Zab Judah: “They gave me a license to kill!” - Boxing
The Welter Report with Gabriel Montoya (March 7, 2008)          
The 360 Health Club in Reseda, CA is not your every day gym. Boasting 19,000 square feet, the gym is a state-of-the-art fitness experience, where athletes of all levels and ages come to take their particular game to the upper-most levels. On a March afternoon draped in the L.A. sun, I faded onto a scene that appeared to be the last place where I’d expect to find a hungry, former welterweight champion from the Brooklyn.

Passing through security and walking towards the lowest level of the gym, I heard the sounds of distant thunder of fists against a heavy bag and the guttural grunting of a fighter in the thick of training. From my perch on the stairs, I looked down into the ring below. Inside it was Zab Judah, charging hard into blistering pad work. The man on the business end of the pads is John Arthur, who is conditioning Zab for his bout with Shane Mosley May 31 on HBO PPV. In addition, Arthur will be emphasizing running and footwork during their training sessions.

It’s only a week and a half into training camp, and Zab is already displaying good energy as he pumps a double jab and works to the head and body in equal measure. The general atmosphere is one of intense focus, with breaks of humor from Judah. The man clearly loves both fighting and joking. Inside the ring, Arthur bullies Zab and pushes him back while tying up his arms. Judah, always working inside, lays into Arthur with some ripping body shots, and I’m wondering how Arthur can take it.

The final bell rings. Zab hops out of the ring, stands in front of me as I sit on the ring apron scribbling, and says with a dead-serious grin, “They didn’t give me a boxing license,” referring to the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s recent decision to reinstate his boxing license. “They gave me a license to kill. I’m coming like American Gangster,” he declares to the room. “Pour the sugar out, shoot the muthafucka, put the money in the jar.” He smiles, and moves over to the heavy bag.

“We’re looking to get ahead of the game,” says Arthur, as we watch Zab rip
into the bag with a brutal hook preceded by a straight left. Crisp, powerful combination after powerful combination sound off as we watch Zab work.

“He’ll be in shape to go 15 rounds. Throw punches for three minutes. No matter where he goes, he works,” Arthur says, almost willing the ideas into Zab’s very being.

As Zab pounds the bag, he yells out to Shane Mosley: “Everyone is against you. Your wife. Oscar. The Commission” – hook to the body, two shots upstairs, and out to the side.

A few rounds more, and it’s off to the speed bag. To my left, Arthur asks resident trainer Tony to “set up the apparatus.” I get scared at the sound of it.

According to Tony, “the apparatus” is a resistance device that employs plyometrics (rubber tubing that makes it hard to do what you are trying to do) designed to increase speed, strength, and flexibility. “It got Nick Young nine inches on his vertical,” says Tony. I nod, as if I know who Nick Young is.

Zab stands on a square platform, about three feet by three feet, surrounded by rubber tubing and is strapped into a harness not unlike the ones worn by wire workers in some of your better kung fu movies. The tubing feeds into two straps that are clipped to the back of his legs. Zab bends forward and grabs the two hand straps, and begins to throw combinations in bunches. The platform rotates when he moves his feet to set up different shots. It looks painful and exhausting as Zab works, while his co-manager Dave Richardson and Arthur shout “C’mon” and “30 seconds more” at him.

The day’s work continues for another hour or so until Zab emerges from the showers and sits in the stands of the racquetball court with me.

A former 140lb titleholder and current top-ten welterweight who once held the linear title now held by Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Judah sits on the eve of being the only man to face all three of the top welters in the world.

“I’d say of course you have to put Floyd at number one. Cotto would be number two. And Salt?” – as opposed to ‘Sugar’ – “I’d put Salt somewhere behind Jin,” Judah says with a grin referring to Mosley’s wife, who also happens to be his manager and one of the key figures in setting up their fight.

In a career of tough fights against boxing’s best, it’s surprising whom he ranks as the toughest fight of all.

“The toughest fight I ever had in my career was Mickey Ward. That’s the hardest I’ve ever been hit. Ever.”

When asked, Judah was hard pressed to name who he felt was his toughest challenge.

“I can’t say,” he said. “You have a lot to pick from. I’d say out of the welterweight division, me and Miguel Cotto had the most exciting fight. Look at any welterweight championship fight to date; Zab Judah and Cotto would be the most exciting fight. It was strictly war. Nobody was going to lay down.”

In regard to Floyd Mayweather, Jr.’s decision to wrestle in the next WWE PPV Fakapalooza, Zab laughs and says, “I think it’s great. It’s great for his character, his persona. I think at first people thought it was live. But I think now we’re catching on. But you never know,” he warns. “You just might see (breaking into a wrestling announcer’s voice) Zab ‘Super’ Judah in the WWE.”

At age 30, and with losses to both Mayweather and Cotto, Judah needs a win, and he needs it now more than ever. In a division rife with multiple titleholders, and ruled by a champion who doesn’t defend his title, Judah must beat Mosley if he is to have any hope of getting a toehold on the other welterweights. Getting the title isn’t the goal, however. Proving himself against the best is what Judah is all about.

“Winning championships today… yeah it’s great saying you’re champion. But looking at the reality, having a belt is whatever. Making the best fights, the biggest fights, and making the most money is important to me today. If I want a belt, I can go home. I have every belt in my home. Championships. Title belts, I have them at home. So as far as me winning more belts, I’m not concerned about that. But what I want to do is leave a great legacy. To have adversity, and be able to come back from that and still be the greatest pound-for-pound fighter that there is today.”

Against Mayweather in their April 2006 showdown, Judah held serve for the first four rounds, even scoring a knockdown that referee Richard Steele didn’t rule as anything other than a didn’t-see-it, didn’t-happen. Going into the fight, it was the type of moment both Zab and his father/trainer Yoel had seen coming. Zab explains his thoughts during the moments afterwards:

“When the knockdown happened and they didn’t call it, I went back to the corner; I already knew. I looked at my Dad like ‘[I dropped him.’ My Dad says, ‘don’t worry about it. You know what it is.’ Basically going into the fight, we knew that it would be tough on us. When we saw the fact that Richard Steele came out of retirement to do the Mayweather fight, I was like ‘Wait. What the hell is this’? And not knowing anything about the Richard Steel situation – when me and Floyd was friends, Richard Steele, after Senior and Floyd had a falling out, Richard Steele took Junior on as a father figure. People never knew that. I remember going to Richard Steele’s house and having dinner with him and his wife. With Floyd. So I kind of knew it was a kind of thing but it was too late, and we couldn’t get [Steele removed as ref]. Nothing we could do.”

Judah pauses. He gives me a look that says he isn’t making excuses, and I believe him. His candor is not what I expected. While I feel Judah is very much in control or in touch with every part of his persona, all aspects of it come across as very honest. He continues.

“But we went in there and we did what we had to do. Regardless, you can go in there and people will say who the champion is. Wherever you can go, you can ask fans, people in the lobby, and they know. They’re the ones who spend the money. They know what it is, Floyd know what it is. I have no problem with Mr. Mayweather right now. He’s doing his thing. Our focus is on Mosley.”

‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley is himself a former linear welterweight champion. A speedy, crafty, hard-hitting boxer/puncher, who at age 36 is also a fighter in desperate need of a win. The match-up of speed, power, aggression and desperation should add up to world-class fireworks. To Zab, it’s a match-up made in his favor.

“Shane makes a lot of mistakes,” he says, all seriousness in his voice as his eyes look off into the distance visualizing the fight. “A lot of killer mistakes. First of all, he punches with his eyes closed. He doesn’t have a jab. He looks to throw consecutive right hands. He’s a copycat. You hit him with a hard body shot; you can expect him to come back and do the same back to you. As a fan, you’d call him a copycat. As a fighter, you’d call him a dumb fighter. I’m more concerned with the four press conferences with Zab Judah vs. Jin Mosley. That’s more exciting to me than the fight,” he says as a grin spreads across his face. “I’m preparing myself right now mentally and physically for the situation.”

For fighters at this stage of their career, the question always remains how much, if at all, can he improve improve, much less change?

“I think every day that I move forward in my career, I’m a student of the game. Everyday, I learn. Even today, I learned new things. I found a new exercise machine. That was my first time. Working with a different trainer, I learned different punches, different movement. I don’t think there is any fighter that can say they know everything. Or else they’re just lying to themselves. You can never learn everything about this game. There are so many tricks and trades of the game. I’m still a student of the game.” Pauses. Smiles. “And you know, the most important thing about it, I love what I do, and I’m just happy to be where I’m at now. I have desire, and am motivated every day to wake up and get to the gym.”

For this next fight’s preparation, Team Judah has added Floyd Mayweather, Sr. The combination of Yoel and Arthur, who have known each other 35 years, and Mayweather Sr. is in it’s beginning stages. Chemistry is always key in putting together any team, and this one is no different.

“We’re working together right now. It’s a good relationship. Nothing’s definite yet. My father is still the head trainer. But we’re going to have a definite professional experience as the second.” As for what Mayweather Sr. brings to the table: “I just think it’s a different outlook,” Judah says. “It’s a different but similar style. The Mayweather style is a boxer/puncher style. Which fits my style. I just like what he brings to the game. The catch and counters, etc, etc. If the relationship should work, I think it’s a great thing.”

“This fight right here is skill,” he says of his showdown with Mosley. “It’s a skillful fight with heart and determination. It’s going to come down to who want it more, who got the better skills and focus on the game plan. To be serious, Shane is great fighter. He’s done great things for the boxing world. But this is a fight I’ve long dreamed of. From back to my 140 lb. days. If you look back, I’ve called out Shane Mosley since he was at 135 to before he made his debut at 140, which he didn’t, and instead jumped up to 147.” He pauses and says in all honesty with a trace of a grin: “I ain’t going to tell you why.”

Come this May, Judah will attempt to show us why. No matter who is in the corner, no one can fight Mosley for Zab. He’s about to find out first-hand just exactly how the top three rank. And with a combination of will, skill and maybe a little luck, he has a chance of entering that realm again.

A correction for the record

In the course of reporting on James Toney’s potential upcoming bout with Danny Williams, I erroneously reported that his trainer was John Arthur. Arthur is in fact his manger while Shadeed Suluki is his acting trainer. I apologize for the error and hope it didn’t inconvenience anyone.

Gabriel at:

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