts between 24-year-old rising superstars and 33-year-olds with a history of high-profile losses tend to unfold a certain way.
Turns out the fight was a whitewash for Khan, who dominated four rounds before felling Judah in the fifth with a body shot that Judah -- in a desperate effort to save face -- claimed was a low blow.
A disappointing ending? Of course it was. Most of us expected a better effort from Judah, even if we didn't expect him to win.
But as anticlimactic as the ending was, the bout wasn't a complete waste of time. In fact, if offered plenty to observe and to learn.
1. Khan's stock is set to skyrocket
The 2004 olympian from England has made light years of progress since his one-round blowout defeat against Breidis Prescott in 2008, and each big win at junior welterweight puts that lopsided loss further behind him.
Where Khan goes from here, but his promoters (Golden Boy Productions) and trainer (Freddie Roach) give him a double-barrelled blast of positive publicity and instant entree into the Pacquiao/Mayweather sweepstakes, both potential bouts shot through with seductive subplots.
If he meets Mayweather he's seeking revenge for both De La Hoya and Roach, who trained the Golden Boy for the May 2007 bout he eventually lost to Mayweather.
And if, as Golden Boy's Richard Schaefer has been suggesting, they're trying to maneuver him into a Pacquiao bout, Khan will have to choose a new trainer since he and Pacquiao, who spar together regularly, currently share Roach.
Divided loyalties. Teacher versus student. Too tempting to pass up.
2. Zab Judah is Who We Thought He Was
I can't be the only guy who watched Judah quit on Saturday night and had a flashback to this classic rant from Dennis Green.
Remember when Kostya Tsyzu knocked Judah into oblivion during their November 2001 title bout? When Zab regained his senses he blamed referee Jay Nady, which is perfectly logical given that it's clearly Nady's fault that Judah couldn't block the straight right hands Tsyzu bashed him with.
And remember when Floyd Mayweather snatched the momentum from Judah in their April 2006 matchup, battering the pride of Brooklyn's body and breaking him down by degrees? Instead of responding with a tactical shift that might have swung the fight back into his favour Judah chose to punch Mayweather in the nuts.
(Note...watch the guy in the white and red who dives into the fray about 24 seconds in. That man knows how to brawl.)
Saturday night we got both.
When Judah sensed he couldn't win he searched for a way out, and when Khan banged him on the belt Judah took the exit ramp. He writhed on the floor while referee Vick Draculich counted, as if incapacitated by the blow, yet found the strength to leap to his feet and protest when the count reached 10.
The explanation he offered to HB0 cameras afterward -- that he thought the ref was issuing a standing eight count so he could get himself together and continue fighting -- is irrational and at odds with both the rules and the spirit of the sport.
But here's what makes sense: Judah knew he was losing, so he quit. And when he didn't want to admit losing he blamed the ref, just like he has in the past. He is who we thought he was.
3. Magic doesn't transfer
I know a lot of Judah supporters hoped it would. After all his new trainer, Hall of Famer Pernell Whitaker, was, like Judah, a fast southpaw who could attack from all angles. And at 33 he confronted a similar challenge, coming off a poor performance and taking on the then-24-year-old De La Hoya in a welterweight title bout.
And he took De La Hoya to school. Dropped him, cut him, made him miss and made him pay in losing a 12-round decision that many observers (this one included) feel he won.
With his guidance Judah could produce a similarly strong performance under difficult circumstances...in theory.
But the reality is that Judah is who we thought he was, and Whitaker's presence in training camp can't turn him into the second coming of Sweet Pea.
For Whitaker defense has always been an art. For Judah it's always been an afterthought.
Whitaker couldn't have transfered his defensive mastery to Judah in the a training camp, a decade or a lifetime. At 33, a fighter can make subtle adjustments, but expecting him to defend like Whitaker is like asking John McDonald spend an off-season with Jose Bautista then return to the Jays as a 50-homer hitter.
It's not going to happen. You can't become a virtuoso by osmosis.
4. Not a signature win for Khan, but valuable nonetheless
If Khan is the fighter people think he can become, this win over Judah won't define his career any more than his win over Paul McCloskey will, so we can't use it as an opportunity to anoint him the pound-for-pound king in waiting.
But he did lay a thorough beating on a big-name opponent -- which is what he has to do if he's the fighter people think he can become. So even if the win isn't a sign that Khan is one of the top three fighters in the world, it definitely signals that he's ready for whatever challenge Golden Boy and Roach seek out for him next.
Let's just hope Timothy Bradley gets it together....
5. As for Judah....
His legacy depends on who's telling the story.
At best he's an all-time very good who just couldn't turn the corner against the fight game's true elite.
At worst he's a crybaby, a product of the New York hype machine who dominated scrubs but crumbled against true champions.
Either way, he'll never headline another big card or earn another seven-figure purse. So I'm hoping somebody close to him is advising him to retire.
He'll always get fights because he still has a big name, but as DeMarcus Corley or Gary Goodridge can tell you, life as a resume-filler for young contenders is hazardous to your health.
Retiring might hurt, but more losses like one Judah suffered Saturday night hurt worse.