The Older and Improved Zab Judah (Interview) By Steve Kim, MaxBoxing (Nov 5, 2010) Special to Doghouse Boxing - Tweet
Last Friday afternoon, I had a chance to interview Zab Judah, who faces Lucas Matthysse as the main event on HBO from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey in an IBF title eliminator. I started things by asking an expected question: was this opportunity to fight on HBO, instead of facing Michael Clark as originally planned on October 2nd- where he went from fighting in the “dark” to “Boxing After Dark”- like a blessing from above?
I was greeted by a most unexpected reply.
"First of all, before I start this interview, I want to thank my Lord and savior Jesus Christ for providing me with this opportunity," said Judah. "Yes, this is a God-given blessing right here, for me to be fighting a guy of this magnitude on HBO. I’m back in a good position, back in high spirits. I’m just feeling excellent."
He’d been gone for awhile but now he’s back. Older and wiser. There is still ample time to fulfill the vast expectations that the likes of Max Kellerman (and also this writer) once placed on him.
"I took some time off and just relaxed it," he said. "Got my mind right and, well, I was kind of running wild but then the Lord has strange ways of dealing with everybody. And when He’s ready, He deals with everybody at just due time. I just think, right now, it was my time."
So wait a minute? Wasn’t Judah Hebrew-Israelite or something? What about that trademark Star of David that was always on his trunks? Did Judah go all Evander Holyfield on us? Is he a born-again Christian?
Judah says, "Well, I’ve been a Christian for years. I got saved when I was like seven years old. People don’t know but my grandmother and my grandfather- God rest his soul- was a pastor. And my grandmother is still a current pastor. We have our own church in North Carolina and with that being said, I’ve got a long history in the church. People don’t know I used to be a choir boy, be in the choir, be an usher and held bible study. So I pretty much know the book good.
"But in the Bible, it says, when you stray from me, the Lord gets out of your life,” continued Judah. “So then, I picked up the Lord back and started to focus on what I’m supposed to focus on and everything has turned around and been great again."
We all know of Judah’s misdeeds in and out of the ring, from his behavior toward referee Jay Nady after losing to Kostya Tszyu to viral videos of his participation in dice games on the streets of Miami that turned violent. He admits readily, he hasn’t always been, well, a choir boy.
"Oh, yeah, definitely," he admitted. "Listen, I’m not perfect; ya’ know what I’m saying? No one’s perfect. So yeah, I went out there and I rebelled against the Lord and I dealt with my punishment. People in the game said, ’How did Zab lose to [Carlos] Baldomir? How did Zab lose that?’ I didn’t lose to these guys- I was fighting a battle with God. God was like, ’Boy, get on the right track or you ain’t getting nothing.’
"Now, I’m on the right track."
I know many of you might be skeptical. After all, years ago, we would hear and read stories of the supposedly matured Judah, only to be let down. So has Judah, who just celebrated his 33rd birthday, a changed man?
Kathy Duva, president of Main Events, who is once again back in the Judah business, tells Maxboxing, "I tell ya’, he sure seems to be. But I was the last person on Earth who was going to believe this, I thought. But he has demonstrated with his actions, more so than his words- but also his words- that he’s really grown up and I think it’s a case of a guy who was an underachiever who has matured to realize he really has amazing gifts and amazing talent and he’s got to add a really good work ethic to all that and he’s getting results and he’s a believer."
Judah was with Main Events from the beginning of his pro career in 1996 to 2002. In between that time, he became a Showtime staple, won the IBF junior welterweight title and fought for all the junior welterweight marbles against Tszyu in November of 2001. But only one fight after that, Judah had signed on with Don King. It was as ugly and acrimonious a divorce as Frank and Jamie McCourt’s.
"That’s putting it mildly, yes," said Duva, laughing at the thought. "There were threats of litigation; there were all kinds of things. Yeah, it was bad, very bad. It was a very, very difficult episode. It took me awhile to get over it and he had to come back several times to convince me that he was sincere."
It was a bit of a surprise when Main Events announced that they would be co-promoting Judah with his own company, Super Judah Promotions, over the summer. But there was a bridge throughout this whole process. Main Events staffer Jolene Mizzone, who, during all the turbulence, kept close ties with the Brooklyn native.
"If anyone but Jolene had brought it to me, I wouldn’t have believed it, at all," said Duva, of this reunion. It was Mizzone who convinced her boss to meet with their former client and it was her that kept telling Duva that Judah, despite dalliances with other promoters, would be back. Duva still remained skeptical. "But one day, he walked back in the door and said, ’OK, I’m back.’ Then I believed it."
When asked what the first inklings were that this Judah was different than the one they had once promoted, Duva says, "Well, a few things; I saw him being awfully thoughtful about what he said, thanking people, little things like that. I had never seen that before. It was him showing up on time for things, ready to participate; wanting to get involved in the promotions of the show, understanding that he had something to gain by cooperating.
"But the first thing was when other promoters offered him high six-figure signing bonuses and he passed it all up to come with us,” Duva added. “That he recognized that he’d gain more in the long run if he employed strategy, if he got strategic. Worked his way up and got in a position where he could bargain with the people he would be facing instead of always being the one being dictated to."
Judah admits he was a handful. Perhaps a classic case of “too much, too soon”?
"Well, y’ know, I can say that. Everything in life happens fast,” he said. “Coming from where I came from, from Brooklyn, Brownsville, to turn around have people hand you these big checks with all these zeroes on it and you’re able to go out and get whatever you want to get and buy what you want to buy and wake up and do what you want to do, travel where you want to go and take how many ever people you want to take with you. For a young kid, that’s kinda a lot and it sidetracked me. Especially not having it and then having it all in one day. It was a bit much. Now, with my maturity and being where I’ve been from, going through trials and tribulations of what I went through, I feel like I’m ready this time for whatever should come my way."
So is it true; mo’ money, mo’ problems?
"Biggie ain’t never going to lie to you," said Judah, of the late lyricist, who once parlayed those words into a hit song in 1997. "Mo’ money, mo problems. The more money you get, the more problems you gonna get. Unless you got the Lord with you and you’re conducting yourself in the right manner, you’re going to be OK. But like I said, I was out there having money, being reckless and just forgot about the Lord. Everything was like, ’I,I,I,I,I,I…I did this; I that, I was, I was,’ and when you look at it, in life, that’s not really the case. It wasn’t about ’I’; it was about team. Like I had no God in my life and I had nothing like that to be spiritually inclined to."
As he speaks, Judah thanks the likes of Main Events, Mizzone, Kim Newman and his partners at Super Judah Promotions like Bill Halkias. "There is no ’I’ in team," Judah points out. "So when I say that we’re happy to be in this position, I speak for ‘we’ as a company in total."
But it’s interesting; when Judah lost in stunning fashion to Carlos Baldomir in January of 2006 at the Theater in Madison Square Garden in New York, he blamed King for running him ragged during the lead-up to that fight. Now, he’s in the position again to promote his own event.
"Back then, I was too immature; I was too green in the business," he says. "Plus, I didn’t have my Lord and savior Jesus Christ by my side. So, no matter what, if I would’ve started it back then, I would’ve never succeeded."
Matthysse is no pushover by any means. He is a strong, young, aggressive and heavy-handed opponent.
Judah says, "I’m looking at Matthysse has a solid contender in the junior welterweight division. He’s 27-0 with 25 knockouts. I mean for people that have never been in the ring, it’s tough to get in there and knock someone out cold. So outta 27 victories, he’s been flawless. And 25 guys be put to sleep. So, you know, I commend him for that. I think he’s a very credible opponent in the junior welterweight division and November 6th, we’re going to see what happens."
Is Matthysse the type of guy Judah would have overlooked not too long ago?
"100-percent so," he admits.
With an emphatic victory, Judah is once again a player in the fertile 140-pound class.
"I don’t see how he couldn’t be," stated Duva, who believes her guy brings much-needed name recognition and personality to the division but, also, something else that is a missing component. "At 140, there’s a lot of really good fighters. But Zab is the only real superstar. And when I say superstar, I mean, love him or hate him- and some people hate him, maybe they’ll come to love him, eventually, but at the moment, that’s OK. But the biggest superstar means you can illicit an emotional response from the fan. Everybody has an emotional response to Zab Judah, whether it’s positive or negative- and that’s a good thing, from a marketing perspective. The other fighters in the division, they’re all very good and very exciting. But frankly, people don’t know who they are. Zab can stop traffic, none of them can.
"To me, he’s the Reggie Jackson in this respect. He’s the straw that stirs the drink. I don’t know how they do it without him."
In the upcoming weeks and months, Amir Khan faces Marcos Maidana, Victor Ortiz and Lamont Peterson square off and Tim Bradley and Devon Alexander do battle. So where does Judah see himself in this mix? "I see myself successful with those guys and just say that. I mean, listen; when that time should come, we’re going to see about that. We’re just focused on Lucas Matthysse, November 6th," said Judah, staying squarely focused on the task at hand.
"But I think Maidana is a great fighter. Amir Khan possesses good speed. Devon Alexander is another good young fighter that possesses good speed. With that being said, those guys are great guys and I’m just looking forward; when that time should come, we’ll speak about these guys."
Who would’ve thought that it would be Zab Judah- and not Tomasz Adamek- making an HBO appearance on behalf of Main Events?
"On the night of his fight in April, actually my prediction was that Chris Arreola would be on before [Adamek]. That’s what I told somebody after the fight. I was being snarky there," said Duva, chuckling.
Adamek will face Vinny Maddalone on December 9th at the Prudential Center. Beyond that, is one of the Klitschko brothers in his future?
Duva says, "That has to sort itself out. It really depends on what kind of deals are offered, what kind of opportunities are out there. We’re going to assess all the options. We always do and make a decision and we’ll let everyone know what it is."
Doors open at 6:00 PM, first bout to follow immediately. The HBO “Boxing After Dark” telecast begins at 11:15 PM, ET/PT.
Tickets are still available, priced at $53, $78, $103 and $253 (ringside) and can be purchased at Prudential Center Box Office by calling TicketMaster at 800-745-3000 or www.Prucenter.com.
With great sadness, it pains me to announce that this will be my last article for Maxboxing and I will be moving onto other ventures. It’s been a great service to do what I have done since 2001 at this website for all you great boxing fans...Ehhhh, you know what? I’ve changed my mind. I’m having too much fun at this. I’m back at Maxboxing. See, I just did the Jose Sulaiman...Folks, the great news for boxing wouldn’t be if Sulaiman stepped down- which is never happening, by the way- but if HBO’s boxing division had new leadership. Speaking of which, I guess in trying to counterpunch Thomas Hauser’s three-part series on HBO, Ross “Groundhog” Greenburg went on a bit of a media tour to give his annual "We promise to get it right this year" by stating to Lance Pugmire of the LA Times that he wanted to get boxing "back into the mainstream." Uh, yeah, OK, well, that process can begin when, y’ know, you don’t shelve your product for weeks and months at a time...I was told that Nick Charles, who keeps on fighting the good fight versus cancer, will be part of the broadcast crew for the Top Rank pay-per-view show on December 4th in Anaheim, California...